Exploring conflict: the justification of violence

HILLS, Steven Randall (2011). Exploring conflict: the justification of violence. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

PDF (Author supplied)
Steve's_PhD_Dec_2011.pdf - Accepted Version
All rights reserved.

Download (9MB) | Preview
PDF (Version of Record)
10702818.pdf - Accepted Version
All rights reserved.

Download (13MB) | Preview


The purpose of this work is to identify how people ethically justify the use of violence or harm-doing in conflicts they experience; and by comparing the processes they use with those of normative ethics, to review whether and how well existing theory addresses the issues people actually face in terms of ethical reasoning. If someone is in a conflict, and the next move may involve harm-doing, what should they be thinking about and why? The work began from an open position as to how people might make their justifications, though with the expectation that they might do so in varying ways reflecting their own disparate experiences. An exploratory approach was therefore adopted, involving idiographic, qualitative methodology. Grounded theory was selected from a range of five such methodologies partly because of its commitment to building “substantive theory” which emerges from the data and also to provide analytic (but not population) generalisability to situations similar to those investigated. The primary data was collected from an interview study conducted amongst people in Sheffield, England. Secondary data from a profoundly different context (the Nuremburg Trials) was used as triangulation. A Model was constructed representing how people conceptualised conflict and reasoned about harm-doing in the actual conflicts they experienced. A literature review was then conducted covering the concept of conflict, four broad ethical approaches – consequentialism, deontology, contractarianism, and virtue ethics - and applied ethical writing relating to conflict–related harm-doing, including eg Just War Theory. The Model was then reviewed in terms of the literature and the literature in terms of the Model. The work contributes to the field by identifying and critiquing ways in which at the everyday, real-world level, people conceptualise conflict and reason ethically. There was a marked contrast between the Model and the conflict literature in one respect. The Model treated conflict as aggressive behaviour to the understanding of which knowledge of its purposes added little. Established theory understood it as goal-directed behaviour producing aggression because not all parties could have all they wanted. Consistently with its view of conflict, the Model saw the idea of common humanity and respect for people as the basis of ethical reasoning. As a result doing harm in self-defence and to protect the weak was all but taken for granted, provided this did not extend to large scale violence. People treated ethical reasoning as relevant to their lives and would borrow eclectically from all four broad approaches in actual situations – but rarely in any depth. This suggests the literature addresses real-world issues, but raises questions about its accessibility and practicality. The research also makes a methodological contribution. Normative ethics does not make extensive use of empirical data and part of the object was to investigate whether it could be useful. The work shows that idiographic methodology can help by identifying the meaning of real world issues for individuals, which meaning the ethical literature should address.Recommendations are made for nomothetic investigation of the prevalence of the views in the Model, and their relationship with national or religious cultures; and for particular developments of the ethical arguments against killing.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Bryant, James
Thesis advisor - Macaskill, Ann
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: Helen Garner
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2012 15:56
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2021 13:04
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/4597

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics