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November 1999

Social Violence: Research Questions on Local Experiences and Global Responses

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999;56(11):978-979. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.56.11.978

DAVID HAMBURG and his colleagues1 are to be praised for bringing squarely before behavioral scientists the crucial issue of how a research agenda can be developed out of the behavioral and social sciences for the prevention of deadly conflicts. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, begun when David Hamburg was president and led the Carnegie Corporation, has produced a report2 that makes the case for applying political and psychological knowledge to one of the most ominous issues of our time. This is a courageous document because it flies in the face of a decade-long transformation in European and American psychiatry that has, in my view, too narrowly restricted the problem and solution frame of psychiatric research to a disconcertingly strict agenda focused on disease pathogenesis and psychopharmacology. Hamburg et al argue for a rather different perspective, one in which psychiatry and behavioral science research engage a major human problem of our era with simply enormous public and mental health consequences. The example they use—political leadership—requires studying up the higher levels of national and international leadership cohorts in the attempt to unpack the black box of political will, that ubiquitous but unspecified explanation of the failure to prevent so many civil conflicts. In support of the agenda for research they seek to foster, I will draw on my own background in medical anthropology to look at other levels of social conflict, from the local world—the village, the urban neighborhood, the network of relationships—to international agencies to suggest additional questions for research.

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