The rules of violence: a perspective from youth living in South African townships
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Levels of violence and violent crime amongst young people in South Africa are extraordinarily high and, on the surface at least, evidence of lawlessness and a moral crisis. Responding to historian Eric Hobsbawm's 1969 assertion that in order to assuage increasing lawlessness, there is a need to identify the social uses and rules governing violence, this paper explores the settings, forms and experiences of violence amongst a group of 37 post-apartheid black youth living in an impoverished township in Cape Town. It discusses five apparent rules of violence that emerged from an analysis of youths' accounts of violence that include using violence to defend dignity, the importance of social positions in using violence, violence as means of social sanction in the absence of institutional action, the rules of revenge and valuing the threat of violence over violence itself. The paper offers Swartz's nascent theory of moral capital as an extension of Hobsbawm's theory. It argues that the presence of rules in the midst of violent behaviour does not just mean that lawlessness in society is not increasing a deficit view. Instead, moral capital argues that young people's use of rules to govern violence may be viewed as a social asset that demonstrates their somewhat rational decision-making despite adverse contexts.