Nonviolent youth activism and symbolic violence: Some problems in Bourdieu’s notion of victim complicity

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The coupling of victim complicity with violence is intuitively objectionable, yet it is an underexamined aspect of Bourdieu’s ‘symbolic violence’. Within sociology, the nature of violence continues to be debated and refined with contested boundaries particularly concerning non-physical forms of violence. Symbolic violence offers an avenue to investigate this realm; however, it has been both employed and rejected without close examination of the issue of complicity. Moreover, the varying interpretations of Bourdieu’s use of the term ‘violence’ present problems for sustaining sociological distinctions between power and violence. This article examines these issues through the experiences of youth activists employing Nonviolent Direct Action with a focus on their reflexive self-awareness of participation in systems of violence. The author argues that complicity in symbolic violence presents epistemological and ontological problems for the sociology of violence that can be avoided by adopting viable alternative interpretations that emphasise the subject’s reflexivity and the systemic origins of violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)982-999
Number of pages18
JournalCurrent Sociology
Issue number6
Early online date19 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • Complicity
  • Nonviolent Direct Action,
  • reflexivity
  • symbolic violence
  • youth activism
  • Nonviolent Direct Action


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