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Collision of Wills

How Ambiguity about Social Rank Breeds Conflict

Collision of Wills

How Ambiguity about Social Rank Breeds Conflict

Minor debts, derisive remarks, a fight over a parking space, butting in line—these are the little things that nevertheless account for much of the violence in human society. But why? Roger V. Gould considers this intriguing question in Collision of Wills. He argues that human conflict is more likely to occur in symmetrical relationships—among friends or social equals—than in hierarchical ones, wherein the difference of social rank between the two individuals is already established.

This, he maintains, is because violence most often occurs when someone wants to achieve superiority or dominance over someone else, even if there is no substantive reason for doing so. In making the case for this original idea, Gould explores a diverse range of examples, including murders, blood feuds, vendettas, revolutions, and the everyday disagreements that compel people to act violently. The result is an intelligent and provocative work that restores the study of conflict to the center of social inquiry.

224 pages | 1 halftone, 1 figure, 17 tables | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2003


Political Science: Political and Social Theory

Sociology: Formal and Complex Organizations, History of Sociology


“Gould is to be commended for sensitizing us to the neglected topic of social-ranking competition and its relation to violence.”

Anthony Oberschall | Mobilization

“[Gould] brings his ideas to bear on an impressive range of data from diverse cultures and times: a relatively rare occurrence in a field where most social scientists focus only on violence in modern America. .  . His writing is elegant, lucid, and laced throughout with a sharp and incisive wit.”

Roberta Senechal de la Roche | Contemporary Sociology

Collision of Wills persuades us that conflicts arise in social relations where people are unclear about their rank. It is an idea that goes back to Durkheim’s Suicide, which this work very much resembles. Consistently smart and ambitious, often controversial, and occasionally quixotic, this book is likely to become a small classic.”

Andrew Abbott, author of Chaos of Disciplines

Table of Contents

Foreword by Peter Bearman
1. Conflict, Honor, and Hierarchy
2. Dominance Relations
3. Strife out of Symmetry
4. Solidarity and Group Conflict
5. Conflict and Social Structure
6. Honor and the Individual

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