Saturday, June 1, 2024


Randolph Roth writing for Violence, Politics and Democracy on a historical perspective of homicide:

Why has the homicide rate in the United States risen by 60% since 2014, from 4.9 to 7.8 persons per 100,000 per year? And why, more broadly, have homicide rates changed over time in human communities and varied from one community to another? Historians and social scientists can’t perform controlled experiments on societies that are changing in many ways at the same time. We can’t measure the impact of a specific change while holding everything else in the human experience constant. We can’t go back to the 1850s, for instance, and uninvent modern breechloading handguns to see if the United States would have the high rates of homicide and armed robbery it does today if its citizens were equipped with nothing more than single-shot, muzzleloading pistols. Our only hope is to engage in “non-experimental empirical research”—to study societies across vast stretches of time and space, looking for deep patterns in human behavior.

 Social science historians search for associations among seemingly unique events, as scientists do in geology, evolutionary biology, paleontology, and other “historical” fields. If the associations come up consistently over decades or centuries, they reveal historical patterns that are almost certainly causal. The associations between homicides and the circumstances in which they are most likely to occur have differed for particular types of homicides over the past 450 years in Europe and in European-dominated colonies, including the United States. This is true for intimate partner homicides, for homicides of children by parents or caregivers, and for the homicides that make up the overwhelming majority of homicides and are the focus of this essay: homicides among unrelated adults (friends, acquaintances, strangers).

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