Why Psychology and Criminal Justice Can Only Take Us So Far: The Value of and Need for a Social Psychological Perspective in Studies of American School Violence

Why Psychology and Criminal Justice Can Only Take Us So Far: The Value of and Need for a Social Psychological Perspective in Studies of American School Violence

Lisa Fisher
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3432-8.ch093
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Concerns about continued increases in violent behavior in American schools and schools' ability to mitigate and reduce risks abound. Psychology and criminal justice have contributed much to what we know and understand about violence in schools; however, the author argues that these dominant disciplinary perspectives also obscure some important aspects of these phenomena, namely focus on underlying cultural logics that may be impacting violence in schools. In this chapter, the author sets out to achieve two objectives. First, she provides an overview of areas of focus in current literature in psychology and criminal justice that represent the dominant framework within which school violence in the U.S. is viewed. Additionally, she examines those disciplinary perspectives in terms of specific strengths and limitations. Second, she presents and describes a series of social psychological theories and pulls those theories into a coherent framework to demonstrate the value of the social psychological lens in studies of school violence and stimulate further discussion and research on this important topic.
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Topics Of Focus In The Literature On School Violence

Studies of school violence in American K-12 education are often approached through the disciplinary perspectives of psychology and criminal justice. Scholars and practitioners in these fields examine topics that vary from friendship and isolation to bullying; individual and family risk factors that may predict antisocial, violent, and criminal behavior as well as protective factors that reduce the likelihood of such behavior and means of intervening and addressing problematic behavior (for ex: Brooks 2017; Loeber, Farrington, Stouthamer-Loeber & Reskin White 2008; Langman 2009; Finley 2014). There is also a great deal of focus on mental health and topics such as stress, coping skills and mental disorders (Langman 2009; Langman 2010; Newman, Fox, Harding Mehta & Roth 2004; Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum & Modzeleski 2002).

Most of the studies examined here employ a psychological perspective but incorporate criminal justice either through examination of monitoring or punishment for violent behavior, collaborative efforts between schools and law enforcement or use of techniques such as profiling. Of interest for this chapter is not the specifics of those studies’ findings or differentiation between specialized tracks of research but rather how scholars have focused their analytical attention overall.

In general, this body of research focuses on assessing and averting threat by examining individuals who are thought to present threat and designing prevention efforts. Not surprisingly, schools remain the primary context for these studies and prevention efforts because it is within schools that “crisis symptoms and warning behavior” (Leuschner et al 2017:70) often become apparent.

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