My prime research interest is the micro-sociology of violence. This means that I study what actually happens in violent interactions. One question I am working on is how changes in the emotional states of the opponents are related to situational asymmetry. For instance by analysing how supportive groups impact the course of the interaction by increasing feelings of emotional domination in one party, or by degrading the opponent. Another question is how and to what extent the various cultural meanings expressed in violence are related to the emotional intensity of the interaction. In my Group Violence research programme (funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant) these issues are studied by focusing on how group behaviour affects antagonistic and violent situations.
Recent publications are on violent moral holidays in Human Figurations, on the emotional dynamics of extreme youth violence in British Journal of Sociology and on the cultural meanings and the intensity of forms of violence in Sociological Forum. Some of this work attracted the attention of the Dutch media. For instance, in this television interview I explain why the riots in the village of Haren in 2012 can be understood as a moral holiday. More recently, I was interviewed at Radio 1 on extreme violence (see also the pieces by Dutch journalists Arnout Jaspers and Margreet Vermeulen).
Prior research I conducted was on various forms of inequality in education and also in the judicial system. Together with Ali de Regt, we published a book, Investeren in je kinderen (in Dutch) and several articles (in Amsterdams Tijdschrift voor Sociologie, Mens & Maatschappij, Journal of Education Policy) on private education in the Netherlands. In my doctoral thesis (link), defended in 2005, I analysed the relationship between fractions of the upper middle class and differentiation within the highest level of Dutch secondary education. Parts of the thesis appeared a.o. in International Sociology, Sociology, Journal of Education Policy and Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales. One of the themes of the thesis I am still working on is the question to what extent specific fractions of the upper middle class rely on cosmopolitan forms of cultural capital and how this form of capital is socially reproduced. Furthermore, my prior research on the unequal treatment of ethnic minorities in the Dutch judicial system (published in British Journal of Criminology) has resulted in an ongoing research interest in law as a social practice.
Apart from these topics, I take an interest in social theory in various forms. Recently, I edited a book together with Gert Spaargaren and Machiel Lamers, Practice Theory and Research. Exploring the Dynamics of Social Life . With Christian Bröer and Jolanda Boersma, we developed a micro-sociological and material semiotics theoretical approach to health risk technology (published in Journal of Health Risk & Society).
I am co-director of the Program Group Cultural Sociology of the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) and a member of the Amsterdam Centre for Condlict Studies at the University of Amsterdam.
The Group Violence research programme aims to understand how group behaviour affects the likelihood and severity of violence in public space. While the prevailing social scientific focus remains on individual perpetrators and background factors, the empirical reality of public violence is one of multiple attackers, multiple victims and multiple bystanders. The research proposed here furthers the study of violence with a novel theory that identifies how group behaviour affects the outcome of antagonistic situations – and with comparative empirical studies to test the theory. The central question is how and to what extent 1) mutual alignment of attention and action, and 2) a sense of moral community enable group members to commit violence. Project 1 (PI and post-doc) considers mutual alignment down to the minutest detail, based on close-up qualitative and quantitative video analyses of sequences of bodily cues. Based on judicial case files, project 2 (PI and assistants) will quantitatively analyse mutual alignment in an extensive range of violent interactions. Four PhD projects compare the role of mutual alignment and moral community in antagonistic situations in groups that differ from each other in these respects: police teams (project 3), street youth (4), football hooligans (5), and bouncers (6). Relying on an innovative method to reconstruct antagonistic situations by repeated and comparative qualitative interviewing, projects 3-6 will also relate the meanings of violence and masculine identity to the moral community of the group. Project 7 (PI and post-doc) uses qualitative and statistical analyses of the interview data generated in projects 3-6 for an extensive comparison of group behaviour in antagonistic situations. The ambition is to produce exemplary understanding of the crucial role that groups play in violence. This proposal shows how: through detailed and extensive comparative empirical testing that will further develop the new theory.