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Cadernos de Saúde Pública

Print version ISSN 0102-311XOn-line version ISSN 1678-4464

Cad. Saúde Pública vol.21 no.6 Rio de Janeiro Nov./Dec. 2005 



Debate on the paper by Roberto Briceño-León


Debate sobre el artículo de Roberto Briceño-León



Carlos Alberto Giraldo; Héctor Iván García

Grupo de Investigación en Violencia Urbana, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia.



From various social spaces, members of society have called attention to the gap between 1) the magnitude and omnipresence of violence in the lives of Latin American peoples and 2) the level of output of systematic knowledge and capacity for social and political response to such a disturbing phenomenon, which blocks the potential of individual and societal projects. This situation calls for a renewed social and political commitment by researchers and society at large.

The combination of the categories violence, the urban, public health, and Latin America and their interrelations constitute a highly suggestive set. This combination appears to be in the minds of many researchers, but few have dared (like the author) to propose an alternative that links (within a single view) the question concerning the threatening nature of the Latin American city and the growth of violence.

The author's distinction between two levels of social life as the point of departure for establishing an explanatory framework for social reality represents an important methodological wager. To a major extent it corresponds to the need to relate the structural and situational dimensions in order to propose explanatory connections for violence. The author tackles the trends that propose explanatory theories focused exclusively on the social structure and others that rely on the situational to establish linear causal equations.

What really stands out is the proposed explanatory structure between the three levels of social event, i.e., macro, meso, and micro-social, with a differential explanatory potential between that originating violence, that which foments it, and that which facilitates it. The limitation is that these categories are treated with a high level of generalization and with such a nonspecific empirical reference that it would be difficult to reach agreement among researchers on the pertinence of the proposed levels of determination and about which factors belong to one category or another.

Focusing on the basic concepts, we emphasize the field's complexity and the need to establish Latin American consensuses on the basic concepts, in order to spawn rapid and productive exchange among the researchers. The perspective that violence does not represent merely a pathological event produced by various factors that are exogenous or alien to the development of societies and their collective existence, but on the contrary, that it is a phenomenon that accompanies the development of the widest range of relations 1 in both the private and public spheres, stems from the article's approach (unless we have misread it) to violence as a kind of disorder that parasitizes a society, that acts as foreign body in it and is therefore something to be extirpated. This point of view has consequences for the final focus of research and the localization of violence in specific geographic areas of cities, and in certain human groups, like youth and the poor, in certain regions of the country, placing the rest of society in the position of victims, which at least in the Colombian case has generated an infernal circular perpetuation of violence.

The other concept refers to the urban. The author's reflection on the distinction between "city, citizenship, and violence" is highly interesting. What is out of sync is that he has introduced something as a footnote which in our opinion should link the overall argument together, due to its huge explanatory potential. In our opinion 2, urban violence does not relate necessarily to the topography where it occurs, but to the violations of various types of rights and freedoms that occur in interactions among citizens, and between the latter and the state or other organizations (all of whom are actors in our contemporary urban society); to the logics and dynamics woven into the construction of the urban and the city and its characteristic as a horizon for conflicts that gives rise to violence as a multifaceted and ubiquitous phenomenon.



1. Uribe MT. Nación, ciudadano y soberano. Medellín: Corporación Región; 2001.
2. Gómez JA, Agudelo LM, Álvarez T, Cardona M, De Los Ríos A, García HI, et al. Estado del conocimiento sobre la violencia urbana en Antioquia en la década de los noventa. In: Angarita P, editor. Balance de estudios sobre violencia en Antioquia. Medellín: Editorial Universidad de Antioquia; 2001. p. 163-92.

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