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Photo of Isabel Bramsen.

Isabel Bramsen

Associate senior lecturer

Photo of Isabel Bramsen.

How violence happens (or not)


  • Isabel Bramsen

Summary, in English

Objective: Recent studies show that violence is difficult to accomplish and only occurs under particular situational circumstances—but does this also apply to protests in authoritarian regimes? This article investigates the microdynamics of violence during the antiregime protests in Tunisia, Syria, and Bahrain. Method: The argument is based on visual data analysis of video footage of violent and nonviolent interactions from the uprisings in Bahrain, Tunisia, and Syria, as well as human rights reports, interviews with participants of demonstrations, and observation of a demonstration. Results: The article shows how violence by the state and protesters occurred when the perpetrator attacked from afar/above, from behind, at night, or from a vehicle, or attacked the outnumbered. In a few situations, violence was avoided when protesters confronted the security forces face to face. Conclusions: The article supports Randall Collins’s argument (2008) that situational conditions allowing the perpetrator to overcome barriers of tension and fear are necessary for violence to occur, even in authoritarian regimes. However, situational dynamics can explain how but not why violence occurs, and Collins’s guidelines for activists of how to avoid police violence are no panacea in authoritarian regimes.

Publishing year







Psychology of Violence





Document type

Journal article


American Psychological Association (APA)


  • Political Science




  • ISSN: 2152-0828