Facts Shape Feelings: Information, Emotions, and the Political Consequences of Violence


What makes violence political? Existing research argues that experiencing violence generates anger and grievances, which cause political mobilization, retribution, and spirals of escalating violence. I argue that the effect of violence on the political behavior of survivors is highly variable: situation-specific information shapes how survivors of violence experience anger, and whether they attribute blame to individual perpetrators or form more durable, expansive political grievances toward targets like police or prosecutors. I use qualitative and computational methods to analyze transcripts of original interviews with relatives of Black and Latinx homicide victims in Chicago, IL. Results show substantial diversity in emotional experience and blame attribution. I argue that this diversity is caused by variation in clarity about identity and motive of the perpetrator, and variation in perception of perpetrator responsibility. Having or lacking crucial information determines whether survivors become angry at perpetrators or form broader political grievances after traumatic experiences. Evidence from Chicago challenges the notion that violent trauma and anger have automatic or straightforward consequences for political behavior.

Political Behavior
Aidan Milliff
Aidan Milliff
Assistant Professor