Contagion of Violence: The Role of Narratives, Worldviews, Mechanisms of Transmission and Contagion Entrepreneurs


This paper develops the theory of the social contagion of violence by proposing a four-part analytical framework that focuses on: (1) contagious narratives and the accompanying behavioural script about the use of violence as a response to those narratives; (2) population susceptibility to these narratives, in particular the role of worldviews and the underlying emotional landscape; (3) mechanisms of transmission, including physical and online social networks, public displays of violence and participation in violence; and (4) the role of contagion entrepreneurs. It argues that a similar four-part approach can be used to identify and imagine possibilities of counter-contagion. The application of the theory is illustrated through examination of the recent epidemic of violence against individuals accused of practising sorcery in the Enga province of Papua New Guinea, a place where such violence is a very new phenomenon.

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Published: 2019-11-11
Pages:37 to 59
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How to Cite
Forsyth, M. and Gibbs, P. (2019) “Contagion of Violence: The Role of Narratives, Worldviews, Mechanisms of Transmission and Contagion Entrepreneurs”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 9(2), pp. 37-59. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v9i2.1217.

Author Biographies

Australian National University

Miranda Forsyth is an Associate professor in the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.

Divine Word University
 Papua New Guinea

Philip Gibbs is a Divine Word Missionary priest born in New Zealand. He came to PNG as a student in 1973.  He has worked as a parish priest in Porgera and Par in the Enga Province, seminary lecturer at CTI in Port Moresby, a researcher at the Melanesian Institute, Goroka, research advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  Currently he is Professor of Social Research at Divine Word University and head of Research and Higher Degrees.  He is involved in a number of academic and research projects including the Elections in Papua New Guinea, History of the Church in Oceania and research with the Sorcery National Action Plan of Papua New Guinea. His is well known as a photographer and movie-maker.