In this novel approach to understanding consent, Jill D. Weinberg presents two case studies of activities in which participants engage in violent acts: competitive mixed martial arts (MMA) and sexual sadism and masochism (BDSM). Participants in both cases assent to injury and thereby engage in a form of social decriminalization, using the language of consent to render their actions legally and socially tolerable. Yet, these activities are treated differently under criminal battery law: sports, including MMA, are generally absolved from the charge of criminal battery, whereas BDSM often represents a violation of criminal battery law.
Using interviews and ethnographic observation, Weinberg argues that where law authorizes a person’s consent to an activity, as in MMA, consent is not meaningfully constructed or regulated by the participants themselves. In contrast, where law prohibits a person’s consent to an activity, as in BDSM, participants actively construct and regulate consent.
A synthesis of criminal law and ethnography, Consensual Violence is a fascinating account of how consent is framed among participants engaged in violent acts and lays the groundwork for a sociological understanding of the process of decriminalization.
Jill D. Weinberg, PhD, JD, is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tufts University and a scholar at the American Bar Foundation. Popular accounts of her work have appeared in the Advocate, the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Truthout, and the Society Pages.
"Consent is far from a simple moral metric or dispositive legal token, as Jill D. Weinberg’s Consensual Violence reveals so richly. Weinberg’s excellent ethnography and sharp sociolegal analysis show us how outsider groups repurpose consent to attain legitimacy, dissolve discord, and claim power." —Joe Fischel, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Yale University
"Consensual Violence grabs you from the provocative preamble. Using the kind of thick description that characterizes the best sociological writing, Jill Weinberg explains consent as the common thread across two apparently disparate cases. Her in-depth fieldwork and large interview sample allow Weinberg to contrast the "cultural tolerance" we hold toward the ability to consent to injury within MMA sports with the social and legal disapproval we show toward BDSM. Her rich ethnographic data demonstrates that what she calls "social decriminalization" must precede legal change. Specifically, Weinberg finds that in BDSM communities, formal law offers less protection than the management of rule violations by reputation, but that law does serve to convey legitimacy. This book will be a wonderful asset in the classroom with its sophisticated legal and sociological analysis presented in accessible language with vivid storytelling."—Chrysanthi Leon, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Women and Gender Studies, and Legal Studies, University of Delaware