Structural Violence: Violence in the Normality of Things

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By Inayatullah Din

THE divide between rich and developing countries combined with vociferous social forces in the West, such as the radicalization of black consciousness, the anti-Vietnam movement, student protest, and industrial unrest, which brought in a sharp rise in civil dissent. In the wake of dissatisfaction and frustrations of the sixties, Johann Galtung in 1969 articulated the notion of structural violence. In his seminal article “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research,” Johan Galtung pitched the term “structural violence” as a counterpart to “direct” and “personal” violence. “Structural violence” is defined as an injury that is not immediately attributable to an acting subject but is “built into the structure” and manifests itself as inequality of power, resources, and life opportunities. Structural violence consists of inegalitarian and discriminatory practices causing human misery like poverty, hunger, repression, and social alienation. Structural violence is apparent social systems maintained by exploitative means. Hoping to overturn conventional thinking, Galtung tried to widen our comprehension of brutality, not to weaken our capacity to consider people liable for their activities, but instead to improve our capacity to recognize all the more unmistakably the manners by which solidness and serenity cover further and more inescapable savagery.  This idea gives us an absolutely revolutionary new comprehension of violence. Galtung argues that violence is built into the unequal, unjust, and unrepresentative social structures and should hence be defined as a situation in which actual realizations of human beings are below their potential realizations.  He draws our attention to violence in the normality of things, and through Galtung’s analytical lens, peace may very well be sustained by highly destructive forms of structural violence.  Johan Galtung describes the mechanisms, and the forms of structural violence, which are: exploitation, penetration, segmentation, marginalisation, and fragmentation.  Given its indirect and insidious nature, structural violence most often works slowly in eroding human values and shortening life spans.

Structural violence is a vital idea in the harmony hypothesis. It is ambiguous, no uncertain, and precarious to utilize, yet its focal thought of a savage social request is upheld by overpowering real factors. The term structural violence may be rejected, but its content will reappear under other names: discrimination, exploitation, injustice.  In short, the concept of structural violence is intended is intended to inform the study of the social machinery of oppression. Oppression is a result of many conditions, not the least of which reside in consciousness. We will therefore need to examine, as well, the roles played by the erasure of historical memory and other forms of desocialization as enabling conditions of structures that are both “sinful” and ostensibly “nobody’s fault.  Eradicating history is maybe the most well-known logical skilful deception depended upon by the designers of structural violence. Deletion or mutilation of history is essential for the cycle of desocialization, vital for the rise of authoritative records of what occurred and why. Haiti as Mintzas showed, serves as the most painful example of this erasure and why it matters.  If we cannot study structural violence without understanding history, the same can be said for biology.  The distribution of AIDS and tuberculosis—like that of slavery in earlier times—is historically given and economically driven. What regular highlights support the difficulties of over a wide span of time hundreds of years? Social imbalances are at the core of structural violence.  Structural violence is the natural expression of an apolitical and economic order that seems as old as slavery. This social web of exploitation, in its many different historical forms, has long been global, or almost so, in its reach. Indeed, one could argue that structural violence now comes with symbolic props far more powerful—indeed, far more convincing—than anything we might serve up to counter them; examples include the discounting of any divergent voice as “unrealistic” or “utopian,” the dismal end of the socialist experiment in some (not all) of its homelands, the increasing centralization of command over finance capital, and what some see as the criminalization of poverty in economically advanced countries.  Structural violence, measures the distance between an actual society and a potential one, one without structures of violence.  With structural violence, there are no. Rather we notice an expansion in futures when we go from the actual to the potential state. The natural measure of structural violence is along these lines the death toll years.

Now it is important to mention the concept of cultural violence and how it legitimizes structural violence in society. In the 1990s, Galtung supplemented his violence typology with another category and introduced the concept of cultural violence.  By cultural violence, Galtung means ‘those aspects of culture, the symbolic sphere of our existence – exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science – that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence’. The guidelines, regulations, social codes, and standards that together make up the association of social orders, and that are generally underestimated, are naturally violent. They are, however, often not recognized as such. The mind-boggling multifaceted nature of social life, and the person’s double primary function as both player and creator of the game, notwithstanding, implies that the individual is up to speed in a Gramscian authoritative restricted state of focus, where one cannot see out of the box.

Other dimensions of structural violence can be in the form of economic and social violence, the first one is rooted in the structure of the production relationships and its consequences for workers and consumers, and the second one is an important consequence of the abuse of political and economic powers. Systematic structures of society lead to endemic global sexism that is termed patriarchy, which in turn brings in the patterns of violence, discrimination, and exclusion towards women.  The linkages between hegemonic masculinity and structural violence may almost be self-evident. Both refer to institutionalized forms of social, cultural, and political dominance, which work to systematically oppress those groups who find themselves powerless in the face of both patriarchal and economic domination.

In spite of the fact that we owe the term to Johan Galtung, this line of thought can be followed back at any rate similar to Karl Marx, who lifted the veil of free and equal exchanges between capital and labour in the marketplace to expose capital’s exploitation of labour in the factory. In a connected vein, Antonio Gramsci featured the assembling of well-known agree to the course forced on society by the fundamental class. Herbert Marcuse investigated the oblivious delights restricting customary individuals to abusive modern social orders, and Frantz Fanon foreseen that the bare savagery of European expansionism would offer an approach to neo-colonial relations between free states. Even Michel Foucault, who repudiated all master/slave and surface/depth dualisms, differentiated between overt and covert strategies of power when he juxtaposed the voluptuous brutality of monarchical sovereign power with modern normalizing practices sculpting responsible selves.

Galtung makes violence rather non-events, and his triadic theory of conflict involves attitudes, behaviours, and contradictions: conflict = A (attitudes) + B (behaviours) + C (contradictions). Conflict can begin at any point on the spectrum and can flow in all directions.  Aside from Galtung, we have James Gilligan, an American psychiatrist,  most popular for his series of books entitled Violence, in his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, defines structural violence as the ‘expanded paces of death and handicap endured by the individuals who possess the base rungs of society, as standing out from the moderately lower demise rates experienced by the individuals who are above them’.  Another American psychiatrist Bandy Xenobia Lee with Yale University, her scholarly work includes the writing of a comprehensive textbook on violence.  She wrote in her book Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures, ‘structural violence alludes to the avoidable impediments that society puts on gatherings of individuals that compel them from meeting their fundamental necessities and accomplishing the personal satisfaction that would some way or another be conceivable. These constraints, which can be political, financial, strict, social, or lawful in nature, typically start in organizations that control activity over specific subjects.

If we try to connect the concept with the case of India, Akhil Gupta in his book, “Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India”, gives us a sense of the massive and largely underestimated tragedy of poverty in India. Furthermore, in this manner, he puts under investigation and re-examines – in principle, and practice – the function of the state, and of its different mechanical assemblies, in permitting the awfulness of destitution to be depoliticized and to enter the domain of normality. These are some of the ways in which the state apparatus in India perpetrates such forms of violence in the everyday life of the poor. Gupta portrays a system in which violence is constant, rather than episodic, and in which the victims are easily identifiable, while the perpetrators are much more impalpable.

For quite a long time, structural violence characterized southern Kyrgyzstan, where Kyrgyz controlled political assets and Uzbeks controlled monetary assets. This arrangement of fractional control separated when an adjustment in force elements arose as Bakyev presented a forceful Kyrgyz patriot plan that started a flood of political association among Uzbeks.  I would also like to connect the concept with the case of Kashmir, the structures of violence in Jammu and Kashmir are a complex interplay of army camps, intelligence agencies, and numerous other armed groups. It is necessary now to understand the violence that is happening in Kashmir, not as sporadic and occasional but as the consequence of an infrastructure. Whether as part of counterinsurgency or otherwise, the violence is deliberate, consistent, and a consequence of a system that is in place.

The ideals of Galtung’s concept of structural violence is that it opens up the category of violence so as to include poverty, hunger, subordination, and social exclusion.  We need the term structural violence, to designate forms of injury inflicted in ways that do not meet the criteria of the spectacle and that therefore do not register as violence.  Thus, Structural violence is a useful theory to locate the origins of structural violations of human rights, that cause human insecurity, which ultimately leads to crime, military conflict, group violence, non-peaceful transfers of governmental power, diseases, and public health problems, acute environmental disasters, floods, droughts, earthquakes, environmental changes, global warming, water shortage, pollution, and economic crises.


  • The author is a student of History, currently pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Hyderabad             

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