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Structural Violence

I think as we begin to see our world anew we need to look at a crucial
issue called "structural violence". I personally believe it is vital
for everyone to explore this subject as we continue to enter into the
21st century.  Below I have copied and pasted with their URLs some
work on defining structural violence.  I may have posted this a year
ago before, but no matter what I think it is crucial.  It is the issue
along with anthropo-centricism and misogyny that I personally believe
must be addressed as we begin to build a new paradigm of both
bioregionalism and eco-centricism which Cascadia is one part of.  We
need to address the injustices that have been imposed on all. I will
try to post tomorrow one of my "new" ideas for dealing with structural
violence on a more personal level, but absolutely not the only method
 nor solution. 

Structural Violence Introduction
Structural Violence Section Introduction

Draft 6/1/99

By Deborah Du Nann Winter and Dana Leighton

Copyright 1999 Deborah DuNann Winter and Dana Leighton

Direct violence is horrific, but its brutality usually gets our
attention: we notice it, and often respond to it. Structural violence,
however, is almost always invisible, embedded in ubiquitous social
structures, normalized by stable institutions and regular experience.
Structural violence occurs whenever people are disadvantaged by
political, legal, economic or cultural traditions. Because they are
longstanding, structural inequities usually seem ordinary, the way
things are and always have been. The chapters in this section teach us
about some important but invisible forms of structural violence, and
alert us to the powerful cultural mechanisms that create and maintain
them over generations.

Structured inequities produce suffering and death as often as direct
violence does, though the damage is slower, more subtle, more common,
and more difficult to repair. Globally, poverty is correlated with
infant mortality, infectious disease, and shortened lifespans.
Whenever people are denied access to societys resources, physical and
psychological violence exists.

Johan Galtung originally framed the term structural violence to refer
to any constraint on human potential due to economic and political
structures (1969). Unequal access to resources, to political power, to
education, to health care, or to legal standing, are forms of
structural violence. When inner city children have inadequate schools
while others do not, when gays and lesbians are fired for their sexual
orientation, when laborers toil in inhumane conditions, when people of
color endure environmental toxins in their neighborhoods, structural
violence exists. Unfortunately, even those who are victims of
structural violence often do not see the systematic ways in which
their plight is choreographed by unequal and unfair distribution of
societys resources.

Structural violence is problematic in and of itself, but it is also
dangerous because it frequently leads to direct violence. Those who
are chronically oppressed are often, for logical reasons, those who
resort to direct violence. For example, cross-national studies of
murder have shown a positive correlation between economic inequality
and homicide rates across 40 nations (Hansmann & Quigley, 1982;
Unnithan & Whitt, 1992). In the U.S., racial inequality in wealth is
correlated with murder rates (Blau & Golden, 1986). Often elites must
use direct violence to curb the unrest produced by structural
violence. For example, during the 1980s, mean income disparity between
whites and blacks in the same urban area predicted use of deadly force
by police (Jacobs & O'Brien, 1998). Structural violence often requires
police states to suppress resentments and social unrest. Huge income
disparities in many Latin American countries are protected by
correspondingly huge military operations, which in turn drain
resources away from social programs and produce even more structural

Organized armed conflict in various parts of the world is easily
traced to structured inequalities. Northern Ireland, for example, has
been marked by economic disparities between Northern Irish Catholics--
who have higher unemployment rates and less formal education--and
Protestants (Cairns & Darby, 1998). In Sri Lanka, youth unemployment
and underemployment exacerbates ethnic conflict (Rogers, Spencer &
Uyangoda, 1998). In Rwanda, huge disparities between the Hutu and
Tutsies eventually led to ethnic massacres.

While structural violence often leads to direct violence, the reverse
is also true, as brutality often terrorizes bystanders, who then
become unwilling or unable to confront social injustice. Increasingly,
civilians pay enormous costs of war through death and devastation of
neighborhoods and ecosystems. Ruling elites rarely suffer from armed
conflict as much as civilian populations do, who endure decades of
poverty and disease in war-torn societies.

When social inequities are noticed, attempts are made to rationalize
and understand them. Unfortunately, one outcome of this process is to
assume that victims must in some way deserve their plight. But
certainly it is easy to see that young children do not deserve to be
victims of structural violence. The chapters in this section help us
see the often invisible effects of structural violence, and the two
first chapters focus on its effects on children. In their chapter The
War Close to Home: Children and Violence in the United States,
Kathleen Kostelny and James Garbarino describe the chronic violence
which children in Chicago and other urban areas of the United States
endure, often paralleling that experienced by children who live in
countries at war. The authors examine myriad environmental risk
factors, including family violence, parental depression, media
violence, and firearm accessibility, which produce violent
environments for children. Children who endure these environments
often become battle weary, numb, hopeless, and/or morally impaired.
The authors describe how community and family support mechanisms must
be built to mitigate these risks. For example, home visitation and
early childhood education programs provide crucial community support.

While Kostelny and Garbarino focus on community intervention
techniques, Milton Schwebel and Daniel Christie extend this discussion
by examining the economic and psychological structures which impair
at-risk children. In their article Children and Structural Violence,
the authors explicate how children living in poverty experience
diminished intellectual development because parents are too
overwhelmed to be able to provide crucial linguistic experiences. In
the United States in particular, but throughout the world, children
who are deprived of close bonds with adults and intellectual mediation
which caretakers provide, are disadvantaged for the rest of their
lives. Schwebel and Christies discussion concludes that economic
structures must provide parents with living wage employment, good
prenatal medical care, and high quality child care, if we are to see
the next generation develop into the intelligent and caring citizens
needed to create a peaceful world.

If children are often the invisible and innocent victims of societys
structural violence, so are their mothers. Diane Mazurana and Susan
McKays Women, Girls, and Structural Violence discusses the many ways
in which global sexism systematically denies girls and women access to
resources. From health care and food, to legal standing and political
power, females get less than males in every country on the planet. Yet
we often do not notice sex-based injustice because we are so
accustomed to seeing males with more power, prestige, and status than
women. Mazurana and McKay argue that patriarchy-based structural
violence will not be redressed until women are able to play more
active roles making decisions about how resources are distributed.

Patriarchal values also drive excessive militarism, as Deborah Winter,
Marc Pilisuk, Sara Houck and Matthew Lee argue in their chapter,
Understanding Militarism: Money, Masculinity, and the Search for the
Mystical. The authors illuminate how socieites make soldiering a male
rite of passage and proof of manhood, thereby showing the close link
between militarism and masculinity. Militarization is also deeply
rooted in spiritual motives, as men attempt to experience mystical
sacrifice through war. Both masculinism and mysticism drive military
expenditures beyond rational ends, and produce great structural
violence to those (usually women and children) whose human needs for
adequate food, health care, and education go unmet because arms are
bought instead. In addition, market forces fuel arms production and
distribution throughout the world; half the worlds countries spend
more on arms than health and education combined.

The global economy that drives weapons production and excessive
militarization produces structural violence on a planetary scale,
especially in developing countries, as Marc Pilisuk argues in his
chapter Globalism and Structural Violence. As global markets grow,
income disparity increases around the world. Relaxed trade regulations
and increased communication networks are creating powerful
multinational conglomerates that derive huge profits off under-paid
laborers in developing countries. The result is horrific structural
violence to workers who toil under brutal conditions. Globalism also
produces a mono-culture, in which people throughout the world learn
that the good life consists of convenience products, western dress,
and western values of individuality and consumerism. The seduction of
western norms is disintegrating traditional societies which in the
past provided meaning and care for its members. Pilisuk argues that
non-governmental organizations at the local level must work to reclaim
workers dignity and neighborhoods.

The invisibility of injustice to laborers in the global market economy
parallels the invisibility of injustice to indigenous people, the
focus of Brinton Lykes chapter, Human Rights Violations as Structural
Violence. Here Lykes argues for the expansion of human rights beyond
the traditionally conceived civic and political realms, to include
social, cultural and indigenous rights, which guarantee people their
traditional culture and relationship with their land. She explicates
two case studies, in Guatemala and Argentina, in which indigenous
people are healing and reclaiming their cultural identities. Lykes
discussion helps us see the limitations of psychology as it is
traditionally conceived, that is, the study of individuals and their
responses to their environments. For Lykes, as well as an increasing
number of post-modern psychologists, the collective meanings of human
experience-- human meaning that is embedded in particular cultures,
neighborhoods, and placescan no longer be ignored. The individual
cannot be our only focus. Lykes call to examine and work with the
collective meanings parallels the focus of this section on structural
violence, in that both concepts force us to examine the political and
economic institutions which psychologists typically ignore. In this
respect, the thinking in both sections 2 (Structural Violence) and 4
(Peace Building) of this book go beyond traditional psychology, and
force us to examine the sociological, economic, political, and
spiritual dimensions of violence and peace.

Finally, to recognize the operation of structural violence forces us
to ask questions about how and why we tolerate it, questions which
often have painful answers for the privileged elite who unconsciously
support it. A final question of this section is how and why we allow
ourselves to be so oblivious to structural violence. Susan Opotow
offers an intriguing set of answers, in her article Social Injustice.
She argues that our normal perceptual/cognitive processes divide
people into in-groups and out-groups. Those outside our group lie
outside our scope of justice. Injustice that would be instantaneously
confronted if it occurred to someone we love or know is barely noticed
if it occurs to strangers or those who are invisible or irrelevant. We
do not seem to be able to open our minds and our hearts to everyone,
so we draw conceptual lines between those who are in and out of our
moral circle. Those who fall outside are morally excluded, and become
either invisible, or demeaned in some way so that we do not have to
acknowledge the injustice they suffer. Moral exclusion is a human
failing, but Opotow argues convincingly that it is an outcome of
everyday social cognition. To reduce its nefarious effects, we must be
vigilant in noticing and listening to oppressed, invisible, outsiders.
Inclusionary thinking can be fostered by relationships, communication,
and appreciation of diversity.

Like Opotow, all the authors in this section point out that structural
violence is not inevitable if we become aware of its operation, and
build systematic ways to mitigate its effects. Learning about
structural violence may be discouraging, overwhelming, or maddening,
but these papers encourage us to step beyond guilt and anger, and
begin to think about how to reduce structural violence. All the
authors in this section note that the same structures (such as global
communication and normal social cognition) which feed structural
violence, can also be used to empower citizens to reduce it. In the
long run, reducing structural violence by reclaiming neighborhoods,
demanding social justice and living wages, providing prenatal care,
alleviating sexism, and celebrating local cultures, will be our most
surefooted path to building lasting peace.


Blau, P.M. & Golden, R.M. (1986). Metropolitan structure and criminal
violence. Sociological Quarterly, 27(1), 15-26.

Cairns, E. & Darby, J., (1998). The conflict in Northern Ireland:
Causes, consequences, and controls. American Psychologist, 53(7), 754-760.

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace and peace research. Journal of
Peace Research, 6(3), 167-191.

Hansmann, H.B. & Quigley, J.M. (1982). Population heterogeneity and
the sociogenesis of homicide. Social Forces, 61(2), 206-204.

Jacobs, D & O'Brien, R.M. (1998). The determinants of deadly force: A
structural analysis of police violence. American Journal of Sociology,
103(4), 837-862.

Rogers, J.D., Spencer, J., & Uyangoda, J. (1998). Sri Lanka: Political
violence and ethnic conflict. American Psychologist, 53(7), 771-777.

Unnithan, N.P. & Whitt, H.P. (1992). Inequality, economic development
and lethal violence: A cross-national analysis of suicide and
homocide. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 33(3-4),


Structural Violence
Can we find genuine peace in a world
with inequitable distribution of wealth among nations?
by Robert Gilman

One of the articles in The Foundations Of Peace (IC#4)
Autumn 1983, Page 8
Copyright (c)1983, 1997 by Context Institute

THE HUMAN TENDENCY toward, and preparations for, open warfare are
certainly the most spectacular obstacles to peace, but they are not
the only challenges we face. For much of the world's population,
hunger, not war, is the pressing issue, and it is hard to imagine a
genuine peace that did not overcome our current global pattern of
extensive poverty in the midst of plenty.

Hunger and poverty are two prime examples of what is described as
"structural violence," that is, physical and psychological harm that
results from exploitive and unjust social, political and economic
systems. It is something that most of us know is going on, some of us
have experienced, but in its starker forms, it is sufficiently distant
from most North American lives that it is often hard to get a good
perspective on it. I've come across an approach that seems to help
provide that perspective, and I'd like to describe it.

How significant is structural violence? How does one measure the
impact of injustice? While this may sound like an impossibly difficult
question, Gernot Kohler and Norman Alcock (in Journal of Peace
Research, 1976, 13, pp. 343-356) have come up with a surprisingly
simple method for estimating the grosser forms of structural violence,
at least at an international level. The specific question they ask is,
how many extra deaths occur each year due to the unequal distribution
of wealth between countries?

To understand their approach, we will need to plunge into some global
statistics. It will help to start with the relationship between Life
Expectancy (LE) and Gross National Product Per Person (GNP/p) that is
shown in the following figure.

Each dot in this figure stands for one country with its LE and GNP/p
for the year 1979. All together, 135 countries are represented (data
from Ruth Sivard's World Military and Social Expenditures 1982, World
Priorities, Box 1003, Leesburg VA 22075, $4). Kohler and Alcock used a
similar figure based on data for 1965, and I'll compare the 1965 data
with the 1979 data later in this article. Except for a few oil
exporting countries (like Libya) that have unusual combinations of
high GNPs and low Life Expectancies, the data follows a consistent
pattern shown by the curve. Among the "poor" countries (with GNP/p
below about $2400 per person per year), life expectancy is relatively
low and increases rapidly with increasing GNP/p. Among the "rich"
countries, life expectancy is consistently high and is relatively
unaffected by GNP.

The dividing line between these two groups turns out to also be the
world average GNP per person. The value of the life expectancy curve
at that point (for 1979) is 70 years. Thus, other things being equal,
if the world's wealth was distributed equally among the nations, every
country would have a life expectancy of 70 years. This value is
surprisingly close to the average life expectancy for the industrial
countries (72 years), and is even not that far below the maximum
national life expectancy of 76 years (Iceland, Japan, and Sweden).

Kohler and Alcock use this egalitarian model as a standard to compare
the actual world situation against. The procedure is as follows. The
actual number of deaths in any country can be estimated by dividing
the population (P) by the life expectancy (LE). The difference between
the actual number of deaths and the number of deaths that would occur
under egalitarian conditions is thus P/LE - P/70. For example, in 1979
India had a population of 677 million and a life expectancy of 52
years. Thus India's actual death rate was 13 million while if the life
expectancy had been 70, the rate would have been 9.7 million. The
difference of 3.3 million thus provides an estimate of the number of
extra deaths.

Calculating this difference for each country and then adding them up
gives the number of extra deaths worldwide due to the unequal
distribution of resources. The result for 1965 was 14 million, while
for 1979 the number had declined to 11 million. (China, with a quarter
of the world's population, is responsible for 3/4 of this drop since
it raised its life expectancy from 50 in 1965 to 64 in 1979.)

How legitimate is it to ascribe these deaths to the structural
violence of human institutions, and not just to the variability of
nature? Perhaps the best in-depth study of structural violence comes
from the Institute for Food and Development Policy (1885 Mission St,
San Francisco, CA 94103). What they find throughout the Third World is
that the problems of poverty and hunger often date back hundreds of
years to some conquest - by colonial forces or otherwise. The victors
became the ruling class and the landholders, pushing the vast majority
either on to poor ground or into being landless laborers. Taxes,
rentals, and the legal system were all structured to make sure that
the poor stayed poor. The same patterns continue today.

Additional support is provided by the evidence in the above figure,
which speaks for itself. Also, according to Sivard, 97% of the people
in the Third World live under repressive governments, with almost half
of all Third World countries run by military dominated governments.
Finally, as a point of comparison, Ehrlich and Ehrlich (Population,
Environment, and Resources, 1972, p72) estimate between 10 and 20
million deaths per year due to starvation and malnutrition. If their
estimates are correct, our estimates may even be too low.

Some comparisons will help to put these figures in perspective. The
total number of deaths from all causes in 1965 was 62 million, so
these estimates indicate that 23% of all deaths were due to structural
violence. By 1979 the fraction had dropped to 15%. While it is
heartening to see this improvement, the number of deaths is
staggeringly large, dwarfing any other form of violence other than
nuclear war. For example, the level of structural violence is 60 times
greater than the average number of battle related deaths per year
since 1965 (Sivard 1982). It is 1.5 times as great as the yearly
average number of civilian and battle field deaths during the 6 years
of World War II. Every 4 days, it is the equivalent of another Hiroshima.

Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of this whole tragic situation is that
essentially everyone in the present system has become a loser. The
plight of the starving is obvious, but the exploiters don't have much
to show for their efforts either - not compared to the quality of life
they could have in a society without the tensions generated by this
exploitation. Especially at a national level, what the rich countries
need now is not so much more material wealth, but the opportunity to
live in a world at peace. The rich and the poor, with the help of
modern technology and weaponry, have become each others' prisoners.

Today's industrialized societies did not invent this structural
violence, but it could not continue without our permission. This
suggests that to the list of human tendencies that are obstacles to
peace we need to add the ease with which we acquiesce in injustice -
the way we all too easily look in the other direction and disclaim
"response ability." In terms of the suffering it supports, it is by
far our most serious flaw.


Structural Violence 
& the Autonomy of Morals
by Andreas Saugstad
June 10, 2001

The world is not always as we think it is. I do believe that human
beings can have a true and veridical access to external reality, but
many of our opinions are shaped by our culture and social context.

I think George Bush is such a person, who lacks the ability to go
beyond conventionalism, and see how the world really is. I have paid
attention to Bush in the media for a while now, and he always talks
tabloid, never penetrating into the deep structure of phenomena.

Structural Violence
One of those who radically differs from Bush, and always penetrates
into the deep structure of political phenomena, is Johan Galtung
(1930-). Norwegian scholar Johan Galtung is the founder of peace
research as an academic discipline, professor at seven universities,
and author of more than 50 books and 1,000 articles. 

One of Galtung's key concepts is structural violence. Often when we
use the term "violence," we think of direct or physical violence. But
Galtung has seen how violence can have many faces, and that evil can
exist in many subtle and evil ways. Structural violence is violence
that does not hurt or kill through fists or guns or nuclear bombs, but
through social structures that produce poverty, death and enormous
suffering. Structural violence may be political, repressive, economic
and exploitative, it occurs when the social order directly or
indirectly causes human suffering and death.

Let me give a few examples of the existence of such non-physical, but
brutal violence. I the USA 30 million people live below the poverty
line and receive their food from soup kitchens. Others can do whatever
they want. When George Bush now wants to do a $ 1,35 trillion tax
relief, it will reduce the lived human potential in the poor and
perhaps even cause many deaths. Without using guns, Bush creates a
structural order where the poor are repressed, and rich get richer.
This political move is a subtle kind of violent act, which is possible
in the modern society we live in today. George Bush is the opposite of
Robin Hood: while Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor,
George Bush takes from the tax money which could have been used for
welfare, and gives a tax reduction to those who already are rich.

Other examples do also exist. The top three individuals own more than
the bottom 48 countries; the richest 358 people in the world are
richer than the poorest 45 percent of the world's population (ca. 2.5
billion people); and 24,000 people die of hunger every day. More facts
about social injustice like this can be found at  In
Vietnam, workers at Nike's factories earn a little more than $ 2 per
day. In the worst cases these workers have to choose between paying
their rent or having three meals per day.

Peace researchers talk about the global division of labour. Factory
jobs and manual labour are carried out in the third world, while the
"brain-drain" phenomenon gives USA the best brains which makes the
country a technological center. The inequalities in the world are
simply enormous. While Norwegian capitalists make "cabins" with 37
toilets, teenagers in Romania live in the gutter and even in the
sewerage system.

Political systems that reinforce such class differences may indeed be
called violent. When tax money goes to military research instead of
inner city welfare, it is an example of structural and direct violence
being carried out.

So what is the key to solve such problems? A part of it may have to do
with how we may be moral human beings. The patterns of discrimination,
injustice and exploitation are built into practices, and cultural
patterns that we hardly notice or think of. And the ideologies and
cosmologies that defend the unjust structures and patterns, are
examples of cultural violence. The Republican rhetoric in the USA, for
instance, uses the term "freedom" to justify the capitalist system,
and lack of solidarity. Such deep cultural rhetoric, must be brought
to the light, and we must change thinking and behaviours.

Some people think that the ongoing patterns, habits and conventions
always should be accepted. But they seem to miss an important point.
They forget that the way we act and live is often contingent, quite
random and determined by the specific culture we live in, and that
often in history our practices must be replaced and transcended. There
is no reason to think that the behavioural patterns or the social
structures we find in the Western culture today represent a final and
infallible ethical code. 

Take, for instance, the American civil war in 1865, where a whole
culture of slavery had to be rejected; or think of the struggle
against apartheid in South Africa; or those Germans under the second
world war, who had the courage to struggle against the Nazi
government. These examples show us how we sometimes must change our
moral code, transcend contemporary society and come up with new
alternatives for morality and new forms of life.

The way we live is often established in social contexts. Think of all
the rules, conventions, rituals and opinions we are given by our
culture. Think of all the information we are given by family, friends,
school and the media, and how this must influence us. We belong to a
form of life, where we accept the given without much protest. So when
a Galtung or Chomsky shouts about injustice,
we may tend to ignore it.

As Zygmunt Bauman, the Polish sociologist, has emphasized, morality is
not the same as simply following a norm accepted by the society
surrounding us.
A key point when we analyze the evil of Nazi Germany is to see how the
Nazis uncritically followed authorities and had a tendency to accept
conventions without reflection. An essential trait of Nazi Germany
life was conformity, that the citizens of the old Nazi Germany
destroyed their lives and the lives of six million Jews by going with
the flow. By contrast, Bauman suggests that the moral agent must break
with practice, he must sometimes be able and willing to reject his
culture and its morality. Zygmunt Bauman thus suggests that as moral
agents we should be able to perform act of autonomy, not merely living
lives of compliance and conformity. The Holocaust showed us this:
Conformity and uncritical acceptance of conventions and habits may
have horrifying effects.

But that may be true today as well. The contemporary social injustice
is one of the greatest evils the world has ever seen. We need change
the arrogance of the Western civilization. We must be willing to
follow the road less traveled and hope that others will join us, when
we show the way.

Can you consume less and help someone who suffers? Can you open your
heart the next time you see someone living in poverty? Can you avoid
buying Nike shoes? Are you willing to demonstrate against contemporary
free market economy? Are you willing to spend slightly less money on
yourself, and give more to the poor? Which attitudes do you
communicate to the surrounding world, competition or social empathy
and love? I am not saying we should not enjoy ourselves or live
ascetic lives (on the contrary!) but think for a moment: how can your
skills be used to help, rather than to simply climb on the social ladder?

Are we willing to reject consumerism, capitalism, careerism and
Those who belong to the rich part of the world must be willing to
sacrifice some of their own privileges. They must be willing to work
for the best of humanity in general. This, however, demands that we
substitute the present praxis with a slightly different form of life.
As Jean-Paul Sartre says, we must be able to transcend the situation,
and we must work to decrease the gap between present and ideal reality.

I don't think George Bush is capable of changing the structures and
patterns of American and international politics. The cultural violence
from IMF (International Monetary Fund) and WTO (World Trade
Organization) legitimizes the gap between rich and poor. 

Maybe the change will come when ordinary people start to act. 

Maybe a few original, non-conform individuals can start to work for
change, and eventually, the world will go through radical reforms.

Wherever you are, you may be creative and struggle for social justice.
Solidarity is a life style, and is different from contemporary
cynicism and capitalist nihilism. Semper plangere! -Always complain!
And one day the world will change.

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