Structural Violence

  • SOURCE:  Wikipedia, captured 2020-04-17

    Structural violence is a term commonly ascribed to Johan Galtung, which he introduced in the article "Violence, Peace, and Peace Research" (1969). It refers to a form of violence wherein some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized adultism, ageism, classism, elitism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, speciesism, racism, and sexism are some examples of structural violence as proposed by Galtung. According to Galtung, rather than conveying a physical image, structural violence is an "avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs". As it is avoidable, structural violence is a high cause of premature death and unnecessary disability. Because structural violence affects people differently in various social structures, it is very closely linked to social injustice. Structural violence and direct violence are said to be highly interdependent, including family violence, gender violence, hate crimes, racial violence, police violence, state violence, terrorism, and war.

    In his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, James Gilligan defines structural violence as "the increased rates of death and disability suffered by those who occupy the bottom rungs of society, as contrasted with the relatively lower death rates experienced by those who are above them". Gilligan largely describes these "excess deaths" as "non-natural" and attributes them to the stress, shame, discrimination, and denigration that results from lower status. He draws on Sennett and Cobb, who examine the "contest for dignity" in a context of dramatic inequality.

    Bandy X. Lee wrote in her textbook Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures, "Structural violence refers to the avoidable limitations that society places on groups of people that constrain them from meeting their basic needs and achieving the quality of life that would otherwise be possible. These limitations, which can be political, economic, religious, cultural, or legal in nature, usually originate in institutions that exercise power over particular subjects." She goes on to say that it "is therefore an illustration of a power system wherein social structures or institutions cause harm to people in a way that results in maldevelopment and other deprivations." Rather than the term being called social injustice or oppression, there is an advocacy for it to be called violence because this phenomenon comes from, and can be corrected by human decisions, rather than just natural causes.

    Cause and effects

    In The Sources of Social Power, Michael Mann makes the argument that within state formation, "increased organizational power is a trade-off, whereby the individual obtains more security and food in exchange for his or her freedom." Siniša Malešević elaborates on Mann's argument by saying, "Mann's point needs extending to cover all social organizations, not just the state. The early chiefdoms were not states, obviously; still, they were established on a similar basis-an inversely proportional relationship between security and resources, on the one hand, and liberty, on the other." This means that although those who live in organized, centralized social systems are not likely subject to hunger or to die in an animal attack, they are likely to engage in organized violence, which could include war. These structures make for opportunities and advances that humans could not create for themselves, including the development of agriculture, technology, philosophy, science, and art; however, these structures take tolls elsewhere, meaning that these structures are both productive and detrimental. In our early history, hunter-gatherer groups used organizational power to acquire more resources and produce more food, but at the same time, this power was also used to dominate, kill, and enslave other groups in order to expand territory and supplies.

    Although structural violence is said to be invisible, it has a number of influences which shape it. These include identifiable institutions, relationships, force fields, and ideologies, including discriminatory laws, gender inequality, and racism. Moreover, this does not only exist for those of the lower class, although the effects are much heavier on them, including the highest rate of disease and death, unemployment, homelessness, lack of education, powerlessness, and shared fate of miseries. The whole social order is effected by social power, but these other groups have much more indirect effects on them, with the acts generally being less violent.

    Due to the social and economic structure in place today, specifically the division into rich and poor, powerful and weak, and superior and inferior, the excess premature death rate is between 10 and 20 million per year, which is over ten times the death rates from suicide, homicide, and warfare combined.

    Cultural violence

    "Cultural violence" refers to aspects of a culture that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence, and may be exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science.

    Cultural violence makes direct and structural violence look or feel "right", or at least not wrong, according to Galtung. The study of cultural violence highlights the ways the act of direct violence and the fact of structural violence are legitimized and thus made acceptable in society. One mechanism of cultural violence is to change the "moral color" of an act from "red/wrong" to "green/right", or at least to "yellow/acceptable".

    International scope

    See also: Structural violence in Haiti

    Petra Kelly wrote in her first book, Fighting for Hope (1984):

    The violence in structural violence is attributed to the specific organizations of society that injure or harm individuals or masses of individuals. In explaining his point of view on how structural violence affects the health of subaltern or marginalized people, medical anthropologist Paul Farmer writes:

    This perspective has been continually discussed by Paul Farmer, as well as by Philippe Bourgois and Nancy Scheper-Hughes.

    Theorists argue that structural violence is embedded in the current world system; this form of violence, which is centered on apparently inequitable social arrangements, is not inevitable. Ending the global problem of structural violence will require actions that may seem unfeasible in the short term. To some, this indicates that it may be easier to devote resources to minimizing the harmful impacts of structural violence. Others, such as futurist Wendell Bell, see a need for long-term vision to guide projects for social justice. Many structural violences, such as racism and sexism, have become such a common occurrence in society that they appear almost invisible. Despite this fact, sexism and racism have been the focus of intense cultural and political resistance for many decades. Significant reform has been accomplished, though the project remains incomplete.

    Paul Farmer notes that there are three reasons why structural violence is hard to see.

    Access to health care

    Structural violence affects the availability of health care in the sense that physicians often need to pay attention to broad social forces (racism, gender inequality, classism, etc.) to determine who falls ill and who will be given access to care. It is more likely for structural violence to occur in areas where biosocial methods are neglected in a country's health care system. Since structurally violent situations are viewed primarily as biological consequences, it neglects environmentally stimulated problems, such as negative social behaviours or inequality prominence. If biosocial understandings are forsaken when considering communicable diseases such as HIV, for example, prevention methods and treatment practices become inadequate and unsustainable for populations. However, the challenge is obvious: many countries cannot afford to stop the harmful cycle of structural violence. Paul Farmer argues that the major flaw in the dominant model of medical care is that medical services are sold as a commodity, remaining only available to those who can afford them.

    The concept of structural violence is used to show how medical professionals are not trained to understand the social forces behind disease, nor are they trained to deal with or alter them. Medical professionals have to ignore the social determinants that alter access to care, and as a result, medical interventions are significantly less effective in low-income countries. Structural violence is an issue not only in developing countries, but also in North America. For example, it has had a significant impact on diagnosis and treatment of AIDS in the United States. A 1990 study by Moore et al. found that blacks had a significantly lesser chance of receiving treatment than whites. Findings from another study suggest that the increased rate of workplace injury among undocumented Latino immigrants in the United States can be understood as an example of structural violence. Structural violence is the result of policy and social structures, and change can only be a product of altering the processes that encourage structural violence in the first place. Paul Farmer claims that "structural interventions" are one possible solution.

    Countries such as Haiti and Rwanda have implemented these interventions with positive outcomes. Examples include prohibiting the commodification of the citizen needs, such as health care, ensuring equitable access to effective therapies, and developing social safety nets. These initiatives increase citizen's social and economic rights, thus decreasing structural violence. However, for these structural interventions to be successful, medical professionals need to be capable of executing such tasks. Unfortunately, many of these professionals are not trained to perform structural interventions. Moreover, medical professionals continue to operate under conventional clinical intervention because physicians can rightly note that structural interventions are not their job. Therefore, the onus falls more on political and other experts to implement such structural changes.

    As noted, structural forces account for most if not all epidemic diseases (e.g., HIV). Medical professionals still continue to operate under the downstream phenomenon, with a focus is on individual lifestyle factors rather than general socio-economic, cultural, and environmental conditions. This paradigm obscures the structural impediments to changes because it tends to avoid the root causes that should be focused on. One response is to incorporate medical professionals and to acknowledge that such active structural interventions are necessary to address real public health issues.

    The lessons that have been learned from successful examples of structural interventions in these countries are fundamental. Although health disparities resulting from social inequalities are possible to reduce, as long as health care is exchanged as a commodity, those without the power to purchase it will have less access to it. Biosocial research should be the main focus. Sociology can better explain the origin and spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV or AIDS. Research shows that the risk of HIV is highly affected by one's behavior and habits. Although some structural interventions can decrease premature morbidity and mortality, the social and historical determinants of the structural violence cannot be omitted. Although the interventions have enormous influence on economical and political aspects of international bodies, more interventions are needed to improve access.

    Structural violence also exists in the area of mental health, where systems are designed to ignore the lived experiences of people with mental illnesses when making decisions about services and funding without consulting with the ill, including those who are illiterate, cannot access computers, do not speak the dominant language, are homeless, are too unwell to fill out long formal surveys, or are in locked psychiatric and forensic wards. Online-only consultation may be inappropriate for people with a lived experience of mental illness. Structural violence is also apparent when consumers in developed countries die from preventable diseases 15-25 years earlier than do people without a lived experience of mental health.

    Connection with poverty

    For one major resource on the connection between structural violence & poverty, see the work of Yale-based German philosopher, Thomas Pogge, especially his book World Poverty and Human Rights (2002).

    Additional Reading

  • Dr. Sue L.T. McGregor, Ph.D. (2003) "Consumerism as a Source of Structural Violence."

  • [2014-12-31] Consumerism Inflicts Structural Violence, via Google cache (2020-10-21)  |  deprecated source URL:  |  local copy (html)

  • [2013-07-(18-19)] Protecting Children from the Violence of Consumerism: Educating for Peace in a Consumer Society

  • [2012] MPW Course 4: Structural violence and the underlying causes of violent conflict  (local copy)

  • [2017-02-18] A Collection of Articles on Structural Violence and its Impact on Peaceful Coexistence and Healthy Flourishing for ALL Life

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