IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

I bet you thought you knew what violence is!

Well, sure…if somebody hits you, that is an act of violence, most of the time. Still there could be many reasons for someone to hit you. They might be trying to do something for you, like hitting you on the back to help you stop coughing. So, intent comes into the matter somewhere. Or consider somebody cutting somebody else with a knife: could be a murderer, or could be a surgeon. Again, context and intent matter in identifying violence. Of course, if you go to a dictionary you will find several meanings, some of which are rather abstract: as in “doing violence” to something.

Here I would like to share with you one (of many) interesting (and somewhat controversial) ideas of Johan Galtung. He said there were three kinds of violence: direct, structural and cultural. The first is what we usually think of: doing things to other people (or ourselves, for that matter) which hurt or kill, with the intent to hurt or kill. The second is the harm that results from unjust social systems that systematically deprive some people of their needs for education, food, security, etc…This second form may work more slowly, but its overall effect, given the prevalence of poverty and deprivation of various kinds in our world, may be as great or greater than the first kind. Then, there is the third category, which refers to culturally entrenched forms of prejudice (racism, sexism, etc…) that justify and even “normalize” either of the other two kinds of violence.

I have always felt that Galtung’s categories make a lot of sense. However, he has often been criticized for the second, and by implication, the third, since those call into question aspects of the status quo in the society where they occur; and more particularly they may call into question the vested interests of those groups who happen to benefit from that status quo. Not to mince words, conservative thinkers don’t much like the idea of structural violence, since it seems to indicate the need for reform and reform means change, and probably some redistribution of wealth and other benefits to help the victims of unjust structures.

This is a very useful set of categories, and like all good typologies it gets you thinking about the relationships among the categories: what leads to what? That is too big a question for this post, but I will try to get back to it later


July 28, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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