Direct, structural, and cultural violence


[MUSIC PLAYING] SARAH JESSOP: Norwegian theorist Johann Galtung developed a three-layered understanding of violence that represents how a confluence of factors merge, in particular historical moments, to shape the conditions for the promotion of violence. Direct violence is what we normally think of when we think about violence. It represents behaviors that serve to threaten life itself, and or to diminish one’s capacity to meet basic human needs, such as killing, maiming, bullying, sexual assault, and emotional manipulation. Structural violence represents the systematic ways in which some groups are hindered from equal access to opportunities to goods and services that enable the fulfillment of basic human needs. These can be formal, as in legal structures that enforce marginalization, such as apartheid in South Africa. Or they could be informal but common practices, such as limited access to education or health care for marginalized groups. Cultural violence represents the existence of prevailing or prominent social norms that make direct and structural violence seem natural or right, or at least acceptable. For example, the belief that Africans are primitive and intellectually inferior to Caucasians gave sanction to the African slave trade. Galtung’s understanding of cultural violence helps explain how prominent beliefs can become so embedded in a given culture that they function as absolute and inevitable, and are reproduced uncritically across generations. These three forms of violence are interrelated and mutually reinforcing, and understanding them better is crucial for the pursuit of a broader and deeper peace.




Comments
  1. Learn more in our free online course, “Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures”: https://harvardx.link/ckj8z

  2. Showing this to my class today, as we're discussing institutional violence. This does a FAR better job than I ever could! Thank you!

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