Structural Violence

The term structural violence was coined by Johan Galtung to articulate the hidden violence in our midst, built into the structure of society itself and therefore more difficult to pinpoint and eradicate. It causes much suffering and can lead to conflict, war, and genocide. While direct, physical violence gets much more attention, the injustice that is built into almost all social systems can cause equal or greater harm.

As Gandhi said, “It little matters to me whether you shoot a man or starve him to death by inches.”

Structural violence is part of society. It is easy for those who benefit from unjust social structures to ignore the harm they are doing unless they are shown in a forceful way the results of their actions on other people.  This awakening is often the job of nonviolent resistors. Poverty, for instance, is a manifestation of a violent class system.  Bell Hooks describes the intersection of the hegemonic, institutional, and violent structures of race, class, and gender in society as the “white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.” This interlocking oppressive structure is what we want to transcend by practicing nonviolence.

The old ironic saying that “the law is impartial: both rich and poor are forbidden from sleeping under the bridge” is an implicit recognition of structural violence and the ability of society to both create and ignore it. Constructive Program can effectively counter structural violence in most cases.