SaferSpaces: Structural (Indirect) Violence

Violence and Crime – What Are We Talking About?

Structural (Indirect) Violence

There is a fourth type of violence, not included in the WHO typology of violence, which is extremely pervasive and visible in the world around us, although people do not always realise that it is there.

This category of violence is called structural, or indirect, violence and it was theorised by the sociologist Johan Galtung, a principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies. Galtung distinguishes between direct violence, where the perpetrator can clearly be identified, and indirect violence, where there is obvious harm being done to people, but it is difficult to say who exactly is performing it.

All forms of self-directed violence and interpersonal violence, as well as many forms of collective violence, can be defined as direct violence.

However, indirect or structural violence refers to the ways in which social structures or social institutions may cause harm to individuals or disadvantage them. Structural violence includes the use of political or economic power to commit violent acts or constrain/restrict an individual or a specific group of people. This includes social problems like racism, sexism, heterosexism, xenophobia and even elitism. With this kind of violence there is no specific person who can be held accountable for the harm done, but rather, the problem lies in the entire society and the beliefs that the society holds.  

As Galtung put it:

The violence is built into the structure, and shows up as unequal power – and consequently as unequal life chances. […] if people are starving when this is objectively avoidable, then (structural) violence is committed.

“Indicators of structural violence (are) exploitation, conditioning, segmentation, and marginalization/exclusion.”

Redressing structural violence requires political changes in society, as well as changes in structures and patterns that govern people’s lives.

Read through the list below and indicate whether the statement is describing a definition for direct violence or a definition for indirect violence.

1 Social structures (economic or political arrangements) that place individuals in harm's way. Neither the culture nor the individual is at fault for the effects of these arrangements or processes/ forces which conspire to constrain individual agency.