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close this bookThe Culture of Violence (UNU; 1994; 292 pages)
View the documentIntroduction
Open this folder and view contents1. Forms of violence and its transformation
close this folder2. Rejoinder to the theory of structural violence
View the document1. On violence in general
View the document2. On structural, institutional, and direct violence
View the document3. On the relationship between violence and culture
View the document4. A final methodological digression
View the documentAppendix
Open this folder and view contents3. Remythologizations of power and identity: Nationalism and violence in Sri Lanka
Open this folder and view contents4. The impact of drug trafficking on Colombian culture
Open this folder and view contents5. Ethnic violence: The case of Bolivia
Open this folder and view contents6. Violence and conflict resolution in Uganda
Open this folder and view contents7. Violence and the welfare state: The case of Venezuela as an oil country
Open this folder and view contents8. State terrorism and death squads in the New World Order
Open this folder and view contents9. Violence and culture in the United States
Open this folder and view contents10. Children in the city of violence: The case of Brazil
Open this folder and view contents11. Human rights and dictatorship: The case of Chile
View the documentContributors

2. Rejoinder to the theory of structural violence

Felipe E. MacGregor, S.J., and Marcial Rubio C.

In Johan Galtung's expansion of the boundaries of traditional cosmology to include social cosmology, his theory of structural violence plays a very important role. In 1978, speaking to the New Zealand Law Association, Galtung made one of the many presentations of the subject since his seminal article "Violence, Peace and Peace Research," written in 1969. He said: "Talking about violence is a little like talking about disease in general: one knows one is touching something important, something very complicated, that it is easy to moralize and difficult to come up with a diagnosis, prognosis, not to mention a cure, a therapy, or the best of all: preventive therapy."1 Galtung maintains that:

A theory of violence should be victim-oriented, not method-oriented, and the victims we are concerned with are human beings who suffer. We shall use a broad definition of violence as any avoidable suffering in human beings... Suffering may not be the best term: a better expression might be avoidable reduction in human realization, leaving open what this might mean in various cultures, in various points in geographical space, in various points in historical time.2

Structural violence is "somehow the result of the working of social structures." Galtung says of himself that "being trained as a sociologist, I came to see peace research in the early years as a plea for a structural perspective, for a heavy emphasis on structures, rather than on the act committed (or omitted) by persons or states."

The plea for a structural perspective is consubstantial and ever present in Galtung's work. The theories of W. Benjamin and M. Weber on violence in lawful and illegal domination of people were part of Galtung's intellectual environment. Galtung, faced with Marxism, discovered that it is a power structure. Societies dominated by Marxism are almost the perfect image of the vertical society. Galtung's Latin American experience, travelling and teaching, brings together exposure to the realities of daily life and intellectual efforts to find reasons for those dire realities. When Galtung was teaching in Santiago de Chile, Theotonio Dos Santos and his fellow Brazilian colleagues were exploring the theory and "the structure of dependence." Galtung also considers his visit to India and acquaintance with Gandhi's thought one of the landmarks in his life.

In 1959 the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), began its activities. "An effort was made... to avoid identifying peace research with one single theme of research, e.g. research on arms races, on conflict resolution, on problems of development. Peace research was conceived as an approach rather than a discipline, as committed social science with no respect for any disciplinary or scholastic borderline in social science. The commitment was to a less violent world, violence being conceived of broadly."3 Galtung, as well as PRIO, is firmly committed to a process rather than to paradigms or basic definitions. "An individual working in the field of peace research would have to be sclerotic or isolated to avoid changes in his own scientific orientation."4

In peace research the changes in orientation and identification are from ethnocentric to global and, more importantly, from exploiter to exploited, "from oppressor to oppressed, whether the reference is to nations, peoples or people."5 This language, difficult to handle by social scientists, has prompted some evasive answers. In particular, structural violence has been considered a metaphor, a myth, or a model. Professor Kenneth Boulding led the way of those who call structural violence a metaphor. Marxists inspired by what Sorel called the myth of socialism consider structural violence a prodrome of class struggle and part of the myth described by Sorel:

Experience shows that the framing of a future, in some indeterminate time, may, when it is done in a certain way, be very effective, and have very few inconveniences; this happens when the anticipations of the future take the form of those myths, which enclose with them, all the strongest inclinations of a people, of a party or of a class, inclinations which recur to the mind with the insistence of instincts in all the circumstances of life; and which give an aspect of complete reality to the hopes of immediate action by which, more easily than by any other method, men can reform their desires, passions, and mental activity. We know, moreover, that these social myths in no way prevent a man profiting by the observations which he makes in the course of his life, and form no obstacle to the pursuit of his normal occupations.6

Some attribute to the concept of structural violence the rigidities of mechanical models. Galtung, we think, will admit that structural violence is a model in the sense of a system, a theory of reality. We at the Peruvian Peace Research Association consider structural violence a working hypothesis whose validity can only be probed empirically. We have aimed to do that and have arrived at the following thoughts.

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