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Johan Galtung’s six dimensions of violence

December 9, 2013
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In this post we are looking at Johan Galtung’s (1969) article “Violence, Peace and Peace Research.” Written in 1969, it covers some fundamental concepts that are still relevant today, even though sometimes with different kinds of modifications. Galtung is one of the founders of the field of conflict resolution. Galtung lists six dimensions of violence explained through sets of dichotomies.

Galtung’s six dimensions of violence

1, Physical and Psychological violence: Galtung is careful to include psychological violence, violence not as the direct result of one of more persons acting on one or more persons, as equal to physical violence. Psychological violence may take the form of simulating torture which is the treat of actual violence. Galtung also notes that inequality of a form of psychological violence, such as “when access to transportation is very unevenly distributed” (169). Limiting mobility, as well as limiting resources to a small class, is indirect violence. While not physical, it is something that can be prevented and therefore is a form of violence because it is something being withheld. For example, Equatorial Guinea is an oil rich nation but the wealth does not circulate beyond a select few. Most of the nation lives well below the poverty line. That essential resources are withheld when there is enough oil revenues to extend the wealth the general population, is a form of violence.

2, Positive vs. Negative approach to influence: The dominant group not only has the power to withdraw what it desires to punish behavior but also to increase what it desires to promote behavior. As such manipulation can take place on a subtle level. Capitalism rewards individuals who prioritize the desired goals and processes of the dominant system, arguably, at the risk of more inclusive, human rights oriented and more productive functions of government. Any system that perpetuates itself through rewarding participants and limits productive growth is a form of violence.

3, Whether or not there is an object that is hurt: A person does not have to be hit or hurt for violence to be occurring. Testing nuclear arms, or just the existence of nuclear arms, maintains the threat of violence and preserves the dominant group’s power. North Korea’s testing of weapons and maintaining their threats to South Korea and the West promote and maintain a system of violence. This is a type of psychological violence as there does not need to be actual physical harm for implement this form of violence.  Also, the destruction of things held meaningful to the things owners without any damage to the owners is also violence. For example, burning down a library may not result in the loss of life but has irreparable short term and long term negative impacts.

4, Whether or not there is a subject (person) who acts: There does not have to be an individual acting out for there to be violence. Direct or personal violence is when there is an actor immediately implementing that act of violence. Indirect or structural violence is when there is not a single actor implementing that act of violence. Structural violence can be cultural and may or may not be recognized as violence. Currently, there is a movement to lift the ban on preventing women from driving in Saudi Arabia. This movement is reacting to structural violence. It is not imposed by any single individual but is maintained by culture, community, and government.  Unequal distribution of resources is structural violence.

5, Intended vs. Unintended violence: Galtung also differentiates between violence that is intended and that which is unintended. In most cultures guilt is decided according to violence committed with intent rather than violence with as a consequence of actions. A times, structural violence is a consequence of actions. Gatlung writes “ethical systems directed against intended violence will easily fail to capture structural violence in their nets” (172). Systems of domination which preserve oppression do so in ways that are not always carried out in direct ways. When we focus on individual acts with individual actors and fail to critique the foundational settings that are unjust we fail to recognize structural violence as well as unintended violence.

6, Manifest vs. Latent violence: Manifest violence is that which is observable whether or not it is recognized as is the case for some forms of structural violence. Latent violence “is something which is not there, yet might easily come about” (172). Latent violence is the underlying potential for violence which may lead to manifest violence. Gatlung defines violence as the “cause of the difference…between actual and potential realization” (172). That which limits a society or group from realized potential is a form of violence. Latent violence occurs when actual realization decreases (172). Latent violence is the conditions that exist that make manifest violence more likely to occur.


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