The term structural violence was coined by the Johan Gultang, a Norwegian sociologist. In his 1969 article, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research,” Gultang argued that structural violence explained the negative power of social institutions and systems of social organization among marginalized communities.
It is important to distinguish Gultang’s concept of violence from the term as it is traditionally defined (physical violence of war or crime). Gultang defined structural violence as the root cause of the differences between people’s potential reality and their actual circumstances. For example, potential life expectancy in the general population might be significantly longer than the actual life expectancy for members of disadvantaged groups, due to factors like racism, economic inequality, or sexism. In this example, the discrepancy between the potential and the actual life expectancy results from structural violence.
Significance of Structural Violence
Structural violence enables more nuanced analyses of the social, cultural, political, economic, and historical forces that shape inequality and suffering. It creates an opportunity to consider seriously the role of different types of marginalization – such as sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, and/or poverty – in creating lived experiences that are fundamentally less equal. Structural violence helps explain the multiple and often intersecting forces that create and perpetuate inequality on multiple levels, both for individuals and communities.
Structural violence also highlights the historical roots of modern inequality. The inequities and suffering of our time often unfold within a broader history of marginalization, and this framework provides a critical context for understanding the present in terms of its relationship to the past. For instance, marginalization in post-colonial countries often connects closely with their colonial histories, just as inequality in the U.S. must be considered with respect to complex histories of slavery, immigration, and policy.
Structural Violence and Health
Today, the concept of structural violence is widely used in the fields of public health, medical anthropology, and global health. Structural violence is particularly useful for examining suffering and inequity in the sphere of health. It highlights the complex and overlapping factors that influence health outcomes, such as in the case of health disparities (or inequity) between different racial or ethnic communities in the U.S. or elsewhere.
Paul Farmer’s research, writing, and applied work in the field of global health has brought significant attention to the concept of structural violence. An anthropologist and physician, Dr. Farmer has worked in this field for decades, using the lens of structural violence to show the connections between vast differences in wealth accumulation and related disparities in health care and outcomes around the world. His work emerges from the intersections of public health and human rights, and he is the Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University.
Dr. Farmer co-founded Partners in Health, an international organization that aims to improve preventable negative health outcomes in disadvantaged – and disproportionately ill – communities. Why is it at some of the world’s poorest countries are also the sickest? The answer is structural violence. Farmer and Partners in Health began working in Haiti in the mid-1980s, but the organization has since expanded to multiple sites and projects around the world. Projects related to structural violence and health include:
- The aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
- Tuberculosis epidemics in Russian prisons
- Reconstructing Rwanda’s health care system after the 1994 genocide
- HIV/AIDS interventions in Haiti and Lesotho
- Part 1: One question (10 points, 2-4 pages):1. Based on what we have learned all semester, describe structural violence and offer examples from lectures, discussions, the Holmes book and the documentary, “The Undocumented”. Conclude your response with a discussion of how structural violence helps us to understand health and inequality.
Part 2: Please answer the following three questions in approximately 1-2 pages for each question (each question is worth 4 points):
2. Discuss breast cancer and the pink movement using a gender/feminist analysis. In your response, include links to political and economic contexts that shape our ideas and experiences connected to breast cancer. You should link to the material in our two gender modules, as well as the Pink Ribbons Inc. film from our discussion.
3. We have explored many of the ways that “race matters” when it comes to health and well-being. Linking to lecture and material from Modules 7 and 8 discuss how structural racism shapes the health experiences of communities of color.
4. Based on Chapter 7 of “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies”, discuss the strategies that Holmes suggests for creating social change. Be specific