Monday, June 13, 2011

Haiti, Cholera, and Structural Violence

What Is Structural Violence?

Structural violence, a term coined by Johan Galtung and by liberation theologians during the 1960s, describes social structures—economic, political, legal, religious, and cultural—that stop individuals, groups, and societies from reaching their full potential [57]. In its general usage, the word violence often conveys a physical image; however, according to Galtung, it is the “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs or…the impairment of human life, which lowers the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible” [58]. Structural violence is often embedded in longstanding “ubiquitous social structures, normalized by stable institutions and regular experience” [59]. Because they seem so ordinary in our ways of understanding the world, they appear almost invisible. Disparate access to resources, political power, education, health care, and legal standing are just a few examples. The idea of structural violence is linked very closely to social injustice and the social machinery of oppression [16].

Paul Farmer, MD

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