What you need to know:
Johan Galtung a professor at the College of Social Sciences, University of Hawaii, introduced the concept of ‘structural violence’. Careful study of contemporary Uganda reveals eminent presence of ‘structural violence’ directly and/or indirectly traumatising the citizenry. It occurs when society is constructed in such a way that certain individuals or groups are denied the realisation of their potential.
Central to this is the level of insight and resources present. If insight and/or resources are monopolised by a group or class or are used for other purposes, then the actual level falls - or exists - below the potential, and violence is present in the system. Structural violence is present in the system when the system produces less than it is capable of. The great difficulty here is the meaning of ‘potential realisations’ with particular reference to mental aspects, a difficulty acknowledges, but does not discuss.
The concept of guilt, so far unmentioned, is important here, as guilt demands that there be an actor, and an intention to act violently. Guilt is central to our Judeo-Christian ethical system, and also our system of jurisprudence. The theory of structural violence is, however, quite different, with no mention of intention, his theory of violence is entirely located on the consequence side.
Any system directed against ‘intended violence’ will easily fail to capture ‘structural violence’ in its nets – and may hence be catching the small fry and letting the big fish loose. This is so because personal violence, violence where there is a guilty person, is nearly always an event, an occurrence, and there is very often a person complaining about it.
It registers as a non-typical happening. Someone has been hurt, and someone has done the hurting. Personal violence shows as it represents change and dynamism, while structural violence does not. Structural violence is silent, static. In a static society, personal violence will register, whereas structural violence may be seen as about as natural as the air around us. Galtung also runs the alternative argument, that in a highly dynamic society, structural violence will show as its static state stands out against the movement of society. Revolutions, in general, concern themselves with structural violence.
A violent structure is person invariant, in that the structure is clearly violent regardless of who staffs it, and regardless of the level of awareness of the participants. The structure will persist through changes in person: the violence is built into the structure. The human element in this is that the structure only exists so long as it is upheld by the summated and concerted actions of human beings, and as such, all, not just the top actors, contribute to its operation, all are responsible, as all can shake it through their non-cooperation.
The greatest agent of oppression in most cases is the self, because to the extent that the tools of oppression have been internalised, the person has been persuaded not to perceive their own, and others, oppression.
Internalized oppression, over time, is a result of long-term propaganda, brainwashing and indoctrination. This indoctrination does not have to be negative, in that, an individual be punished for non-cooperation, or denied a range of rights and privileges by the structure, in that, their rights are curtailed. Indoctrination can be positive, in that, a person is rewarded when he does what the influencer (the President and/or a powerful Minister), considers right. That is why whenever there is impending cabinet reshuffle politicians try their best to prove to their President that they are more loyal than others.
The longest serving ministers are those who have mastered the art of political deception. These have managed to make the master believe that they are the ‘most loyal’ – and often sacrifice true nationalists for their personal gain – after all politics is another form of beauty contest.
The strange thing about this type of manipulation is that while those actual –overt- constraints on a person’s movements may be decreased, the person may still be effectively prevented from realising their potential. Galtung states that this system is better in that it gives pleasure rather than pain, but worse in terms of being more manipulatory, less overt. The more the oppressor benefits from the situation the less likely the oppression would end. Instead, the oppressors start looking at the opposition as the enemies of peace and stability, a syndrome which is known as projection in psychology.
The difference between violence that is personal or direct, and violence that is structural, is that direct violence hits human beings as a direct result of the actions of others, while structural violence hits them indirectly because repressive structures are upheld by the efforts of the influencer. Structural violence would be a mere abstraction if it were not upheld by the system, through actions that do not directly ‘hit’ another, but deny them the possibility of acting, progressing, moving or thinking in certain directions.
Ethnicity is abstraction
These actions, while violent, may perhaps not be perceived of as such by the person performing them, as their social background, their social selves, expects such an action of them. The ‘issue’ of colour or ethnicity, for instance, is a mere abstraction unless it is upheld by the actions of an individual or individuals. Galtung’s broad concept of violence is aimed at combating this type of violence, by showing unjust social systems for what they are, upholders and perpetrators of violence.
In the final analysis we must avoid ‘Crimes of Obedience’ just like M. K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Really! why are certain people able to display ‘prosocial disobedience’ behaviour, overcome unjust situations, and withstand persecutions deployed by authority? The results show that the importance given to parents’ value orientation, experiences of injustice during childhood, and exploration of alternative viewpoints during adolescence plays a crucial role in structuring ‘prosocial disobedience’.
The findings also show that social responsibility and ‘ingroup’ communication are important conditions for facing persecution without forsaking original goals. Conversely, the caveat is that when people use violence as a means of resistance they should not be shocked when such violence attracts violence. The future of Africa is in dialogue, avoiding the crime of blind obedience while also avoiding criminal disobedience!