Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week Three: What is violence?

            In seeking to form my own definition and understanding of violence, I kept in mind Galtung’s advice that it is less important to find the definition of violence and more important to explore the dimensions of violence in an order to spark thought, research, and action (168). Reading both Galtung and Stassen gave me the opportunity to engage scholarly definitions of violence, both of which were very interesting and helped me think about my own understanding of violence. For Galtung, violence is defined as “the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual” (168). Essentially, by Galtung’s definition, if harm could be prevented but is not, violence has taken place (169). He makes several distinctions of violence, including distinctions between personal and structural violence (170), intended and unintended violence (171), and manifest and latent violence (172). I appreciated his theories about structural violence, especially his argument for “cross-breeding” between personal and structural violence (178). He suggests that often situations of structural violence have a pre-history of personal violence (178), which seemed logical to me as the victims of structural violence are often the marginalized, the victims of personal violence and oppression. So, in my search for a definition of violence, Galtung’s article greatly enhanced my understanding of structural violence, which I consider an integral part of violence in general.
            The Stassen reading introduced me to a more basic, all-encompassing definition of violence. Stassen defines violence as “destruction to a victim by means that overpower the victim’s consent” (18). While Galtung’s definition of violence is based on preventability, Stassen’s definition focuses on human rights (21). While these definitions do not seem to be mutually exclusive, I most identify with Stassen’s definition and its focus on the humanity of all people. For Stassen, “the key is the authoritarian function” of violence (20). Thus, it is the action of dominating the will and human rights of another individual that constitutes violence (21). This definition transcends all categories of violence, “systemic and structural or individual, direct or indirect” (21), and provides a basic measuring stick to determine whether or not violence has been committed.
            After reading both articles and thinking about my own definition of violence, I would say that violence is harm done by means of domination. I have intentionally reworded Stassen’s definition to say that violence is “harm” instead of “destruction,” because there are many cases of violence that I would not consider destruction. For example, most cases of structural violence do not completely destroy individuals; rather, structural violence is marked by inequality, oppression, or marginalization. So, I find it more appropriate to refer to this as “harm” than “destruction.” And of course, where destruction has taken place, so too has harm.
            Using my working definition of violence, much violence takes place in the world and in our everyday lives. Harm happens. Domination happens. It is overwhelming to think about violence taking place in so many seemingly common ways, but these instances of domination and harm are often the seeds of manifest conflict. By identifying and transforming even small cases of harm and domination, my hope is that further violence can and will be prevented and seeds of peace will replace seeds of violence.

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