Written By: Konrad Gessler and Will Shira
As defined by Paul Farmer, structural violence occurs when "large scale social forces crystalize into sharp, hard surfaces of individual suffering" (263). In other words, structural violence is the societal factors that oppress people and cause them to suffer. Structural violence is an inescapable vicious cycle, and leads to the creation of grievances amongst populations. In relation to part 2 of the course, structural violence has helped us understand the living conditions of the people involved in these conflicts. It has also helped us understand the larger picture behind these conflicts by showing us where grievances of combatants stem from and the major problems societies face. For example when analyzing the civil war in Sierra Leone, structural violence helps us understand the terrible conditions young men outside of Freetown faced, and how that affected their worldviews.
Using Haiti as the location to develop his argument, Paul Farmer described the conditions two ordinary Haitians faced in their quotidian lives. Acephie was born into a family of "water refugees"; people who were displaced after the building of Hati's largest dam which flooded Artibonite valley. In order to support herself and her family, Acephie began sleeping with a general who had a family of his own. Soon after their affair began, the general died. Acephie began to work as a maid in Port-au-Prince, a job that was looked down upon in Haitian society. After meeting a man named Blanco she became pregnant and was diagnosed with AIDS. She died soon after.
Chouchou grew up in a village not far from Kay and was involved in many church activities. He was not happy with the coup d'état in 1991 because he felt that Father Aristide (the man who was removed from power) gave him a voice in the government and the military was something to fear. One day in a truck heading toward the town of Hinche, Chouchou made a comment about the poor conditions of the road. An out-of-uniform soldier in the truck regarded the comment as speaking against the government and nearly beat Chouchou to death. This incident caused Chochou to be blacklisted. He was arrested for a second time, tortured, and beaten to death.
What do these two stories tell us about structural violence? Structural violence led to both Acephie and Chochou's death. If Acephie had another way to make a living she would not have to sleep with a general infected with AIDS. If Chouchou lived in a society where it was acceptable to speak out against the government, he wouldn't have been blacklisted and beaten to death. Structural violence is the human decisions that led to the deaths of these two people, and thousands of other Haitians. People decided to flood the Artibonite valley in order to build a dam and people also decided to give the military millions of dollars and a great amount of power. Structural violence is the fear, poverty, and social marginalization that forces people to live miserable and short lives.
In order to better understand "the political economy of brutality" (274), and create a model of structural violence, Paul Farmer laid out multiaxel models of suffering in his article titled "On Suffering and Structural Violence: A View from Below". These axels are gender and race or ethnicity. The gender axis highlights that women, more often than men, are the victims of structural violence, and the ethnic axis states that blacks suffer structural violence more often than whites. One final axis, however, illuminates the importance of understanding structural violence from a lense of poverty and not ethnography. From the US to Zimbabwe those who are impoverished are more likely to suffer, and be victims of structural violence.
In Paul Richard's article "The Social Life of War", structural violence is seen as a cause that drives young people to war in Africa. Richards states that "some children cut loose from home even before reaching teenhood, convinced there is little their parents or the rural milieu can provide" (1). Children have no opportunities to advance their position in society, which causes individual suffering. However the terrible chains of Structural Violence do not merely sit in Sierra Leone or Haiti. In New Wars across the globe structural violence is used as a mechanism of control by groups in power to keep firm control over the working People who produce the resources which are sold for Money. This Money is then used to implement structural violence in order for those in control of these groups to gain more Power over the people who can produce more resources. And thus the Money, Power, People cycle continues.
In Colombia, Nigeria, and theDemocratic Republic of the Congo structural violence is used by multiple actors to maintain control through of the civilian population through fear in order to increase their regional power. This structural violence is a staple in New Wars.