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Peace and Violence

Page history last edited by Peace Studies 11 years, 4 months ago

FrontPage        Resources        Concepts:Themes      


Galtung, Johan. (1975) Peace: Research, Education, Action: Essays in Peace Research, 5 vols, Christian Ejlers: Copenhagen.


Vol.1:  Introduction

Structural violence differs from ‘institutionalized violence’, which would mean regular, direct violence in a predictable pattern, e.g. in the form of a vendetta. And it differs from ‘institutionalized violence’ in not being tied to any specific institution, e.g. to the legal machinery, the news media, the production system, etc. Structural violence is violence built into the basic social structure itself, including the cases just mentioned, and many more. It is an open-ended concept when it comes to the precise mechanisms of this ubiquitous form of violence. p.24.


But structural violence should not be confused with a catalogue of the major mechanisms of structural violence, just as little as they should be confused with the theory of structural violence. Later on, in other articles (particularly in ‘A structural theory of Imperialism’, vol.IV) and in other books (particularly in The European Community: A Superpower in the Making and  The True Worlds: A Transnational Perspective), such basic mechanisms or aspects as exploitation, penetration, fragmentation, and marginalization – seen as corresponding to an inventory of the instruments of direct violence, called weapons, in that kind of theory – are introduced.

Nor should a definition of structural violence be confused with an effort to operationalize one aspect of structural violence: how long persons live, simple physical life span. p.25.


… for peace to be possible it must also be possible to eliminate, or somehow contain, what is usually called ‘aggression’ as long as peace refers to direct violence; if in addition it shall also refer to structural violence, one even has to eliminate or otherwise contain what is usually called ‘domination’. p.25.


I.1. Peace

Also published in 1968 in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York: Macmillan and Free Press.


Two concepts of peace should be distinguished: negative peace, defined as the absence of organized violence between such major groups as nations, but also between racial and ethnic groups because of the magnitude that can be reached by internal wars; and positive peace, defined as a pattern of cooperation and integration between major human groups. Absence of violence should not be confused with absence of conflict: violence may occur without conflict, and conflict may be solved by means of nonviolent mechanisms. The distinction between these two types of peace gives rise to a fourfold classification of relations between two nations: war, which is organized group violence; negative peace, where there is no violence but no other form of interaction either and where the best characterization is ‘peaceful coexistence’; positive peace, where there is some cooperation interspersed with occasional outbreaks of violence; and unqualified peace, where absence of violence is combined with a pattern of cooperation. p.29.

The conception of peace as ‘nonwar’ is neither theoretically nor practically interesting … it can often be explained in terms of a low level of interaction resulting from geographical distance and thus will hardly be identified by many as an ideal relation worth striving for. For peace, like health, has both cognitive and evaluative components: it designates a state of a system of nations, but this state is so highly valued that institutions are built around it to protect and promote it. It is the concept of positive peace that is worth exploring, especially since negative peace is a condition sine qua non and the two concepts of peace may be empirically related even though they are logically independent. pp.29-30.


International peace systems

Various suggestions for international peace plans are both theoretically and practically more promising than those that focus on the subinternational level.

Based on distribution of power. Most peace thinking has centered on the problem of how power shall best be distributed among the nations of the world. Theories relating to this are usually marred by the neglect of other kinds of power than coercive power; influence potential in its most general sense is rarely considered. If we stick to this tradition of studying the distribution of military power, there are four major models of peace.

The first model is that of minimum equality, which is based on the theory that the international system is best served by making power the monopoly of one nation or system, just as it is monopolized by some statuses in the international system. Examples are the Pax Romana, Pax Ecclesiae, and Pax Britannica­ – and the contemporary efforts to establish a Pax Americana or a Pax Sovietica before the stalemate was crystallized in the idea of a system of peaceful coexistence.

The second model focuses on maximum equality, or what is usually referred to as a ‘balance of power’ (Kaplan 1957), in the sense that no nation or alliance is strong enough to defeat another nation or alliance. A modern version is the ‘balance of terror’, in which a nation may defeat other nations, but only at the risk of being completely destroyed itself. War becomes impossible under the balance of mutual destruction of a Pax Atomica: the risks are too great.

A third model views military powers as stabilized at a low level; this refers to all kinds of arms-control efforts, especially those that have taken place from the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 to the present day, including contemporary thinking that aims at subtracting from a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes both some means of violence and some objects of violence. The idea is to rule out general and complete war.


Finally there is the model that views power as stabilized at a zero level; this refers to the general (all nations) and complete (all weapons) disarmament advocated by pacifists. Pacifism asserts that this state may be obtained unilaterally by the effect of example, because weapons become meaningless when they do not encounter similar weapons, and by the refusal of soldiers to use arms, as well as by governmental decisions. p.33.


1.3 ‘Peace Thinking’

Also published in 1971 in The Search for World Order, (eds) Lepawsky et al., New York: Appleton Century-Crofts.


Without going into more detail, let us try to cut through the idea that conflict management means conflict regulation, primarily or solely, by adding the category or phenomenon of instigating or increasing conflict levels, i.e. the possibility of conflict creation. p.83. 


But conflict creation would negate the definition of conflict as frustration by injecting conflict consciousness, and this is probably largely a question of ‘definition of the situation’, of counteracting the definitions imposed on the structure from the top. It would then add calculated manifestations of conflict so as to create in the underdogs sufficient identity and autonomy to counteract the tendencies towards absorption and definition as nonactors. In so doing it would polarize and creat distance as the only way of getting out of the asymmetry of the existing structure. This can be done violently by incapacitating the topdogs physically, or nonviolently by denying them cooperation within the structure and consequently incapacitating them socially. There are many possibilities.

We hope by this to have made two points. First, even if one limits oneself to the conflict paradigm as an approach to understanding ‘violence’, and hence ‘peace’, a tremendous variation is called for when it comes to ways of ending the conflict. Second, the way of ending the conflict is not necessarily linear: it may go via increases in the conflict, even from a state of complete rest. Hence, peace thinking, in order not to carry to heavy a burden of political bias in favor of topdogs of all kinds – at the level of individuals, groups, nations, regions or globes – has to include the idea of peace through increased conflict. p.89


According to the dissociative school the best thing one can do when parties are in conflict, with or without physical manifestations, is to keep them as far apart as possible. This can be done in many ways, and the major distinction is between spatial (geographical) and social dissociation. p.91


According to the associative school the best thing one can do when parties are in conflict, latent or manifest, is to keep them as close together as possible, on the theory that the more closely interrelated the parties are, the less will they or can they fight each other. Where the dissociative school goes in for little or no interaction, the associative school goes in for a high level of interaction between the actors, for togetherness and a strengthening of ties, even to the point of integration where the borders between them disappear and they become one actor. This can be done in many ways, and the major distinction is between similarity policies and interdependence policies. p.94


What is structural violence? From the point of view of the human body, it is differential mortality and morbidity rates between classes, arising from a structure of exploitation and social injustice. But these terms do not by themselves clarify it. Basically, what seems to underlie the whole is a pattern of human interaction, of social order, that is so prevalent, so all-pervasive, that it seems to be present as an archetype at all times and places.

FIGURE  7  The feudal structure


Lord          Minister                        0                    Big Power           IGO/INGO/BINGO

                                                /       \                       

Vassal      Section Chief          0          0               Small Power        National level

                                           /     \    /      \                 

Serf          Bureau chief       0       0 0        0          Province              Local level


Some call this hierarchical or pyramidal organization. We shall refer to it as a feudal structure. In its pure form - there are, of course, many variations – interaction is always vertical, via superiors or higher levels, never horizontal. And there seems almost to be a Sisyphus principle involved here: the moment one believes a more egalitarian structure has been created, the old hierarchical structure comes in through the backdoor. … The structure seems to survive very well the changes from a slave society via vassalage and capitalist orders towards a socialist society, to judge by our experience so far. And we may well suspect that even the ‘permanent revolution’ – presumably intended to keep the Sisyphus stone on the summit of egalitarianism and to prevent it from ever falling again into the abyss of feudalism – will develop its high priests and its experts, its ‘old boys’ who know how to do it, its chains of command and what-not. pp.103-04



1.4 ‘Violence, Peace, and Peace Research’

Also published in Journal of Peace Research VI, 1969.


If peace action is to be regarded highly because it is action against violence, then the concept of violence must be broad enough to include the most significant varieties, yet specific enough to serve as a basis for concrete action.

Thus the definition of ‘peace’ becomes a major part of a scientific strategy. It may depart from common usage by not being agreed to ‘by most’ (consensus not required), yet should not be entirely subjectivistic (‘agreed to by many’). It should depict a state of affairs the realization of which is not utopian (‘not impossible to attain’), yet not on the immediate political agenda (‘complex and difficult’). And it should immediately steer one’s attention towards problems that are on the political, intellectual, and scientific agenda of today, and tomorrow. p.110


As a point of departure, let us say that violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations. This statement may lead to more problems than it solves. However, it will soon be clear why we are rejecting the narrow concept of violence – according to which violence is somatic incapacitation, or deprivation of health alone (with killing as the extreme form), at the hands of an actor who intends this to be the consequence. If this were all violence is about, and peace is seen as its negation, then too little is rejected when peace is held up as an ideal. Highly unacceptable social orders would still be compatible with peace. Hence, an extended concept of violence is indispensable; but that concept should be a logical extension, not merely a list of undesirables.

The definition points to at least six important dimensions of violence. But first some remarks about the use of the key words above, ‘actual’ and ‘potential’. pp.110-11


… when the potential is higher than the actual the difference is by definition avoidable and when by definition it is avoidable, then violence is present.

When the actual is unavoidable, then violence is not present even if the actual is at a very low level. p.111


The first distinction to be made is between physical and psychological violence. …

The second distinction is between the negative and positive approach to influence. … pp.112

The third distinction to be made is on the object side: whether or not there is an object that is hurt.

The fourth distinction to be made and the most important one is on the subject side: whether or not there is a subject (person) who acts. … We shall refer to the type of violence where there is an actor that commits the violence as personal or direct, and to the violence where there is no such actor as structural or indirect. pp.113

The fifth distinction to be made is between violence that is intended or unintended. This distinction is important when guilt is to be decided, since the concept of guilt has been tied more to intention, both in Judaeo-Christian ethics and in Roman jurisprudence, than to consequence (whereas the present definition of violence is entirely located on the consequence side). This connection is important because it brings into focus a bias present in so much thinking about violence, peace, and related concepts: ethical systems directed against intended violence will easily fail to capture structural violence in their nets …From this fallacy it does not follow, in our mind, that the opposite fallacy of directing all attention against structural violence is elevated into wisdom. If the concern is with peace, and peace is absence of violence, then action should be directed against personal as well as structural violence; … p.115

Sixth, there is the traditional distinction between two levels of violence: the manifest and the latent. p115


The object of personal violence perceives the violence, usually, and may complain – the object of structural violence may be persuaded not to perceive this at all. p.117


But are personal and structural violence empirically, not only logically, independent of each other? …

The answer seems to be ‘yes’ in either case. The typical feudal structure, with a succession of incapsulating hierarchies of metropole-satellite relationships, is clearly structurally violent regardless of who staffs it and regardless of the level of awareness of the participants: the violence is built into the structures. No personal violence or threat of personal violence is needed. And there are persons who seem to be violent in (almost) any setting – often referred to as ‘bullies’. Characteristic of them is precisely that they carry their violent propensity with them far outside any structural context deemed reasonable by society at large, for which they will often be institutionalized (in prison or mental hospital, depending on which basic norms they infract first and most clearly). Hence, we may conclude that the two forms of violence are empirically independent: the one does not presuppose the other.

But from this alone it cannot be concluded that there is no necessary (not only sufficient) causal relationship between the two types of violence, or that the even stronger condition of one-way reductionism is not fulfilled. pp123-4


From the problem of whether one type of violence is necessary to obtain or sustain the other type, whether at the manifest or the latent levels, it is not so far to the opposite problem: is one type of violence necessary or sufficient to abolish the other type? p.127


Again our search seems to fail to uncover any absolutes. It is hard to sustain a belief in sufficiency or necessity one way or the other. The two types of violence simply do not seem to be more tightly connected empirically than logically – and as to the latter, the whole exercise is an effort to show that they may be seen as logically independent even though they are continuous with each other: one shades into the other. p.128


Just as a coin has two sides, one side alone being only one aspect of the coin, not the complete coin, peace also has two sides: absence of personal violence, and absence of structural violence. We shall refer to them as negative peace and positive peace respectively.

For brevity, the formulations, ‘absence of violence’ and ‘social justice’ may perhaps be preferred, using one negative and one positive formulation. p.130


… once the double goal has been stated – that peace research is concerned with the conditions for promoting both aspects of peace – there is no reason to believe that the future will not bring us richer concepts and more forms of social action that combine absence of personal violence with fight against social injustice once sufficient activity is put into research and practice. p.134


Galtung, J., Jacobsen, C.G. and Brand-Jacobsen, K.F. (2000) Searching for Peace: The Road to Transcend, London and Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press.


Series Preface: Peace by Peaceful Means


‘Peace is a revolutionary idea; peace by peaceful means defines that revolution as nonviolent. That revolution is taking place all the time; our job is to expand it in scope and domain. The tasks are endless; the question is whether we are up to them.’ Johan Galtung


To work for peace is to work against violence; by analyzing its forms and causes, predicting in order to prevent, and then acting preventatively and curatively since peace relates to violence as health relates to illness. Of particular concern is genocide, or massive category killing, across the fault-lines in human society: nature (between humans and their environment), gender, generation, race, class, exclusion, nation, state. Whether as direct violence or as the indirect slow, grinding violence of social structures that do not deliver sufficient nutrition and health at the bottom of world society, enormous suffering is the effect. To work for peace is to build liberation, wellness in a world with peace with nature, between genders, generations and races, where the excluded are included but not by force, and where classes, nations and states serve neither direct, structural nor cultural violence. In such a world they would all pull together for a better livelihood for all. That would be true globalization, unlike the present reduction of that term to represent only state and corporate elites in a handful of countries. p.xi



‘Conflict, War and Peace: A Bird’s Eye View’ - Johann Galtung


There is a standard natural history, with many variations and subtypes, leading to violence and war, that is, organized group violence, which indicates how violence can be avoided or at least reduced.

The first stage is a conflict (parties with contradictory goals), a ubiquitous phenomenon in human and social reality, a major driving force. Or, more correctly: unresolved conflict, leading to frustration because of blocked goals, and a potential for aggression against parties perceived as standing in the way.

The second stage is polarization, the reduction to two groups, Self and Other, with positive interaction within and negative interaction between the groups. … Conflict is removed as a cause by transformation so that the conflict can be handled by the parties non-violently, creatively, empathetically. Polarization is removed as a cause through depolarization, peace-building, flattening the gradient from Self to Other, rethinking.

In UN jargon these two activities are known generically as peacemaking and peacebuilding. …

Then there is peacekeeping, which aims at controlling violence, reducing it, possibly even removing it to the point called cease-fire. p.3

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