Structural violence

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Structural violence describes the notion that violence is also inherent in state or social structures - in addition to the classic concept of violence , which assumes a direct personal actor. From 1971 onwards , the Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung formulated such a theory in a special way . Examples of structural violence in the sense of Galtung are age discrimination , classicism , elitism , ethnocentrism , nationalism , speciesism , racism and sexism .

Galtung's approach

Johan Galtung added the structural dimension to the traditional concept of violence, which deliberately denotes destructive behavior by an offender or group of offenders:

"Structural violence is the avoidable impairment of basic human needs or, more generally, life, which reduces the real level of need satisfaction below what is potentially possible."

According to this expanded concept of violence, the fact that current self-realization falls short of what is possible in a society is a form of violence. If people died of tuberculosis in the Middle Ages , it would not necessarily be violence because medicine was not yet developed enough. If people die of tuberculosis today, however, this can be attributed to structural violence.

Under Structural violence all forms of drop -discrimination , unequal distribution of income , educational opportunities and life expectancy , as well as the wealth gap between the first and the third world . Restricted chances in life due to environmental pollution or the hindrance of emancipatory efforts are also subsumed here. In this comprehensive definition, which only names the effects, violence can no longer be attributed to specific, personal actors. It is only based on the structures of an existing social formation , in particular on social structures such as values , norms , institutions or discourses and power relations.

This definition dispenses with the requirement that in order to speak of violence, a person or group must subjectively feel violence. Structural violence is often not even noticed by the victims because the restricted living standards are already internalized .

Galtung first presented his understanding of “structural violence” in a long essay in 1971. In 1975 a book appeared on the subject. In 1996 he added structural violence as one of the three poles, alongside personal and cultural violence, in his concept of an interdependent violence triangle .

Concept history

Before and after Galtung there were other authors who described the violence of state or social structures.

Bertolt Brecht interpreted the Chinese philosopher Me-Ti , who lived in the 5th century BC :

“There are many ways to kill. You can stick a knife in the stomach, stab your bread, not cure you of an illness, put you in a bad apartment, kill you by work, drive you to suicide , lead you to war, etc. Little it is forbidden in our state. "

The idea that violence can also be rooted in social conditions themselves can also be found in Karl Marx . This is how post-Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write :

"The theory of exploitation must reveal the daily structural violence of capital against the workers that produces this antagonism, and conversely, it serves as a basis for workers to organize themselves and to refuse capitalist control."

Similar to the critical theory , especially Herbert Marcuse and his 1964 work Der one-dimensional man . Here the pluralistic democracies of the western world are described as repressive , even " totalitarian " societies based on indoctrination , manipulation , exploitation and war . Criticism remains fruitless, as it would be integrated into the "one-dimensional" system of politics , economy and culture industry .

The French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault , whose discourse theory , which emerged in the early 1970s, is structurally and non-personal, also developed socially critical thoughts in his work Überwachen und Strafen (1975) aimed at structural violence. Numerous philosophers today refer to Foucault's theory of governmentality , including Giorgio Agamben .

Legitimation of counter-violence

Even before Galtung, the idea of ​​the social structures of inherent violence was used to legitimize resistance and counter-violence .

Herbert Marcuse emphasized that oppressed minorities have a natural right to resist: If these minorities use violence, they do not initiate a new chain of acts of violence, but break the established one. He is of the opinion that it is not possible to overcome these conditions through reform . If structural violence is inherent in the criticized forms of society, a revolutionary process is required to break it open.

After the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg at the demonstration on June 2, 1967 in West Berlin, the pioneer of the student movement Rudi Dutschke said :

“All political action here stands or falls in the context of the international revolutionary movements. […] The state has shown what means it takes when a movement insists on its right to resist . We did not find the right answer, but we must not do without our own violence from the start, because that would only mean a license for the organized violence of the system . "

The RAF justified revolutionary acts of violence with the previous "violence of the system". Ulrike Meinhof wrote in the founding manifesto of the RAF, "The Urban Guerilla Concept " in 1971:

“Urban guerrilla means not to be demoralized by the violence of the system . [...] The slogan of the anarchists ' destroy what breaks you ' aims at the direct mobilization of the grassroots, the young people in prisons and homes, in schools and in training, aimed at those who are the dirtiest on spontaneous understanding, is the invitation to direct resistance. The Black Power -Parole of Stokely Carmichael , 'Trust your own experience'! meant just that. The slogan is based on the insight that there is nothing in capitalism, but also nothing that oppresses, torments, hinders, burdens one that does not have its origin in the capitalist relations of production , [...] "

Albert Fuchs , member of the Institute for Peace Work and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution , wrote:

"Galtung is about scandalizing the prevailing conditions, discrediting their representation and agents and justifying resistance to these conditions."


Galtung's approach has been widely accepted in the scientific literature. In the 1970s and 1980s it was used in various ways, for example to analyze imperialism and the North-South conflict . Many branches of sociology and political science, however, hesitated to adopt the term, on the one hand because of suspicion of its ideological use, on the other hand it was feared that it would be almost indistinguishable from the established and well-defined term “ rule ”.


The constitutional lawyer Josef Isensee saw in the "doctrine of structural violence, which is represented by the neo-Marxist direction of the so-called peace research ", a "legitimation scheme for the civil war against the 'capitalist' system":

“'Peace' and ( socialistically understood) social justice are put into one. Social injustice is considered to be (structural) violence against which (physical) counter-violence is justified (see J. Galtung, Structural violence, German edition 1975). The conceptual identification of various political ethical goals provides the legitimation scheme for the civil war against the 'capitalist' system. "

Gustav Däniker , former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Swiss Army , wrote in an analysis of terrorism in the yearbook for international security policy:

“The breeding ground was in particular the theories of system-critical thinkers regarding the so-called structural violence within democratically constituted states, which should be broken. From the battle cry: destroy what destroys you to the slogan When right becomes wrong, resistance becomes a duty , fighting slogans exert a fascination that the remaining neo-Marxist and neo- Trotskyist hard core of the 68 generation gave as a free pass for the last liberating act were interpreted. "

Even today, according to the sociologist Helmut Willems, left-wing extremist acts of violence are justified with reference to “structural violence of the system”.

Political scientist Dieter Nohlen criticizes the fact that the term remains vague, since Galtung had refused to explain it precisely. Its content therefore remained fluid. Ultimately, the term does not say anything more than that structural violence is bad, must be made aware and thus overcome.


  • Johan Galtung : Violence, Peace and Peace Research. in: Dieter Senghaas (Ed.), Critical Peace Research, Frankfurt 1971 (also in: Johan Galtung, Structural Violence. Contributions to Peace and Conflict Research, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1975)
  • Dieter Senghaas (Ed.), Imperialism and Structural Violence. Analyzes on dependent reproduction , 1976, ISBN 3-518-10563-9
  • Michael Roth, Structural and Personal Violence. Problems of the operationalization of the concept of violence by Johan Galtung , 1988, ISBN 3-926197-36-6
  • Klaus Horn, Socialization and Structural Violence. Writings on the critical theory of the subject , 1998, ISBN 3-930096-59-5
  • Josef Isensee, Basic Right to Security - On the duty of protection of the free constitutional state , 1983, ISBN 3-11-009816-4

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Galtung: Violence, Peace and Peace Research , p. 168; see on this and the following Arno Waschkuhn : Violence as a subject of political science . In: Michael Klein (Ed.) Violence - interdisciplinary . LIT Verlag, Münster 2002, ISBN 3-8258-6272-0 , pp. 111-132, here p. 113f.
  2. ^ Peter Waldmann : Politics and violence . In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics, Volume 1: Political Theories. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 431.
  3. a b Michael Riekenberg , On the wrong track ? About Johan Galtung's concept of “structural violence” , in: Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History 5 (2008), pp. 172–177.
  4. Negri / Hardt: Multitude , 2004, p. 270 ( online in the Google book search)
  5. (BRD - RAF) The concept of urban guerrilla
  6. Albert Fuchs: Against the devaluation of the concept of violence .
  7. Dieter Senghaas (ed.): Imperialism and structural violence . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987 (first edition 1972).
  8. Isensee: Grundrecht Auf Sicherheit , 1983, online in the Google book search
  9. Däniker: The 'new' dimension of terrorism - a strategic problem (PDF; 195 kB) , in: Erich Reiter (Hrsg.), Yearbook for international security policy 1999, p. 79
  10. Disintegration Research Association: Project leader: Dr. Helmut Willems
  11. ^ Helmut Willems: Structures and developments of politically motivated crime in Germany , 2001
  12. ^ Dieter Nohlen: Structural violence . In: the same (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics. Volume 7: Political Terms. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 626 f.