Differences between episodic and structural violence and their implications for peace-making and peace-building

Episodic and Structural Violence

Peace psychologists distinguish between two general types of violence; episodic and structural. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term ‘episodic’ as “occurring, appearing, or changing at usually irregular intervals.” Based on this definition, episodic violence can be described as an observable event that is often aimed at inflicting physical harm on others and occurs once or repeatedly. An example of episodic violence could be violent protests erupting after a presidential election. This has been observed in different countries over the years, marked by security forces firing teargas at crowds, demonstrators spending days in the streets, sometimes ending in destruction of property or clashes with the security forces.

Structural violence on the other hand refers to a form of violence where the social structure harms a certain group of members by preventing them from meeting their basic needs or preventing them from having equal access to resources such as education, civic services, safe jobs or political power. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term ‘structural’ as relating to “the way something is built or organized.” From this definition, we can deduce that structural violence is a normalized state of being that is not necessarily fair to all groups. Unlike direct violence, it does not literally directly harm in the physical sense but it does so indirectly through the unequal access to resources in societies. In his works of 1969, Johan Galtung, the principle founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies highlighted structural violence as “depicting the way in which institutions in a society are organized and distribute resources, providing ample goods and services for some members of society while depriving others”. Using the example of the protests after an election, structural violence could exist as rigged election systems that exclude certain groups of the population, inaccessibility of voting stations or even governance that has policies discriminating a group or groups of people.

Implications for peace-making and peace-building
According to the United Nations, (Agenda for Peace report 1992), peace-making involves “actions to bring hostile parties to agreement, essentially through peaceful means”. Generally this usually involves putting in place measures to address conflicts that are already in progress. Peace-making refers to efforts that are put in place to settle differences and move a violent conflict into a peaceful resolution. The objective is simply to end direct violence between the contending parties. In contrast, peace-building is concerned with strengthening a society’s capacity to manage conflict in nonviolent ways. In the Agenda for Peace, former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced the concept of peace-building as “action to identify and support structures, which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid relapse into conflict.” Peace-building is an intervention designed to prevent the relapse of violent conflict. From this context we can deduce that the differences between episodic and structural violence are important to consider when designing interventions to be used in these two different but overlapping processes.

Researchers suggest that peace-making interventions are based on theories and practices aimed at tension reduction while peace-building seeks to induce tension and disrupt hierarchically organized structures and relations. Thus when approaching peace-making, the focus is on lessening the tensions and animosity and restoring peace. Whereas in peace building, the focus is on leveraging the underlying tensions in order to motivate reform and change.

In regard to peace, Galtung referred to the distinction between negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace refers to the absence of violence while positive peace is far reaching and includes creation of social systems that serve the needs of everyone in the society, most notably through the constructive resolution of conflict. Therefore, it is important to design the different types of interventions with this in mind. Negative peace interventions are designed to prevent and mitigate violent episodes and are more relevant to be applied to episodic violence. For instance, in the event of violent protests, the police could be deployed to disperse violent crowds in a civil manner and government officials could create an official platform for them to air their grievances, such as a town-hall meeting. On the other hand, positive peace interventions involve social and cultural transformations that are long term and are aimed at the reduction of structural violence. In the case of violent protests, positive peace interventions would focus more on the upholding of the rule of law in relation to elections and governance. The intervention would be more concerned with re-establishing a fair electoral system that all citizens can participate in rather than just focusing on the current eruption of violence.



Bouchra Khalili: The Mapping Journey Project

I am fascinated by museums and art galleries. It’s a chance to discover history, the future and experiences far from my own. The countless hours spent wandering around beautiful paintings and sculptures color my worldview in eclectic ways!

I recently had the pleasure of viewing The Mapping Journey Project by Bouchra Khalili currently showing at the Museum of Modern Art.  Have you ever heard stories from people who illegally cross borders in search of better or safer circumstances? Our society has become desensitized when it comes to seeing the news stories about boats capsizing and refugees drowning in their quest for a better life in Europe or anywhere else. Stories of people suffering have just become part of the daily news – the emotions that come with the plight stripped away. The crisis is far removed from most people’s experiences but what happens around the world impacts each one of us one way or another. That’s why I was very excited to learn about this exhibition that comes at a timely moment.

In this exhibition Khalili, A Moroccan- French national presents a series of video stories narrated by eight individuals who were forced by political and economic circumstances to travel illegally to countries across the Mediterranean basin. She collected these stories between 2008 and 2011. After a chance meeting, she would invite each person to narrate his/her story, while using thick permanent marker to trace his/her journey on a map of the region.

Khalili travelled to Marseilles, Ramallah, Bari, Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul – the main corridors of human trafficking and trade to collect these stories. She walked around each city with maps and permanent markers waiting for the right moment to meet the subjects of her project. The videos do not at any point show the people’s faces; all you can see is their hand tracing the journey while they tell the story. The stories are presented on individual projector screens.

All the stories are sad and detail long arduous journeys, sometimes involving walking for days, taking the bus, smuggling cars and even aeroplanes. Some of the journeys spanned more than 5 countries as each person made their way from their home to this new place where they hope to call their new home.

The issue of refugees and asylum seekers is an issue close to my heart. What I liked about this exhibition was its simplicity and how it visually took you through the journey as the people traced their journey on a map. It offers a critical perspective on migration and displacement and what is happening around us.

The exhibition runs through Sunday, August 28 so if you are in New York, pass by to see it for yourself if you can.

5 things to know about the Sustainable Development Goals.

Credit: http://www.globalgoals.org

1. On September 25th 2015,at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders will commit to 17 Global Goals. The Global Goals are meant to achieve 3 objectives; ending extreme poverty, fight inequality & injustice and fixing climate change in the next 15 years.

2.These goals will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals which were in effect from 2000-2015. cover 17 key areas of development — including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others.

3. The Goals are made for everyone, everywhere in the world. We all need to work together to reach the target by 2030! Find a goal to support and take action nomatter how small. Our joint efforts will make the difference.


4. For the goals to actually work, everyone needs to know about them. “You can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what they are.” Take action to be informed and share the information with others at home, school, work, online and any other social interactions.

5. The exciting thing about all of this is that we can be the first generation to end extreme poverty, the most determined generation in history to end injustice and inequality, and the last generation to be threatened by climate change. It is a great time to join our global voices and work to change our world.

If you would like more in-depth information about each goal, visit Goal of the Goals Info Sheet

For more information about the Sustainable Development Goals visit globalgoals.org (Available in various languages)