Structural Violence

Sample Structural Violence Framework:

If your circuit uses a value: you can insert whatever value is most applicable to the topic or you prefer to run. Justice or morality work best with this criterion.

In order to create a society that is [just/moral/insert your value], we must recognize our biases and actively strive to ensure all people are morally included.

Winter & Leighton 99 [Deborah DuNann Winter and Dana C. Leighton, Winter is a Professor at Whitman College and Leighton is a Professor at Texas A&M University, “Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century” 1999,

Finally, to recognize the operation of structural violence forces us to ask questions about how and why we tolerate it, questions which often have painful answers for the privileged elite who unconsciously support it. A final question of this section is how and why we allow ourselves to be so oblivious to structural violence. Susan Opotow offers an intriguing set of answers, in her article Social Injustice. She argues that our normal perceptual/cognitive processes divide people into in-groups and out-groups. Those outside our group lie outside our scope of justice. Injustice that would be instantaneously confronted if it occurred to someone we love or know is barely noticed if it occurs to strangers or those who are invisible or irrelevant. We do not seem to be able to open our minds and our hearts to everyone, so we draw conceptual lines between those who are in and out of our moral circle. Those who fall outside are morally excluded, and become either invisible, or demeaned in some way so that we do not have to acknowledge the injustice they suffer. Moral exclusion is a human failing, but Opotow argues convincingly that it is an outcome of everyday social cognition. To reduce its nefarious effects, we must be vigilant in noticing and listening to oppressed, invisible, outsiders. Inclusionary thinking can be fostered by relationships, communication, and appreciation of diversity. Like Opotow, all the authors in this section point out that structural violence is not inevitable if we become aware of its operation, and build systematic ways to mitigate its effects. Learning about structural violence may be discouraging, overwhelming, or maddening, but these papers encourage us to step beyond guilt and anger, and begin to think about how to reduce structural violence. All the authors in this section note that the same structures (such as global communication and normal social cognition) which feed structural violence, can also be used to empower citizens to reduce it. In the long run, reducing structural violence by reclaiming neighborhoods, demanding social justice and living wages, providing prenatal care, alleviating sexism, and celebrating local cultures, will be our most surefooted path to building lasting peace.

Structural violence occurs when people are systematically excluded and harmed for arbitrary factors. Opotow 01 further explains:

Opotow 01 [Susan Opotow, Opotow is a social psychologist and researcher at the City University of New York (CUNY). Additionally, Opotow has written/edited for Peace & Conflict:  Journal of Peace Psychology and Past President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Centuryl Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2001,

Both structural and direct violence result from moral justifications and rationalizations. Morals are the norms, rights, entitlements, obligations, responsibilities, and duties that shape our sense of justice and guide our behavior with others (Deutsch, 1985). Morals operationalize our sense of justice by identifying what we owe to whom, whose needs, views, and well-being count, and whose do not. Our morals apply to people we value, which define who is inside our scope of justice (or “moral community”), such as family members, friends, compatriots, and coreligionists (Deutsch, 1974, 1985; Opotow, 1990; Staub, 1989).We extend considerations of fairness to them, share community resources with them, and make sacrifices for them that foster their well- being (Opotow, 1987, 1993). We see other kinds of people such as enemies or strangers outside our scope of justice; they are morally excluded. Gender, ethnicity, religious identity, age, mental capacity, sexual orientation, and political affiliation are some criteria used to define moral exclusion. Excluded people can be hated and viewed as “vermin” or “plague” or they can be seen as expendable non-entities. In either case, disadvantage, hardship, and exploitation inflicted on them seems normal, acceptable, and just—as “the way things are” or the way they “ought to be.” Fairness and deserving seem irrelevant when applied to them and harm befalling them elicits neither remorse, outrage, nor demands for restitution; instead, harm inflicted on them can inspire celebration. Many social issues and controversies, such as aid to school drop-outs, illegal immigrants, “welfare moms,” people who are homeless, substance abusers, and those infected with HIV are essentially moral debates about who deserves public resources, and thus, ultimately, about moral inclusion. When we see other people’s circumstances to be a result of their moral failings, moral exclusion seems warranted. But when we see others’ circumstances as a result of structural violence, moral exclusion seems unwarranted and unjust. While it is psychologically more comfortable to perceive harm-doers to be evil or demented, we each have boundaries for justice. Our moral obligations are stronger toward those close to us and weaker toward those who are distant. When the media reports suffering and death in Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, we often fail—as a nation, as com- munities, and as individuals—to protest or to provide aid. Rationalizations include insufficient knowledge of the political dynamics, the futility of doing much of use, and not knowing where to begin. Our tendency to exclude people is fostered by a number of normal perceptual tendencies: 1. Social categorization. Our tendency to group and classify objects, including social categories, is ordinarily innocuous, facilitating acquisition of information and memory (Tajfel & Wilkes, 1963). Social categorizations can become invidious, however, when they serve as a basis for rationalizing structural inequality and social injustice. For example, race is a neutral physical characteristic, but it often becomes a value-loaded label, which generates unequal treatment and outcomes (Archer, 1985; Tajfel, 1978). 2. Evaluative judgments. Our tendency to make simple, evaluative, dichotomous judgments (e.g., good and bad, like and dislike) is a fundamental feature of human perception. Evaluative judgments have cognitive, affective, and moral components. From a behavioral, evolutionary, and social learning perspective, evaluative judgments have positive adaptive value because they provide feedback that protects our well-being (Edwards & von Hippel, 1995; Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957). Evaluative judgments can support structural violence and exclusionary thinking, however, when they lend a negative slant to perceived difference. In-group-out-group and we-them thinking can result from social comparisons made on dimensions that maximize a positive social identity for oneself or one’s group at the expense of others (Tajfel, 1982).

Thus, the value criterion (or standard) is mitigating structural violence. Moral inclusion is a necessary precondition to all other ethical theories as we can’t form those moral theories until all those who are affected are included in it.

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