Rethinking Global Political Economy: Emerging Issues, Unfolding Odysseys

By Mary Ann Tétreault; Robert A. Denemark et al. | Go to book overview
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7

Global dreams and local anger

From structural to acute violence in a globalizing world

Peter Uvin

This chapter studies the impact of structural violence on communal, acute violence. I define structural violence here, provisionally, as the "extent to which fundamental human needs tend to be frustrated and human development tends to be inhibited as a result of the normal workings of a society's institutions" (Gil 1986:129; see also Christie 1997:315). The connection between structural violence and acute violence seems intuitively evident, but it has not often been explicitly analyzed. In an earlier book on the Rwandan genocide, I studied these relations at the micro-level (Uvin 1998). In this chapter, I set out to examine the relationship between structural and acute violence at a more general, conceptual level, against the backdrop of the globalization of the world political economy. The chapter has two aims then: to analyze the mechanisms by which conditions of structural violence favor eruptions of acute violence (primarily of a communal nature), and to explore the impact of globalization on this process.

This chapter is divided into three major parts. The first part defines structural violence; the second discusses its relation to globalization; and the third aims to outline its impact on acute violence. I draw on a wide literature from the fields of political science, anthropology, sociology, and, rarer for an International Political Economy (IPE) article, psychology, and public health. These eclectic choices are explained by the multifaceted nature of the social dynamics of violence, and by the fact that scholars in these disciplines have provided important understandings of some of these dynamics. Much of this literature builds on a deep social engagement: whether we look at the work of public health specialists Paul Farmer and R. G. Wilkinson, anthropologists Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois, psychologists David Gil and Michael Simpson, or peace scholars Johan Galtung and John Burton, through it all there runs a common thread of an engaged, humanistic political position. This essay, then, also seeks to highlight the major contributions of these engaged scholars.


Structural violence

The term "structural violence" is believed to originate with Johan Galtung, the father of peace research and one of the foremost social scientists of the second half of the twentieth century. In 1969, he began this project by defining

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