Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

The Political Economy of Violence in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

The Political Economy of Violence in Australia

Article excerpt

The World Health Organization defines violence as 'the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation' (WHO 2002:4). Pioneering peace studies analyst Johan Galtung argues that violence should be understood 'as avoidable insults to basic human needs, and more generally to life, lowering the real level of needs satisfaction below what is potentially possible' (Galtung 1996:197).

It is in understanding the structural roots of violence that political economic analysis is essential. Burton defines structural violence as 'damaging deprivations caused by the nature of social institutions and policies ... and avoidable, perhaps a deliberate, violence against the person or community' (Burton 1997:32). Violence is structured in the economic, cultural and political systems of the nation-state and the world order. At the core of any major structure is power. Power is about control, domination, and exploitation, and is constructed as relations of force because power involves coercion and repression (Heilbroner 1986; Foucault 2004). Unequal access 'to resources, to political power, to education, to health care, or to legal standing are forms of structural violence' (Winter & Leighton 2001).

Therein lies the link between violence and capitalism, to the extent that the structure and culture of capitalism creates inequality, poverty, unemployment, and alienation. As Miliband argues, capitalism 'is inherently and inescapably a system of domination and exploitation; and ... is unable to make rational and humane use of the immense productive resources it has itself brought into being' (Miliband 1991:209).

The power of the state is fundamental to capitalism and the embedding of society in market relations. Foucault's analysis of the construction of the modern European nation-state points to the imposition of a 'tight grid of disciplinary coercions that actually guarantees the cohesion of the social body' (Foucault 2004:37). Power, Foucault reminds us, 'is essentially that which represses', and political power 'is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe that relationship of force' (ibid: 16). However, where there is power, and therefore repression, there is always resistance. Relations of force cause suffering, and where there is suffering there is disobedience and the desire and demand for change. Power and resistance confront each other everywhere, and the struggle is everywhere.

Violence is also built in the structure of the world system. The global order is a system of unequal economic and political power relations dominated by powerful and rich countries. As Wallerstein (2003, 2004) argues, the capitalist world economy is dominated by a triad of the US, the EU, and Japan. The global order is also a system of unequal power relations dominated by the US military (Chomsky 2003, 2008). However, the US quest for hegemony and the dominating role of the triad are being challenged by forces in Asia and elsewhere, and the sustainability of system is doubt as it is threatening the survival of the human species and the planet's ecosystem (Lovelock 2006).

At the core of the world-system is nationalism. Nationalism is not only a power relationship to maintain social cohesion, but also an instrument of aggression--within the nation-state as well as externally against other people. As Chomsky writes, 'the way that power is concentrated inside the particular societies; that's the source of extreme violence in the world' (Mitchell & Schoeffel 2002:315).

This article is an analysis of the political economy of violence, focusing particularly on Australia. It links violence with power relations and the organization of society. It also seeks to show how violence is constructed in various forms of disobedience and resistance to power. …

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