Magazine article Women in Action

Political Violence as Moral Exclusion: Linking Peace Psychology to Feminist Critical Theory

Magazine article Women in Action

Political Violence as Moral Exclusion: Linking Peace Psychology to Feminist Critical Theory

Article excerpt


Coming from peace psychology, this paper attempts to understand political violence by looking at its moral dimension as expressed through the social, psychological and cultural spheres. The result is a model that highlights moral exclusion as the social psychological basis for violence. By defining our scope of justice, violence towards excluded others is justified. Moral exclusion is supported by cultural norms that legitimize the use of violence and structural hierarchies that perpetuate violence. In search of an alternative, we turn to feminist critical theory. Our proposed peace agenda centers on Nancy Fraser's theory of recognition and redistribution, with questions directed to activists and social movements. The paper is discussed in the context of U.S. hegemony in today's world.

The Nature of Global Violence in Contemporary Societies

Violence has been studied across disciplines, each focusing on a specific system or unit of analysis: individual, group, institution/organisation, nation-states and politico-economic structures, and the transnational system (Joxe, 1981). At each level, disciplines have evolved a unique theory of causality, control, and intervention. There is no general theory that can explain violence in totality or that integrates the various disciplines of the social sciences. Instead, violence often is associated with social conflicts, social dysfunctions, or crises (Wieviorka, 2003).

The classical approach to examining violence is through levels. Pierre Hassner's three-way classification for instance includes (1) international systems; (2) the states; and (3) the societies within states (as cited in Wieviorka). Our own perspective is rooted in social psychology focusing on both individual and group violence. We maintain in this paper that the analysis of political violence, as depicted in Hassner's model, will benefit from a social psychological lens that sees the psychological and cultural dimensions of violence as linked to feminist critical theory.

If we define violence as actions that are detrimental to human life, health or well-being, then we must note that the contemporary growth of violence takes both structural and direct forms (Schiller & Fouron, 2003): The conceptual distinction between direct and structural violence is among peace research's major contributions to the study of violence (Galtung, 1981).

According to Galtung, the classical conception of violence is that of direct bodily destruction inflicted by an actor. Peace psychology defines direct violence as physical violence "that harms or kills people quickly, producing somatic trauma or total incapacitation" (Christie, Wagner, & Winter, 2001, p. 8). Though the discourse on global violence has long focused on interstate violence and the threat of nuclear war, direct violence varies in scale and complexity, from violence in personal relationships to large-scale violence such as genocide. Direct violence is often dramatic, personal, and episodic. The people who commit direct violent acts and the people who are victimised by these acts are identifiable (Opotow, 2001). Because direct violence is directly observable and the person/s responsible for it identifiable, it is often judged in terms of intentionality and morality. Religion, the law, and other ethical systems have often been used to judge episodes of direct violence and to determine sanctions if applicable (Christie, Wagner, & Winter).

Galtung points to another type of violence that is relatively permanent and is somehow built into the social structure--structural violence. Poverty, (the deprivation of basic material needs), repression (the deprivation of human fights), and alienation (the deprivation of higher needs) are the manifestations of structural violence (Galtung). This more subtle form of violence occurs globally and is almost invisible as it is normalised (Opotow). In structural violence, the persons responsible may not be clearly identifiable and the violence often commonplace, impersonal, continuous and thus, unnoticeable (Christie, Wagner, & Winter). …

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