What exactly do we mean when we say we want peace? How is peace defined? How do we achieve peace in the world or within our society? Although these questions might seem hard to answer, but in the field of peace and conflict studies, there are ways of defining and studying the various elements of peace and violence so that we can better understand the root causes of conflict and ways of resolving conflict so that we can achieve peace. Understanding how violence can be manifested in different ways also helps us better understand aspects of social oppression and global development.
Types of Violence
Direct violence is the kind of violence that we can physically see. It is human initiated physical harm like, war, murder, rape, assault, verbal attacks.
Indirect violence is a less visible or non-physical type of violence that is usually considered to be either structural or cultural.
Structural violence is indirect violence caused by inequitable customs, traditions, systems, and laws. In sociology, structural violence is what would be studied as institutionalized oppression (read more about that here); like racism, classism, sexism, heterocis-sexism, or ableism, and how our social systems create distributive injustice, retributive injustice, and moral exclusion for different social groups.
When unequal opportunity, injustice and exploitation become built into a social system that generates wealth for the minority and poverty for the majority, it inhibits everyone’s ability to develop their full humanity. Structural violence forms the very basis of capitalism (learn more about capitalism here), patriarchy, and any dominator system.
Cultural violence is a little harder to identify, and it works more indirectly than structural violence. Cultural violence refers to aspects of a culture that can be used to justify or legitimise direct or structural violence. Cultural may be exemplified by religion and ideology, traditions, language and art, and encompasses the prevailing attitudes and beliefs that justify and legitimize feelings of superiority/inferiority that shape our assumptions about us and the world. They convince us this is the way things are and they have to be.
Types of Peace
Negative peace is the absence of direct violence. Negative peace can be achieved through things like ceasefires or treaties.
Positive peace involves the absence of violence in all forms, both direct and indirect, and the unfolding of conflict in a constructive way.
Tension between negative and positive peace
While I agree with the notion the positive peace is just as necessary as negative peace, if not more, it makes me think a little about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychological theory that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, but many of these needs take precedence over others. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as assort of framework, at least on a macro scale of conflict when it comes to things like war, direct violence impacts our most basic physiological and safety needs and has a much greater sense of urgency, whereas indirect violence more so impacts our safety or psychological needs. If we assume Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be true, our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on, so it’s as if people and societies need to achieve negative peace before we aim achieve positive peace.
Many societies have a fixation on negative peace and eliminating direct violence, perhaps because it poses a greater threat to humans, but it is just as important to focus on the structural and cultural types of violence because these are the root causes of conflict.
The nature of violence
All of this information on the nature of violence within society poses an important question; is violence a part of human nature and therefore inevitable, or is it merely an invention, something the humans have created and can therefore exist without? This is an ongoing debate in the field of peace and conflict studies. The answer propagated by governments, militaries, and the media is that violence is a part of human nature. However, significant anthropological research about societies that have lived in relative peace suggests that we are not condemned to violence.