The Cultural Violence of Non-violence

Journal of Mediation and Applied Conflict Analysis 3 (1):382-396 (2016)
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This paper explores the difference it makes to incorporate the multi-focal conception of violence that has emerged in peace studies over recent decades into the discourse of non-violent direct action (Galtung 1969, 1990; Uvin 2003; Springs 2015b). I argue that non-violent action can and should incorporate and deploy the distinctions between direct, cultural, and structural forms of violence. On one hand, these analytical distinctions can facilitate forms of self-reflexive critical analysis that guard against certain violent conceptual and practical implications of non-violence, however inadvertent those may be. At the same time, these lenses help reconceptualise non-violent action in ways that open up an array of strategies and tools not previously prevalent among activists committed to non-violence. Non-violent action may itself be either complicit in, or might be enabled to illuminate and cut against, forms of violence that infuse social, political, and economic structures (i.e. structural violence). Appeals to non-violence and the actions with which they interweave may be complicit in, or might be enabled to illuminate and cut against, religious, ideological, aesthetic, and even scientific understandings and conceptual frames that underpin and support structural violence (i.e. cultural violence). In each case, non- violence must be critically examined with all these possibilities in mind. I first define and contextualize a multidimensional account of violence in terms of direct, structural, and cultural violence. I then consider two examples of how it challenges thinking about non-violence.

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Jason Springs
University of Notre Dame


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