Direct, cultural and structural violence

The triangle of violence, defined by the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, identifies three types of violence and argues that the phenomenon has a similar structure to that of an iceberg, in which there is always a small visible part and a huge hidden part.

Direct violence, corresponding to the tip of the iceberg, has as its main characteristic the fact that most of its effects are visible, mainly the materials, but not all of them: hate, psychological trauma or the emergence of concepts such as ‘enemy’ are equally serious effects, but they are often not seen as such. Being the most popular and obvious, it is commonly thought that direct is the worst kind of violence, which is not true for precisely this visibility, which makes it easier to identify and therefore to combat. It is important to note that this type of violence is the manifestation of something, not its origin, and is in the beginning where it should be sought causes and act more effectively. Direct violence does not affect many people as cultural and structural violence, which are the hidden part of the iceberg.

Cultural violence is a symbolic violence that is expressed in countless media —religion, ideology, language, art, science, media, education, etc— and serves to legitimize direct and structural violence and to inhibit or suppress the response of the victims. It even offers justifications for humans, unlike other species, to destroy each other and to be rewarded for doing so: it is not strange to accept violence in the name of country or religion. There is a culture of violence in which schools and other instruments of transmission and reproduction of culture show History as a succession of wars; it is usual to suppress conflicts by unquestioned parental authority, or authority of the male over the female; mass media sell armies use as the main way of solving international conflicts, etc. So life goes on in an atmosphere of constant violence, manifested daily in all areas and at all levels.

Structural violence is displayed when, as a result of social stratification processes, there is a damage in the satisfaction of basic human needs: survival, welfare, identity, freedom, etc. It is caused by a set of structures, both physical and organizational, which do not allow the satisfaction of those needs and is the worst of the three violence because it is the origin of all and kills and affects more people. It is also a form of indirect violence and sometimes even unintentional: the actions that cause hunger, for example, are not designed and made ​​directly for that purpose, but they are result from capitalist economic policy and the unfair distribution of wealth. This sometimes causes that the reasons of structural violence are not clearly visible and therefore it is more difficult to deal with it.

According to Galtung, often causes of direct violence are related to structural violence and justified by cultural violence: many situations are the result of an abuse of power which concerns an oppressed group, or a social injustice —insufficient resources sharing, great inequality in personal income, limited access to social services— and receive the backing of speeches justifying them.