The Structural Violence of the Homeless

This article struck a chord for me given I am homeless.  I have been thinking about sleeping in my car.  I have been thinking about how governments are doing nothing about this problem (to end it), often left to NGO’s or non profit welfare agencies.  However, homelessness inspired the creation of this terminology (structural violence)  by Johann Galtung as he recounts his experience in India.  I thought about the people when I was there as well.  I am contemplating this subject more these days as I have experienced structural violence through poverty. I do not regret this experience it is enlightening for me.  I am observing what people don’t do.  I am discovering the indifference is what allows people to be homeless or in crisis.  I ask – what is the real poverty?  It was Mother Theresa who stated there was more psychological poverty in the West then in India.  I agree, we are far poorer.  Yet physically those who will die earlier will have had great challenges in their lives, struggles that would not have been there had equality been the norm. I recall when at Machu Picchu the great Inca village on top of the mountain. They apparently lived equality. I regard them as civilised.  The more inequality grows the more we regress in my view.

More people die from the structures of violence that are barriers to equality than by warfare.  This is an interesting quote:

“structural violence is equivalent to 236 Hiroshima bombs being dropped on the children of the world each year”

Structural Violence

Structural Violence


Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service

Early in 1969, Johan Galtung was working at a Center for Gandhian Studies in Varanasi in India.

One evening, he sat on the flat roof of the building thinking of the homeless people sleeping in the street, children crying from hunger, and sick people waiting to die, with nobody caring for them. It struck him that this is a form of violence as much as violent crime or war, even if nobody walks around with a gun intentionally shooting people. They suffer because of gross inequality, of an unjust structure of society.

He created the term structural violence for such phenomena, in contrast to direct violence. Later he added the concept of cultural violence–the intellectual justification for direct and structural violence in education, the media, literature, films, art, monuments celebrating war “heroes”, etc.

Gernot Köhler and Norman Alcock (in “An Empirical Table of Structural Violence”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 343-56, 1976) sought to estimate the relative size of direct and structural violence. They observed a positive correlation between per capita income and life expectancy across countries, which increases rapidly at first, and then makes only small gains as income increases further. It is clear that increasing the annual per capita income from 100 to 200 dollars extends life expectancy considerably more than increasing it from 20,000 to 20,100 dollars. If per capita income had been equally distributed across all countries, 14 million lives could have been saved during the year 1965. They did not have data on income inequality within countries, so this is a low, conservative estimate of the extent of structural violence.

During the same year, about 140,000 people died in all international and civil wars. Therefore, structural violence is at least one hundred times greater than direct violence. Charles Zimmerman and Milton Leitenberg (in “Hiroshima Lives On”, Mazingira, Vol. 9, 1979, Nairobi: United Nations Environment Program) pointed out that structural violence is equivalent to 236 Hiroshima bombs being dropped on the children of the world each year. However, because the suffering is diffuse, not concentrated in one place at one time, it is ignored by the media and society.


Dietrich Fischer, born in 1941 in Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. 1986-88 he was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University. He has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities and been a consultant to the United Nations.

Excerpted from Dietrich Fischer’s Stories to Inspire You – TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Sep 2015.

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Mohandas Gandhi

“My life is my message.”