Violence is part of human relationships. Several lines of inquiry link violence to social context. Structural violence describes the ways in which standing forms of social organization limit opportunity for some members of society. Structural violence, because it is part of the social order and standing law, is often considered “right” or “natural.” Criminal violence describes the harms that are done in violation of societal laws. Because this violence breaks the laws, it is hidden from view and punished on discovery. All societies suffer from some level of both of these kinds of violence, and the efforts at collective well-being are directed at exposing and correcting the harms that are hidden from view.
Epidemic violence refers to outbreaks of violence that are substantially in excess of the usual rates; epidemic violence might be either structural (state-sponsored genocide, for example) or criminal (as in an outbreak of drug-related violence). It is this third type, epidemic violence, that becomes problematic to the survival of society especially if the rates are elevated over long periods of time. The 2011 World Development Report puts these issues into stark relief. The report analyzed the problems of countries that are plagued by high levels of violence persisting over many years. It noted (World Bank, 2011):
No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single [UN Millennium Development Goal]. People in fragile and conflict-affected states are more than twice as likely to be undernourished as those in other developing countries, more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school, twice as likely to see their children die before age five, and more than twice as likely to lack clean water. On average, a country that experienced major violence over the period from 1981 to 2005 has a poverty rate 21 percentage points higher than a country that saw no violence.
The report also emphasized that problems in conflict-affected countries affect other parts of the country, lowering their productivity and destabilizing their social organization. Thus, the problem of chronic violence poses a serious threat to the survival of people and their societies. It emphasizes that “insecurity … has become a primary development challenge of our time” (World Bank, 2011). Yet overcoming chronic violence is difficult and takes, optimistically, a generation to accomplish. What has happened in social contexts that leads to such chronic violence and makes recovery so difficult?
Transformation of State
A modest paper by phenomenologist Eva-Maria Simms of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offers a useful insight into this