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Peace as the absence of violence

Professor Johan Galtung explains violence as the unnecessary insult of basic needs.
Those are the needs that you cannot do without. They are non-negotiable. And we built a team at United Nations University who in 1976 decided that we’re not going to read books and texts or just sit in an office finding out what they are. We’re going to ask people. And we have dialogue in 50 countries. So what is this thing that you can’t do without? And up came in an almost uniform manner four points that were mentioned almost everywhere. Survival. I want to live. I want to live out my life span. Point two, wellness. I want to be reasonably fit and well. And this, incidentally, includes education.
Not only health, food, clothing, and shelter, but also education because by means of that I can manage symbolic interaction, which is what makes me human. So it’s human basic needs. Point three, freedom. Having options, having a choice. And point four, the one I mentioned, identity. Having something to live for is something that gives me a sense, a meaning with my whole life. Now the opposites of these four. The opposite of survival is obviously death. The opposite of wellness is illness because sooner or later it expresses itself as negation of health. And the opposite of freedom is repression, and the opposite of identity is alienation. I am forced out of my identity and maybe given somebody else’s identity instead.
So violence then can be defined as insulting basic needs, whether that is done by a direct act or commission or the structural violence supported by acts of omission.

If you defined peace as ‘the absence of violence’, then we should try to define what ‘violence’ is. Watch this interview with Professor Johan Galtung, the “father” of peace science, in which he describes violence as the violation of ‘basic human needs’. Basic needs are requirements for living which are shared by all human beings:

  • Survival needs
  • Well-being needs
  • Identity needs
  • Freedom needs

These basic human needs can be violated by physical force or by use of power, and this is probably what first comes to our minds when we think about violence. This is what Professor Galtung calls “direct violence”.

Reflection point

Can you think of other ‘indirect’ forms of violence that harm or kill people?
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Global Health, Conflict and Violence

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