The definition of violence according to Johan Galtung

To get closer to the definition of violence, we use the “Violence Triangle” by the popular peace researcher and sociologist Johan Galtung.

The three types of violence are interdependent. Each form of violence can transfer to and influence the other types. For example, if structural violence becomes institutionalized and cultural violence increases, there is a risk that direct violence will increase. According to Johan Galtung, violence always arises where people are influenced in such a way that their physical and mental development is below their actual potential. Violence is therefore the reason for the difference between potential development and actual development.

Galtung distinguishes between three types of violence:

Is exercised directly by an actor. This violence is visible and of a physical or psychological nature. There is a perpetrator and a victim. Direct violence is what is normally understood as violence (torture, murder, physical or psychological abuse, humiliation, discrimination, bullying, …)

This type of violence is similar to social injustice and the structures that promote this social injustice. It is a rather invisible force that is formed by the structures that prevent the satisfaction of basic needs. It usually expresses itself indirectly and has no directly visible cause. According to Galtung, it always occurs when people are influenced in such a way that they cannot realize themselves in the way that would actually be potentially possible (apartheid, racial segregation laws, legal provisions for the submission of the civilian population, in the form of unjust social conditions, unequal access to education / Education, degrading living conditions, poverty, …)

Aspects of a social culture that legitimizes the use of direct or structural violence. The cultural and symbolic violence often shows itself in attitudes and prejudices (racism, sexism, fascism, Islamophobia, …).

The invisible level refers to a situation of structural and cultural violence, in which no one appears who could be held responsible. The structural violence is built into the system and manifests itself in unequal power relations and consequently in unequal life chances. All three types of violence are interdependent. In order to prevent one, one must also deal with the other two and address them.

The triangle of violence by Johan Galtung

The risk of becoming violent is reduced in childhood and adolescence by, among other things:

  • parental care and positive relationships with parents and other adults
  • stable ties
  • social competence
  • social support and a stable social environment
  • Success and a sense of achievement in school
  • medium to high intelligence
  • a prosocial development and social values
  • Problem-solving skills
  • high expectations of self-efficacy


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