Structural violence occurs when a social structure or institution creates inequity or injustice and causes suffering which could be otherwise prevented.
Structural violence injures individuals by preventing them from meeting basic needs.
This idea is most commonly attributed to Johan Galtung as he defines the term in his article, Violence, Peace, and Peace Research.
Galtung defines structural violence as occurring when an individual is being affected in a negative way so that what they are actually able to achieve, accomplish, and obtain in life is less than their potential of being able to do so.
Violence is here defined as the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, between what could of been and what is. Violence is that which increases the distance between the potential and the actual, and that which impedes the decrease of this distance.
Johan Gatlung, Violence, Peace, and Peace Research
Galtung gives the example of a “society where life expectancy is twice as high in the upper as in the lower classes, violence is exercised even if there are no concrete actors one can point to directly attacking others, as when one person kills another.”
In other words, structural violence occurs in a systemic way: it is not the result of one person’s doing but the doing of a societal structure.
Structural violence is by design and embedded in the fabric and interworkings of a society. Structural violence, while harming the vulnerable, poses an incentive to those who have something to gain from its continued existence.
In a society with a multitude of vacant houses, such as ours, structural violence occurs against all those who are displaced. Violence occurs here because homelessness could be prevented, yet capitalist norms and motives necessitate this violence. There is an incentive to keep rent prices high because doing so benefits those who can make a profit, and in the process, vulnerable populations are injured.