What Is Social Violence?

We live in an increasingly globalized society that allows knowledge and more or less frequent contact with people with different opinions, beliefs and ways of seeing the world. Although this generally generates a flow of understanding between different cultures, sometimes it also can degenerate into social violence.

And the fact is that contact with different currents of thought allows an evolution of society towards values ​​such as tolerance and mutual respect, but for some people it can be aversive when perceiving the differences between the ways of living and thinking with other peoples and groups, being in some cases in direct opposition to one’s own beliefs and involving the perception of inequality or the loss of social power. Thus, the loss of power and the lack of understanding of other ways of seeing the world, considering one’s own ideals as the only ones or the most appropriate, can degenerate into violence.

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Social violence: what is it?

Social violence is understood as anyone act with social impact that threatens physical, mental or relational integrity of a person or a group, said acts being carried out by a subject or by the community itself.

In some cases, this violence is applied with the purpose of achieving an improvement in living conditions or as a form of protest against treatment that is considered humiliating, as occurs in some riots and revolts. On other occasions, attempts are made to reduce the power of others in order to harm them or their points of view, or to increase the perception of one’s own authority.

But in general, we can determine that the objective of social violence as such is the obtaining or maintenance of power and social status. However, in many cases this is linked to political violence, in which violent acts are carried out with the aim of achieving political power, or economic violence, in which the objective is to obtain capital.

Types of social violence

There are multiple forms of social violence, some of them being domestic violence, racist and/or homophobic attacks, terrorist attacks, kidnappings, murders or homicides, sexual assaults, vandalism, school or work harassment or any type of action that seeks to alter public order through the exercise of violence.

However, this type of violence does not cover only criminal acts carried out directly, but aspects such as values, stereotypes, prejudices and slander transmitted culturally or through the media that may incite hatred or contempt for a person or group also fall within this consideration. Clear examples of this are the promulgation and expansion of beliefs that incite machismo, homophobia or racism.

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Associated factors

Social violence can originate in very different and diverse contexts, being incited by the interaction of a large number of variables. Thus, there is no single cause of social violence but rather This has multiple origins., requiring an investigation of the different factors that may end up leading to it. Some of these factors are the following

1. Perception of inequality

On many occasions, social violence is exercised in conditions in which individuals perceive the existence of inequality.

The observation or belief that other people who in principle should receive the same treatment as the subject themselves receive favored treatment by institutions or societies, or even more importantly that the person or group themselves receives unfair or worse treatment. that should can generate a comparative grievance that can end in some type of violence. The perception of inequality may be behind mass phenomena such as riots and revolts.

2. Threat to one’s own position

As we have said, the objective of social violence is to maintain or increase one’s own status or social power. One of the main reasons for this is the consideration that power itself is threatened. The exercise of power by others can be considered as incompatible with autonomy and one’s own powerwith which the individual or group is frustrated and seeks to increase their own control of others through violence.

On the other hand, the idea that there is an entity external to society that puts its stability at risk is often used as an excuse to undertake aggressive population control measures, something for which a clear justification is needed. In order to avoid this danger, the well-being of minorities can be compromised.

3. Social exclusion

Although it is linked to the previous factors, social exclusion is in itself an important factor when it comes to explaining some acts of social violence. The feeling of not be considered by the whole of society as part of it It generates frustration and anger with respect to the world and the society in which one lives. Acts of vandalism, robberies and assaults are some of the types of violence that are usually generated by this factor.

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4. Rigid and restrictive education

Educational patterns are of great importance when explaining social violence. An excessively rigid and restrictive education can cause the person to be unable to flex their views, opinions and beliefs. This encourages us to think that the way of doing things to which the subject is accustomed is the only or most valid one, with other options being inconsistent and unacceptable.

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For example, identity policies, based on contempt for what is different, can be based on an education based on Manichaeism and the demonization of people who are perceived as outside the group to which one belongs.

Vulnerable groups or frequent targets of social violence

As a general rule, social violence is usually applied against minorities, especially those who have traditionally been persecuted or oppressed but who over time have increased their social acceptance, power and rights.

This change is perceived by some individuals as a threat to their own power and beliefs, trying perpetuate traditional roles through direct or indirect violence. However, in other cases it is the minority that begins to exercise violence, as a form of protest or demand or in order to achieve a specific objective, as occurs in some popular revolts.

Likewise, in some cases other groups are targets of indirect social violence in order to be used as means for the perpetuation of one’s own power, transforming originally neutral individuals or even the person who is the object of violence into a transmitter of said violence. Let’s look at some of the groups that are either especially vulnerable or have been subject to social violence throughout history.

1. Childhood

One of the groups most vulnerable to social violence, whether it occurs directly or indirectly, is childhood. Boys and girls are especially vulnerable, taking into account that they are immersed in a development process that has not yet provided them with sufficient tools neither physical nor psychic to efficiently deal with violent situations.

As a general rule, social violence exerted on children usually has the objective of dominating a more vulnerable being in order to increase one’s perception of power, or as an indirect means of harming a person or institution.

Likewise, the continued observation of violence as a method of control can provoke the thought and belief that the attack is an adequate and adaptive strategy to achieve one’s objectives.

2. Disabled

People with both physical and intellectual disabilities can also be the object of social violence, not allowing them to participate in society or exercise different types of action on them as a form of domination and exercise of power.

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3. Popular classes

The popular classes and the population with less purchasing power It is often the object of social and institutional violence, taking advantage of its precarious and unstable situation. The same occurs in groups with a high risk of social exclusion, such as people under state protection or drug addicts.

4. Women

The role of women in society has been changing throughout history, reaching in recent times to seek equality between the sexes. However, some individuals and sectors of society resist the existence of equality, which in many cases implies a loss of power and the traditional role assigned to men.

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Some examples of social violence against this group are gender violencethe forced perpetuation of traditional roles, the difficulties of accessing the workplace or the inequalities that are still present.

5. Immigration, ethnic and religious minorities

Another classic target of social violence is ethnic and/or religious minorities. Although in this aspect also general society seeks equality between people of different ethnicities and cultures, some sectors do not welcome the incorporation into the community of individuals with characteristics that do not coincide with the most common. The most frequent type of social violence is linked to racismwhich can include physical attacks, humiliation and even attacks.

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6. LGBT community

The LGTB community is another of the groups that traditionally has been persecuted, harassed and underestimated. As time goes by, this group is seeing how it is increasingly accepted in the community, little by little achieving equal rights with respect to the heterosexual population. However, as occurs with equality between sexes and between races, some individuals and sectors of society consider that equal rights should not exist, exercising different types of physical, psychological or social violence against this group.

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Effects of social violence

The effects of social violence, like its causes, can be multiple and varied.

The attacked person, group or institution may suffer a deep feeling of humiliation that can greatly reduce their self-esteem and autonomy, and even cause the death of the victimized party.

In some cases the attacked entity can be forced or coerced to perform certain behaviors out of fear of the consequences of opposition or due to a change in attitude after experiencing the violent episode. In others, the display of violence can awaken the reactivity of the victim and increase his determination to pursue his ideals or to maintain his position despite the risks.

Likewise, knowledge and observation of violent behavior can wake up a call effect and trigger new attacks. In other cases it can, as happens with children, teach them that violence is a useful mechanism to achieve one’s goals.

One of the risks of social violence is that it is often minimized, through mechanisms such as habituation, desensitization, invisibilization and normalization. These mechanisms cause the population to become unconcerned about committing violent acts in the long run (for example, we are used to receiving news of attacks, violence or casualties in other countries due to wars and natural disasters, to the point that we have become desensitized and we usually do nothing about it).

In order to avoid the repetition of violent acts, it is necessary to recognize and fight against the mechanisms that elicit it, such as those mentioned above, and ensure that these acts of violence are not covered up or hidden, but rather recognized and combated.

Bibliographic references:

  • Corsi, J. and Peyru, G. M. (2003). Social violence. Ariel.