Violence is a development issue
Jenny Pearce Director of International Centre for Participation Studies, Bradford University
26th Jun 2012
Professor Jenny Pearce has worked for more than three decades in violent contexts in Latin America and the North of England, here she talks about the role that violence plays in paralysing development.
In my work, my concern has been to put violence, rather than conflict, in the centre of our analysis. Conflict can be problematic, but it can also be productive of change processes. However, social change is made extremely problematic when poor people live in contexts of constant, everyday violence. Sometimes, this violence is chronic, which means that it reproduces in multiple social spaces (from the intimate, to the community, to the school, the prison, and the construction of the nation state itself), as well as over time and at levels of intensity above global averages for
homicides and other violences.
Such violence means that political and social participation is often limited, and pain and trauma blight people's lives and that of their children. This results in intergenerational cycles of violence. Women and men are differentially impacted, with young men acting as both major perpetrators, as well as victims, of violence.
Constructions of masculinity often affirm men in their identities when they act violently - whereas this is the opposite for women. Women can be violent, but are generally and cross-culturally socialised not to be. However, they are also victims of violence in ways that are often invisible. Only since the Bosnian war, have we really recognised the way women's bodies have been used and abused in war situations.
We are very reluctant to examine the role of violence in our everyday lives, and we prefer to see it as a problem external to us.
By putting violence into the centre of our concerns, we can begin to recognise its ongoing significance. For instance, the number of war-related deaths every year is lower than the number of non war-related deaths. There are also much higher levels of violence in the global South, in particular in Southern Africa and Central and South America, than in the global North.
This violence is not only of deep concern in terms of its impact on poverty and economic development, but also in terms of its impacts on people's ability to participate. Increasingly the wealthy can afford private security, while the poor are left with ill-prepared, and often abusive, public security agents. The latter often reproduce rather than reduce violence.
In the global South, there are many examples of perverse state formation where the state is not monopolising violence legitimately but diffusing it, in ways that particularly impact on the poorest sectors of society. There needs to be a new measure of state effectiveness, that of the 'violence-reducing state'.
Movements and organisations which de-sanction violences (eg child abuse, domestic violence, rape in war etc), need support so that they can challenge the way violence flows through socialisation spaces and address the mechanisms for its reproduction. This will impact on development and change in sustainable ways, and ultimately facilitate the difficult task of poverty reduction.