Structural Violence and how it impacts on those with disabilities.

Vintage Violence

Structural violence refers to the systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals

Structural violence is subtle and often seemingly invisible.

There is usually no one specific person or organization who can (or will) be held responsible for this form of violence as it can be insidious and all-encompassing within any given society.


 “Structural violence is one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces
conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific, economic and social progress (Farmer).”

Jo Lindsay and Deborah Dempsey’s (2009:2) investigated the constraints of societal institutions upon those with disabilities within Australia. 

They found that institutions, such as the State/government and its political systems, policies and laws  shape and influence the ways in which ideologies surrounding the rights of disabled children and adults are being constructed and enacted through the constraints of social policy (Lindsay & Dempsey, 2009:2). 

In the case of any person with a disability, it is ultimately the State that has the power to identify and define their
condition as either disabled or non-disabled as a matter of policy.  In order to qualify for financial support a
physical or neurological condition experienced by a person must first be accepted and acknowledged by the State as being a “disabling condition”.

The State therefore has the power to determine both which societal resources a disabled person will be able to
access and the manner in which those resources will be delivered to (Llewellyn et al,
1996: 166).


By holding the power to define what will and will not be considered a disability, the State also holds the power to determine who will and will be able to access funding  and disability services
(Llewellyn al, 1996: 166; Habibis &
Walter, 2009).

For this reason theorists Nadia Heredia (2007:129) argues that the act of positioning the State and its social
structures as the arbiters and enforcers of such definitions, places  persons with disabilities at the mercy of a system which applies only external definitions and validations to personal experiences of disability.

In so doing, this enacts  a form of structural violence in which a disabled persons rights are replaced by the State’s rights to define that person’s ability to access services based on their level of disability (Heredia, 2007:129).

Thus creating the structural barriers that enable structural inequalities to occur.

 If a citizen cannot receive government services because he/she does not have a disability that is recognized by the State, or experiences a level of disability that is not considered severe enough to impair permanent function, then they will not be considered eligible to receive either financial assistance nor access to therapies.

As such, these constraints maybe considered structural and therefore the barriers they create may be considered  structural barriers.

These structural barriers can in turn be seen to create those structural inequalities which in many instances go on to become social inequalities.

From this it can be seen that structural inequalities can and do lead to social and personal harm. 

Although the level of  harm created is often only portrayed through individuals stories, such as the suffering caused by the limiting of funding and access to services for children with Autism, never the less, the ultimate cause of that harm is structural.

Equally the term “structural violence”  can be seen to act as an umbrella term that encapsulates the
various forms of social and institutional failings, which have real, if not always immediately appreciable consequences in peoples’ lives. 

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