"Chronic Violence": toward a new approach to 21st-century violence

Anna Alissa Hitzemann | | September 2012

Issues:Global militarisation, Marginalisation

The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) recently published a Policy brief by Tani Marilena Adams, proposing and outlining the concept of “chronic violence” to “characterise the crisis of escalating social violence that currently affects about one-quarter of the world’s population”.

Basing her analysis largely on Latin America, Adams approaches “chronic violence” from a sustainable security standpoint, arguing that violence itself should not be seen as the disease to be controlled, and the problem to be solved, but rather as a symptom of many complex underlying issues that need to be addressed. The policy brief proposes “a conceptual framework that contemplates both the multiple forces that reproduce chronic violence and their complex and perverse consequences in order to contribute to a new approach to this problem that addresses critical challenges that continue to elude or confound many stakeholders.”

Six propositions about “chronic violence” are put forth encouraging an inclusive, sustainable and long-term approach to security by combining social, economic and political concerns. Rapidly increasing social inequality is highlighted as one underlying driver of “chronic violence”. Exacerbated through globalisation and access to mass media, the majority of the world population perceives itself as “second class citizens”, marginalised and excluded from political processes and economic opportunities. 

Weak and corrupt states and state institutions are also seen as a major driver of “chronic violence”. When the state is (or is perceived to be) incapable or unwilling to protect its citizens, non-state and illegal actors will step in, which in turn “undermines the possibility of unified state governance”. This argument was recently echoed in a piece written exclusively for this website by Elizabeth Wilke. Although the argument for strong and effective states is convincing, the idea that a state’s legitimacy is so closely linked to its monopoly of violence can be dangerous and needs very careful consideration in order to avoid militarising state responses to social unrest. 

Perhaps one of the most important ideas to take away from this policy brief is that “chronic violence” as a social condition is not likely to be reversed in the near future and that policymakers and stakeholders need to address the underlying drivers of violence in the long term in order to build sustainable security.

The full article on the NOREF website is available here.

Image source: Shehan Peruma


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