Situating and contesting structural violence in community-based research and action


Structural violence refers to social systems as well as the mechanisms through which they produce and normalize marginalization, exclusion, and exploitation. It is intricately tied to cultural violence, that is, systematic assaults on the human dignity and self-worth of individuals and communities. This latter violence operates through culture, language, ideology, and knowledge production in academic disciplines and in scientific canons. Cultural violence serves to justify, legitimize, mask, and naturalize both direct assaults on human beings and systems of oppression and inequality. This special issue highlights new approaches to interrogate the processes and mechanisms between individual and collective suffering and the macrosocial matrices in which the experiences are configured. In this introduction, we argue that an understanding of structural and cultural violence has significant potential for reinvigorating some of the longstanding but often under-engaged goals of community psychology. We explore the challenges facing community psychologists committed to social and transformative change towards wellbeing for all in a global context characterized by gross inequities, thereby establishing the context for this special issue on situating and contesting structural violence in community psychology.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i24212113v2i2p1

Keywords: structural violence, cultural violence, community psychology, social transformation


Adams, G., Dobles, I., Gómez, L. H., Kurtiș, T., & Molina, L. E. (2015). Decolonizing psychological science: Introduction to the Special Thematic Section. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3(1), 213–238, doi:10.5964/jspp.v3i1.564

Albee, G. W. (1999). Prevention, not treatment, is the only hope. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 12(2), 133–146. doi: 10.1080/09515079908254084

Anzaldúa, G. (2012). Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

Bhatia, S. (2002). Orientalism in Euro-American and Indian psychology: Historical representations of “natives” in colonial and postcolonial contexts. History of Psychology, 5(4), 376-398. doi:10.1037//1093-4510.5.4.376

Bond, M. A., Serrano-García, I., & Keys, C. B. (2017). Community psychology for the 21st century. In APA Handbook of Community Psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 3–20). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. (G. Raymond & M. Adamson, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bulhan, H. A. (1985). Frantz Fanon and the psychology of oppression. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Christens, B., & Perkins, D. D. (2008). Transdisciplinary, multilevel action research to enhance ecological and psychopolitical validity. Journal of Community Psychology, 36(2), 214–231. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20232

Christie, D. J. (1997). Reducing direct and structural violence: The human needs theory. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 3(4), 315-332. doi: 10.1207/s15327949pac0304_1

Christie, D. J. (2006). What is peace psychology the psychology of? Journal of Social Issues, 62(1), 1–17. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2006.00436.x

Collins, P. H. (1998). It's all in the family: Intersections of gender, race, and nation. Hypatia, 13(3), 62-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.1998.tb01370.x

Connell, R. (2007). Southern theory: The global dynamics of knowledge in social science. Sydney, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299.

Das, V. (2007). Life and words: Violence and the descent into the ordinary. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Duncan, N., & Bowman, B. (2009). Liberating South African psychology: The legacy of racism and the pursuit of representative knowledge production. In C.C. Sonn & M. Montero (Eds.), Psychology of liberation (pp. 93-113). New York, NY: Springer.

Dutta, U. (2015, June). From everyday violence to everyday peace: Interrogating structural violence in northeast India. In U. Dutta (Chair), Structural violence and community psychology: Peacebuilding in ‘normal’ times. Symposium conducted at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action, Lowell, MA.

Dutta, U. (2016). Prioritizing the local in an era of globalization: A proposal for decentering Community Psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology.

Eisenstein, Z. (1998). Global obscenities: Patriarchy, capitalism, and the lure of cyberfantasy. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Esteva, G., & Prakash, M. S. (2014). Grassroots Post-modernism: Remaking the soil of cultures (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Zed Books.

Evans, S. D., Duckett, P., Lawthom, R., & Kivell, N. (2017). Positioning the critical in community psychology. In APA Handbook of Community Psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 107–128). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Fanon, F. (1952/2008). Black skins, white masks. (Trans. by Richard Philcox). New York, NY: Grove Press.

Farmer, P. (2003). Pathologies of Power: Health, human rights, and the new war on the poor. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Farmer, P. (2009). On suffering and structural violence: A view from below. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 3(1), 11–28.

Fine, M., & Ruglis, J. (2009). Circuits and consequences of dispossession: The racialized realignment of the public sphere for US youth. Transforming Anthropology, 17(1), 20–33. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-7466.2009.01037.x

Freire, P. (1970). Cultural action and conscientization. Harvard Educational Review, 40(3), 452–477. doi: 10.17763/haer.40.3.h76250x720j43175

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167– 191. doi: 10.1177/002234336900600301

Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3), 291-305. doi: 10.1177/0022343390027003005

García-Ramírez, M., Balcázar, F., & De Freitas, C. (2014). Community psychology contributions to the study of social inequalities, well-being and social justice. Psychosocial Intervention, 23(2), 79–81. doi:10.1016/j.psi.2014.07.009

Gone, J.P (2015, June). American Indian traditional culture as mental health treatment: Progress or regress in addressing structural violence? In U. Dutta (Chair), Structural violence and community psychology: Peacebuilding in ‘normal’ times. Symposium conducted at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action, Lowell, MA.

Gordon, L. R. (2011). Shifting the geography of reason in an age of disciplinary decadence. Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(2), 95-103.

Gugelberger, G. M. (Ed.). (1996). Institutionalization of transgression: Testimonial discourse and beyond. In Gugelberger, G.M. (Ed.), The real thing: Testimonial discourse and Latin America (pp. 1–22). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Hernández-Wolfe, P. (2013). A borderlands view on Latinos, Latin Americans, and decolonization: Rethinking mental health. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, Incorporated.

Hurtado, A. (1996). The color of privilege: Three blasphemies on race and feminism. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Kearney, R. (2012). Diacritical hermeneutics. In M.L. Portocarrero, L.U. Umbelino & A. Wierciński (Eds.). Hermeneutic rationality. La rationalité herméneutique (pp. 179-196). Berlin, Germany: LIT Verlag.

Langhout, R. D. (2016). This is not a history lesson; This is agitation: A call for a methodology of diffraction in US-based community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology. doi/10.1002/ajcp.12039/full

Lykes, M. B. (2001). Human rights violations as structural violence. In D.J. Christie, R.V. Wagner, & D. DuNann Winter (Eds.), Peace, conflict, and violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century (pp. 158–67). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Lykes, M. B. & Crosby, A. (2015, June). Feminist anti-racist participatory action research with Maya survivors of sexual violence in postwar Guatemala. In U. Dutta (Chair), Structural violence and community psychology: Peacebuilding in ‘normal’ times. Symposium conducted at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action, Lowell, MA.

Lykes, M. B., Banuazizi, A., Liem, R., & Morris, M. (1996). Myths about the powerless: Contesting social inequalities. Philadephia, PA: Temple University Press.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the coloniality of being: Contributions to the development of a concept. Cultural Studies, 21(2–3), 240–270. doi: 10.1080/09502380601162548

Martín-Baró, I. (1996). Writings for a liberation psychology. (A. Aron & S. Corne, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Merry, S.E. (2006). Transnational human rights and local activism: Mapping the middle. American Anthropologist, 108(1), 38-51. doi: 10.1525/aa.2006.108.1.38

Moane, G. (2009). Reflections on liberation psychology in action in an Irish context. In C.C. Sonn & M. Montero (Eds.), Psychology of liberation (pp. 135–153). New York, NY: Springer.

Mohanty, C. T. (1991). Introduction, Cartographies of struggle: Third world women and the politics of feminism. In C. T. Mohanty, A. Russo, & L. Torres (Eds.), Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (pp. 1–47). Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

Mohanty, C. T. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Montero, M. (2007). The political psychology of liberation: From politics to ethics and back. Political Psychology, 28(5), 517–533. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2007.00588.x

Montero, M., & Sonn, C. C. (2009). About liberation and psychology: An introduction. In Psychology of liberation: Theory and applications (pp. 1–11). New York, NY: Springer.

Neal, J. W., Janulis, P., & Collins, C. (2013). Is community psychology “too insular”? A network analysis of journal citations. Journal of Community Psychology, 41(5), 549–564. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21556

Nelson, G., & Prilleltensky, I. (2010). Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and well- being. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Okazaki S., David E. J. R., & Abelman N. (2008) Colonialism and psychology of culture. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2(1): 90–106. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2007.00046.x

Olson, B. (2015, June). Structural violence, the American Psychological Association, and the legitimization of torture. In U. Dutta (Chair), Structural violence and community psychology: Peacebuilding in ‘normal’ times. Symposium conducted at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action, Lowell, MA.

Opotow, S. (1990). Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 1–20. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1990.tb00268.x

Pillow, W. (2003). Confession, catharsis, or cure? Rethinking the uses of reflexivity as methodological power in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(2), 175–196. doi: 10.1080/0951839032000060635

Prilleltensky, I. (2003). Understanding, resisting, and overcoming oppression: Toward psychopolitical validity. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1–2), 195–201. doi: 10.1023/A:1023043108210

Prilleltensky, I. (2012). Wellness as fairness. American Journal of Community Psychology, 49(1–2), 1–21. doi: 10.1007/s10464-011-9448-8

Prilleltensky, I. (2014). Meaning-making, mattering, and thriving in community psychology: From co-optation to amelioration and transformation. Psychosocial Intervention, 23(2), 151– 154. doi:10.1016/j.psi.2014.07.008

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology, 15(2), 215-232. doi: 10.1177/0268580900015002005

Rappaport, J. (1977). Community psychology: Values, research, and action. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, Winston.

Santos, B. de S. (2007). Beyond abyssal thinking: From global lines to ecologies of knowledges. Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 45–89.

Scheper-Hughes, N. (2004). Dangerous and endangered youth: Social structures and determinants of violence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1036, 13–46. doi: 10.1196/annals.1330.002

Serrano-García, I. (1994). The ethics of the powerful and the power of ethics. American journal of community psychology, 22(1), 1-20. doi: 10.1007/BF02506813

Shinn, M., & McCormack, M. M. (2017). Understanding and alleviating economic hardship: Contributions from community psychology. In APA Handbook of Community Psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 345–360). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago Press.

Sonn, C. C. (2009). Decolonization, ethics and the challenges of researching across cultural boundaries. In C. Vázquez Rivera, M. Figueroa Rodríguez, W. Pacheco Bou, & D. Pérez Jiménez (Eds.), International Community Psychology: Shared Agendas in Diversity. Puerto Rico: Ed. UPR.

Sonn, C. C. (2016). Swampscott in international context: Expanding our ecology of knowledge. American Journal of Community Psychology. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12038

Sonn, C. C., & Lewis, R. C. (2009). Immigration and identity: The ongoing struggles for liberation. In C.C. Sonn & M. Montero (Eds.), Psychology of liberation (pp. 115–133). New York, NY: Springer.

Sonn, C. C., Quayle, A. F., Mackenzie, C., & Law, S. F. (2014). Negotiating belonging in Australia through storytelling and encounter. Identities, 21(5), 551–569. doi: 10.1080/1070289X.2014.902376

Sonn, C.C., Smith, K., & Meyer, K. (2015). Challenging structural violence through community drama: exploring theatre as transformative praxis. In D. Bretherton & Siew Fang Law (Eds.), Methodologies in Peace Psychology (pp. 293-308). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Stevens, G., Duncan, N., & Bowman, B. (2006). Ethnicity: It's about making a difference. In G. Stevens, V. Franchi & T. Swart (Eds.). A race against time: Psychology and challenges to deracialisation in South Africa (pp. 51 - 72). Pretoria, South Africa: Unisa Press.

Stevens, G., Duncan, N., & Hook, D. (2013). The Apartheid Archive Project, the psychosocial and political praxis. In G. Stevens, N. Duncan & D. Hook (Eds.), Race, memory and the Apartheid Archive (pp. 1–18). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Stokols, D. (2006). Toward a science of transdisciplinary action research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 38(1–2), 79–93. doi: 10.1007/s10464-006-9060-5

Stoudt, B.G., Cahill, C., Torre, M. E., Lopez, J., Belmonte, K., Djokovic, S., Harley, K., Matles, A., Pimentel, A., & Rosado, J. (2016). Participatory action research as youth activism. In J. Conner & S. M. Rosen (Eds.), Contemporary youth activism: Advancing social justice in the United States (pp. 327-346). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Swadener, B. B., & Mutua, K. (2008). Deconstructing the global postcolonial. In K. N. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. Tuhiwai Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and Indigenous methodologies (pp. 31–43). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Teo, T. (2005). The critique of psychology: From Kant to postcolonial theory. New York, NY: Springer.

Trickett, E. J. (2015). Seymour Sarason remembered: “Plus ça change…”,“Psychology misdirected”, and “Community psychology and the anarchist insight”. American Journal of Community Psychology, 56(3–4), 197–204. doi: 10.1007/s10464-015-9744-9

Villenas, S. (1996). The colonizer/colonized Chicana ethnographer: Identity, marginalization, and co-optation in the field. Harvard Educational Review, 66(4), 711–732.

Visweswaran, K. (1994). Fictions of feminist ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Watkins, M. (2015). Psychosocial Accompaniment. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3(1), 324–341. Doi: 10.5964/jspp.v3i1.103

Watts, R. J., Griffith, D. M., & Abdul-Adil, J. (1999). Sociopolitical development as an antidote for oppression – Theory and action. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27(2), 255– 271. doi: 10.1023/A:1022839818873

Weis, L., & Fine, M. (2012). Critical bifocality and circuits of privilege: Expanding critical ethnographic theory and design. Harvard Educational Review, 82(2), 173–201. doi: 10.17763/haer.82.2.v1jx34n441532242

Wynter, S. (2003). Unsettling the coloniality of being/power/truth/freedom: Towards the human, after man, its overrepresentation–An argument. CR: The New Centennial Review, 3(3), 257– 337.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006a). Belonging and the politics of belonging. Patterns of Prejudice, 40(3), 197–214. doi: 10.1080/00313220600769331

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006b). Intersectionality and feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), 193–209. doi: 10.1177/1350506806065752

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.