The Violence of everyday life

I found the readings on ethnographic studies on violence extremely valuable to my understanding of everyday violence.  The insight of researchers such as Lockhart  and Bourgois gleaned from immersing themselves in the cultures of individuals who face ‘war like situations’ during ‘peace time’ lends an authenticity and sometimes  surreal element to these studies.

Bourgois defines everyday violence as the ‘daily practises and experiences of violence on a micro-interactional level which is interpersonal, domestic and delinquent ( Bourgois, p. 8). This ‘individual lived experience that normalises petty brutalities and terror  at the community level and creates a common sense or ethos of violence’ (Bourgois, p.8) was evident in the life experiences of the 12 year old street boy Juma who lived in Northwestern Tanzania. (Lockhart, p. 94).

Lockhart’s poignant depiction of Juma’s struggle to survive on the streets, his need for acceptance and affirmation from fellow Mwanza street boys, the  violence and the sexual aggression he experienced at the hands of other gang members  and his eventual violent death after being violently raped in an adult prison cell  ‘situates AIDS and its impact as both a form and  consequence of everyday violence.’ (Lockhart, p. 95) .

One tends  to perceive violence as a form of assault involving a direct application of force to a person’s body; However Lockhart’s ethnographic study highlights the insidious effects of everyday violence experienced by children like Juma and countless other vulnerable children living on the streets of East Africa as ‘grounded in the politics of space and the struggle over specific territories between different gangs of street boys.’ ( Lockhart, p.105) .

It maybe inconceivable for  many of us who live in relatively safe neighborhoods in the security  of our homes to consider the possibility of being subjected to the levels of violence experienced by Juma, yet such ‘routinized experiences of violence’ (lockhart, p.96)  is the everyday ‘peacetime’ reality that the poor and the socially and economically oppressed face.

Structural violence is defined by Bourgois as the ‘political-economic organisation of society  that imposes conditions of physical and emotional distress, from high morbidity and mortality rates, to poverty and abusive working conditions.’ 

‘It is rooted, at the macro  level, in  structures such as unequal international terms of trade and it is expressed locally in exploitative labour markets, ,marketing arrangements and and the monopolization of services.‘ ( Bourgois, p.7).

Bourgois describes the structural violence experienced by victims of crack cocaine and their families in East Harlem, New York City. The structural  variables of ‘extreme segregation, social inequality and material misery’ manifests themselves in a way that appears to have a trickle down effect in society through the ‘interpersonal conflicts that the socially vulnerable inflict mainly onto themselves via substance abuse,’ and its impact on their ‘kin and friends through domestic violence and adolescent gang rape.‘ ( Bourgois, p.11)

The researcher Farmer adopts the view that ‘ structural violence is part of an overwhelmingly dominant and hegemonic force when it comes to the world’s poor and disenfranchised’ and ‘applying this perspective to AIDS research he has been a strong and consistent critic of those of those who tend to overemphasise individual agency.’ (Lockhart, p.96).

I am inclined to support Farmer’s view that there is a  tendency to blame the victims of such structural violence in a way that is essentially condemnatory of  the victims of infectious diseases like AIDS.

The relationship between violence and power has to be further explored in way that provides insight into the effects of   ‘domination and oppression’ that vulnerable victims of  poverty and AIDS are subject to on a everyday basis.

The idea is that victims of structural and everyday violence may be so constrained in their exercise  of choice that the notion of agency fails to contribute in any meaningful way to the plight of such victims of violence.



Lockhart C. (2008) ‘The Life and Death of a Street Boy in East Africa: Everyday Violence in the Time of AIDS’,  Medical Anthropology Quarterly , 22,:1, pp. 94-115.

Bourgois, P.(2001)’The Power of Violence in War and Peace: Post-Cold War Lessons from El Salvador’, Ethnography, 2:1, pp.5-34.

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