Paul Farmer’s analysis of Haiti during its time as a Frenchcolony and after it gained independence shines light on the violent systems thatexist there. He argues that almost every individual is implicated in structuralviolence (307). It is important, then, to take a step back and become aware ofthe systems we participate in today, systems that we may not even realize arestructures since they have become natural parts of our life, but that may infact be hurting others. Without a clear understanding of who actors have beenin the past and the types of actions that have led to the development ofstructural violence, it is nearly impossible to make sense of how an individualcould be contributing to a vicious system. The eradication of smallpox can beused as a case study to show how actors and actions may create violentstructures.It can be argued that smallpox eradication was slow, whichallowed time for violent structures to develop.
Initially, there was a lack of”political will” from governments to execute eradication strategies (Stepan,208). A collective effort finally formed near the time of full eradication whengovernments realized smallpox eradication “associated symbolically with theideas of modernity and progress” (Stepan, 216). Governments also became moreinvolved in global eradication to prevent smallpox from entering their owncountries (192). They feared the disease they were close to eliminating wouldreturn and hurt them again.
There is little reason to believe the globalintervention that finally took place in the late 1960s occurred for the sake ofthe people in countries still inflicted with smallpox. Had the governments actedearlier with humanitarian motivations rather than with their own self-interest,eradication could have occurred faster and the losses suffered by developing countriescould have been lessened. During the period when the US and European were closeto eradication, developing countries were still dealing with the disease, yetreceived little help. Inactivity from developed governments could have built violentstructures, some of which may still be present today.Paul Farmer argues, “these structures are transnational, andtherefore not even their modern vestiges are really ethnographically visible”(312). Violent structures can be formed and can persist without beingexplicitly noticed.
This makes it difficult to detect an individual’s role in asystem and, more generally, the direct effects of the system. However,individuals must do their best to become more aware of the positions they arein, the privileges they have, and the implications of their actions. An exampleof this can occur during a job search. If a private medical supply company hasjob openings, an individual should first analyze the company’s work on agreater scale. If the company develops and sells products to developingcountries, it is crucial to fully understand the company’s end goals as theymay primarily include making a profit.
The company could be encouraging arelationship that causes a country to become dependent on them, and if anindividual decides to work for the company, he or she would be participating instructural violence. A next step in addressing structural violence is todeconstruct violent systems while building up healthy ones. This is difficultto accomplish because not all the systems are detectable as they have becomeincreasingly complex.
The problem, consequently, becomes what can actually bedone about the structural violence today.