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Modern Peacebuilding and Nonviolence (Part I) Introduction & the Theory of Violence and Peace

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

by David A. Kirshbaum (2018)


Here are some extremely important questions which I know you have thought about, which torment all of us, and which many have given up on. But a retired professor Galtung in Norway (retired from the University of Oslo)(1) has some very interesting answers…..

  • Why is there so much violence in the world?

  • Why can’t we make peace work - make peace last?

  • How can we make peace last and end violence?

In a single theory that encompasses both violent conflict and peace, Professor Johan Galtung provides very intriguing answers that make a lot of sense. Here is a summary of his answers.

Theory of Violence and Peace

Theory of Violence

Galtung theorizes that conflict and violence are inherent in the natural world and conflict is unavoidable in human interaction, but also violence is not an absolute part of human interaction and we can choose out of it.

Galtung first theorizes that there is 5 kinds of violence (2) -

  1. Natural Violence - the violence of the natural world - the cycle of life and death throughout the animal kingdom,

a- I would also like to add to this the unpredictability and harshness of physical reality itself, and the fragility and vulnerability of the human psyche - add up to all the ways that the natural world, reality itself, are full of violence, and ironically beauty;

  1. Direct / Individual Violence - the violent actions and choices of individuals and groups of individuals;

  2. Structural Violence - violent political and social structures that are oppressive, exploitive, unfair, unjust, etc., and thus provoke rebellion which often becomes violent;

  3. Cultural Violence - cultures that promote and glorify war, violence, discrimination, abuse, weapons, etc., that encourage and support so much suffering throughout the world;

  4. Timely / Inherited Violence - any of the above forms of violence that are inherited by the individual or group making them more difficult to change.

Natural Violence and Inherited Violence are very difficult to change and can be impossible, for example the violence of the wheel of life and death in the animal world.

But Individual, Structural and Cultural Violence are human spheres of action and understanding, and thus we can change and manage them and thus eliminate violence in them. Galtung then describes how to accomplish this in great detail in his Theory of Peace.

Theory of Peace

Galtung says we can create lasting peace, but we have to do it in a certain way. He says that there are two types of peacework. Both are necessary, but only one type leads to lasting peace. The other does not, but is still often needed.

He called the two types of peace(3):

  1. NEGATIVE PEACE - peacework that just stops or prevents violence in the moment, but does not lead to the deep social and political change that is needed that resolves or eliminates the root causes of violence, so that violence does not break out again.

  2. POSITIVE PEACE - peacework that strives for deep long-term social and political change that eliminates or resolves the origins of violence, so that violence does not break out again, leading to lasting peace.

Negative Peace

Negative Peace is necessary because often you cannot start Positive Peace steps until the violence is stopped, at least temporarily. But it does not lead to lasting peace because it does not make the deep changes that are required to eliminate or resolve the origins of the violence.

Galtung describes two types of Negative Peace (4):

  • PEACEKEEPING - keeping the peace by preventing violence

  • PEACEMAKING - making peace by stopping violence

Galtung describes two ways that these are implemented to prevent or stop violence (5):

  • DISSOCIATIVE NEGATIVE PEACE - stops or prevents violence by separating the warring parties so they cannot fight, such as with a wall, or a neutral referee army, etc., but again this does not lead to any real changes, and thus when the separation ends, often the violence breaks out again.

  • ASSOCIATIVE NEGATIVE PEACE - continues the cessation of violence by getting the conflicting parties to start talking, for example to negotiate a cease fire, prisoner exchange, etc. But again this does not lead to changing the original causes of the violence, so it usually does not lead to long term lasting peace.

In his writings, Galtung goes into extensive historic exploration of these different kinds of peace, including how they are implemented by the United Nations and what the results were.

For example, for it’s first 65 years, the United Nations has vigorously practiced Peacekeeping and Peacemaking and has been very frustrated at how these efforts have mostly failed. Galtung says that the reason for this failure is because there has not been a real effort by the UN in partnership with local stakeholders to bring about the kind of long term change that was needed to eliminate the original causes of the violence so that it would not break out again.

Positive Peace

Galtung describes Positive Peace as the effort to bring about long-lasting deep change in the society so that the original causes of the violence are eliminated and resolved, and thus the violence will not break out again. This effort he calls Peacebuilding, to contrast it with

Peacekeeping and Peacemaking - in other words, building a long-lasting peace instead of just stopping or preventing violence (6).

To accomplish such deep long-term change, Galtung says Positive Peace must resolve the causes of violence through 6 different areas of effort (7):







To summarize these six terms, for there to be long-lasting peace, there must be created in society equality, justice and mutual respectfulness in the relations between all segments of society (academia, business, civil society, government, cultural and religious institutions, science and technology, public safety, etc.), all areas of the country and all classes of society (ethnic, economic, educational levels, etc.), and there must be a permanent, well-supplied, highly trained supportive bureaucracy with easily accessed meeting spaces and a regular schedule of meetings to facilitate ongoing access to skilled mediation leading to guided discussion, compromise, cooperation, etc., between all these segments of society so that all needs are heard, all activities are transparent, all missteps are held accountable, so that all injustice are caught immediately, so that there is no room for affront to take hold and then retaliation to follow, as a sample way for violence to break out. We find such superstructure globally at the UN, but the ideals of Peacebuilding are compromised at the UN in other ways.

As described earlier, Galtung’s theory of violence points to three areas where violence breaks out (Direct/individual, structural and cultural), and thus these are the three same areas of Positive Peace as well - Peacebuilding - that must be worked on, improved and transformed for peace to last (8):


    • Direct Positive Peace is what you do in response to actual violence, whether with an individual, between individuals or groups of individuals. This is where the efforts referred to earlier of Negative Peace - Peacemaking and Peacekeeping - come in to stop or prevent violence, and then the effort to start Peacebuilding to create long-lasting peace can then begin, for example trainings to help ex-combatants learn nonviolent ways to resolve conflict and reintegrate peacefully into society so they don’t turn to violence again.

    • Individual Positive Peace - a subset of Direct Positive Peace in relation to individual humans to help them through training, education, therapy, etc., and cultural input, to transform so that they choose nonviolent means of resolving conflict instead of choosing violent means. This is where the idea of achieving inner peace comes in - that in order to achieve true outer peace one must achieve inner peace as well.

  • STRUCTURAL POSITIVE PEACE - the laws and social and political systems and processes of the country must promote equality, justice, respect for human and civil rights as well as an easily accessed system for improvement so that citizens and residents feel like their needs are being met and their concerns are being heard and acted upon so that anger and frustration are not stimulated, which is a major way that leads to violence.

  • CULTURAL POSITIVE PEACE - a culture of peace must be promoted and taught in contrast to a culture of war and violence and abuse which would mean that the citizens strongly feel inclined to pursue nonviolent, peaceful means of resolving conflict and feel clear dislike for violence.

To summarize, Galtung says that all segments of society must work together to assure long term transformation of society so that all members experience democratic values such as equality, justice, civil discourse where they are heard and respected and acted upon, and thus this will lead to the eradication of violence, because while conflict will always be found, methods to find and develop solutions nonviolently will always be available and practiced, and thus violence will not break out again.


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