, 4:390 | Cite as

Structural Violence in Archaeology

  • Reinhard BernbeckEmail author


Violence is not only a matter of bodily harm but can also be inflicted through structures. Contrary to violence in wars or police operations, direct effects of such structural violence are difficult to document. I discuss the notion of structural violence as developed by Johan Galtung. The paper then shows how current theoretical discourses in archaeology that are inspired by phenomenology and embodiment make the recognition of structural violence impossible, both in the present practices of archaeologists and as a facet of past life. I then illustrate structural violence in the field of academics in a description of the hurdles for foreign students who want to pursue studies in the United States. These problems need to be understood in the frame of a much larger network of similar effects. I conclude that Western academic practices are one of the many ways that reproduce the violently unequal structures of our present world.


Structural violence Imperialism Practice theory Galtung TOEFL Overdetermination Positionality 


La violence n’est pas seulement un mal infligé directement mais peut être également infligé par le biais de structures. Contrairement à la violence déclenchée par les guerres ou les opérations policières, les effets directs de la violence structurelle est difficile à documenter. Dans cet article, je discute de la violence structurelle telle qu’elle a été développée par Johan Galtung. L’article montre alors comment les discours théoriques actuels en archéologie qui sont inspirés par la phénoménologie rend la reconnaissance de la violence structurelle impossible, à la fois dans les pratiques actuelles des archéologues ainsi qu’une facette du passé. J’illustre alors la violence structurelle dans le champ académique dans une description des obstacles créés pour les étudiants étrangers qui souhaitent faire leurs études aux États-Unis. Ces problèmes doivent être compris dans le cadre d’un réseau beaucoup plus large d’effets semblables. Je conclus que les pratiques académiques de l’Ouest constituent l’une des nombreuses façons reproduisant des structures inégales dans le monde actuel.


La violencia no es solo un problema de daño corporal, sino que también puede infligirse mediante las estructuras. A diferencia de la violencia de las guerras o de las operaciones policíacas, los efectos directos de esta violencia estructural son difíciles de documentar. En este trabajo analizo el concepto de violencia estructural desarrollado por Johan Galtung. Después, se demuestra que la actual teoría arqueológica está inspirada por la fenomenología y la personificación, que hacen imposible reconocer la violencia estructural, tanto en las prácticas presentes de los arqueólogos como en una faceta de la vida anterior. Posteriormente, se pone un ejemplo de violencia universitaria con una descripción de los obstáculos a los que se enfrentan los estudiantes extranjeros que desean continuar sus estudios en los Estados Unidos. Es necesario comprender estos problemas dentro de un fenómeno mucho más amplio de efectos similares. Termino concluyendo que las prácticas académicas occidentales contribuyen a fomentar las estructuras violentamente desiguales del mundo actual en el que vivimos.



I thank my two co-editors for trenchant critiques of an earlier version of this paper. Two outside reviewers gave valuable comments that helped to clarify my arguments. The contributors to the original conference session and the two commentators raised important issues that I have tried to address where I agree. The original impetus for this paper came out of discussions with many foreign students at Binghamton University and long standing friendships with several eager and intelligent young people in Middle Eastern countries who would have liked to study in Europe or the U.S. but were unable to overcome the many structural barriers and obstacles set up in their paths.

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Copyright information

© World Archaeological Congress 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyBinghamton UniversityBinghamtonUSA

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