2020’s Pandemic and Beyond – A Lesson on Structural Violence

Structural violence is an anthropological term that refers to the often-hidden ways that structures of inequality, such as poverty, racism, and discrimination, negatively impact the lives and well-being of affected populations. It is perpetuated by institutions and social structures that prevent individuals or populations from meeting their basic needs. There may not be any person who directly harms another person in the structure. The violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.

We have already witnessed politicization of the virus spread on religious grounds. There is a stigma against not only COVID-19 patients, but also the potential carriers of virus, such as migrant laborers who are returning home or even the doctors and medical staff. Domestic violence cases are also on the rise. Another structurally created problem is inadequate residential space for home quarantine (as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization [WHO]) and the unavailability of an in-house water facility for drinking and other household chores (so that one avoids community visits for the same) for adequate social distancing, and this has become a hazard distressing a majority of people. Within this context of structurally shaped inequality and injustice, let us look at the issue of mental healthcare for people affected by the pandemic.

This kind of anomaly could very well be what the world is witnessing in a possibly covert operation of population control and devious social engineering and calculated domination, as we may see taking place in the many harsh lockdowns and mandates the world has seen since the reported outbreak of the coronavirus in December of 2019. A few of the things that make such a stunt as this seem like a most obvious example of structural violence could be the suppression of the several holistic and allopathic cures, the promotions of untested vaccinations, inaccurate statistics reports, and the division that some political agendas create around those and using other similar schemas.

This pandemic is causing major social and economic disruptions which will have long-lasting consequences, especially for those populations and communities that were already more vulnerable before anyone even knew about COVID-19. Opportunistic politicians, populist media, and careerist policymakers instrumentalized the rise in public insecurity during the 1980s. They advocated and implemented racist profiling and militarized policing. A massive prison infrastructure was built to contain the rising economic dislocation, suffering, and protest generated by deindustrialization and community disinvestment.

Predictably, the systemic routinization of increasingly harsh, racist policing tactics, enhanced sentencing in courts, mass incarceration, and service cutbacks devastated the primarily urban communities of color they targeted in former industrial factory zones. More subtly, social support systems (family, face-to-face community solidarities, collective cultural rituals) that contain youth violence in all societies were weakened. Given the disproportionately destructive impact of COVID-19, it is predictable that these structural vulnerabilities will worsen as they are met by ongoing police violence, silence, and withdrawal of existing programs. COVID-19 mortality rates are
double in poor communities, which are often segregated by both race and class in the United States.

The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic offers health care providers unique opportunities for public advocacy, policy reform, and community-centered interventions that must be recognized as essential for effective personalized quality medical care.

Those of us who might be lucky enough to get a post-pandemic chapter must revisit [prevailing class, ethnic, and other socioeconomic] fault lines with urgency, holding each other accountable for remembering how intimately our fates are interconnected, even when we don’t have a virus to bring the point home. This requires a shift in focus from a crisis response with policy and governance oriented toward business as usual—to a globally coordinated orientation toward prevention and preparation, that tackles upstream causes and determinants and is tailored to local specificities and local environments. And it requires that we usher in a new paradigm of global health guided by real collaboration, solidarity, and equity. Without such commitments and efforts, we face the possibility of a world where pandemics—like environmental disasters—become recurring events and structural violence, pandemics, and social suffering increasingly define the human condition.

COVID has generated a society-wide crisis, which is potentially a moment of rapid change to an alternative form of society. The COVID crisis has different effects on societies that partly depend upon the pre-existing structure of society. Identifying the alternative forms of society at stake is necessary to understand the significance of practices and events. Social theory is developing in response to the coronavirus (COVID) crisis. Fundamental questions have arisen about social justice in the relationship of individuals to society.

COVID illuminates the nature of crisis for social theory. COVID generated not only a health emergency but an economic recession and a contested restructuring of the political economy of health, with an ongoing cascade of the crisis through societal domains. The COVID crisis is a potential critical turning point. But it is not over yet.


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