Horizontal violence and the second dimension of power

During the week I had a conversation with someone about his land that he owns. It is Māori land owned by a number of shareholders. His family have had ownership to a large portion of the block. The issue is that other shareholders have begun to encroach on his family’s block of land and erect buildings where, by custom, they should not have been erected. This has resulted in a great deal of tension and conflict between shareholders, who are all whānau. Some of the conflict has become violent and has created rifts between whānau. He remarked that this conflict distracted Māori from the real fight – that of fighting for the return of other land that was lost through the colonisation process. What this man was referring to is termed horizontal violence. Horizontal (or lateral violence) is displaced violence where conflict occurs between peers rather than towards a true adversary. It occurs as a result of oppression and colonisation.

In thinking about horizontal violence I believe that this concept can also be applied to organisations, not just individuals. For example Māori organisations are required to compete for contracts, or unequal reimbursement for services are made or one organisation is seen as a favourite of a funder due to its acquiescence. These actions create a sense of unfairness and resentment and may lead to horizontal violence (not in a physical sense but through verbal or other non-physical means) between Māori organisations. This form of horizontal violence distracts from the task of addressing oppression by government agencies and perpetuates ongoing colonisation. In such a way funders maintain power and control and continue to set the agenda, consistent with Gaventa’s concept of the second dimension of power.1

  1. Gaventa J. Power and powerlessness: Rebellion and quiescence in an Appalachian valley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1980;198:1–230. 

Written on April 2, 2017