Symbolic Violence and the Violation of Human Rights: Continuing the Sociological Critique of Domination


  • Claudio Colaguori


This paper examines the conceptual underpinnings of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “symbolic violence” as a recent entry in the sociological tradition that is concerned with the critique of domination. The concept is a source of some debate and confusion and there is an attempt to clarify its meaning and usage through analysis and examples. The paper also considers the usefulness of the concept in examining forms of domination emerging in the present crisis phase of post 9/11 neo-liberalism, and calls for the application of the concept in analyses of human rights violations. It is also proposed that there is a dialectical relationship between symbolic violence and the perpetration of repressive physical violence. Both symbolic violence (soft) and concrete (hard) violence are understood sociologically as forms of social control, and not as biological or psychological expressions of human aggression. The paper reminds the reader of the various challenges in defining violence more generally and also that the way we understand violence has implications for its amelioration.