Slow Violence

Slow Violence:

Slow violence is neither spectacular or instantaneous but, instead, occurs over time and is characterized by incremental erosion of things like ecosystems, or public health (Nixon).

Chemical pollutants have negative impacts on the environment.

Image showing the long term effects chemical usage has on the environment. Source: By Seattle-Pi [Public Domain].

Background information:

Slow violence is readily ignored by our society’s preference for quick, attention grabbing stories. It is difficult to pinpoint the root-cause because it is indirect and can result from decisions or from a systematic or political dominance of a particular narrative or understanding (O’Lear 2016). As a result, the media usually doesn’t cover stories focused on slow violence because it is hard to give shape and structure to formless threats whose fatal repercussions are dispersed across space and time (Nixon 2011). This, in turn, exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems and of people who are poor, disempowered, and often involuntarily displaced by slow violence. This fuels social conflicts and highlights the inequality within society (Nixon 2011). One example of slow violence that is now gaining national attention is climate change. This shows all the aspects of slow violence, the social and the ecological, because ecosystems are being destroyed and poorer, minoritized groups are more subjected to its devastating effects.

Countering this is sensationalism, which is the media’s tendency to provoke the public’s interest by using shocking language. An example of this was the coverage of Hurricane “Superstorm” Sandy, which struck the east coast in 2012 (Mersereau 2013). A primary reason this garnered so much media attention was because it threatened one of the most densely populated areas in the United States and ended up being a worse-case scenario. The media was able to deliver attention grabbing news because Hurricane Sandy was dramatic and inflicted nearly 70 billion dollars of damage. This is different from slow violence’s obscurity, which is why sensationalism is more common in the media because it is easier to “hype a disaster” that it is to analyze possible long-term effects (Mersereau 2013). 



Mersereau, Dennis. “Did Hurricane Sandy Live up to the Media Hype? Yes, and Then Some…” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Oct. 2013.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.”   Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2011. EBSCOhost, direct=true&db=cat00074a&AN=muscat.b27303603&site=eds-live.

Nixon, Rob. “Slow Violence and Environmental Storytelling.” Nieman Storyboard, 2011.

O’Lear, Shannon. “Climate Science and Slow Violence: A View from Political Geography and STS on Mobilizing Technoscientific Ontologies of Climate Change.” Political Geography, vol. 52, May 2016, pp. 4–13.