Slow Violence

Rob Nixon

We are accustomed to conceiving of violence as immediate and explosive, as erupting into instant, concentrated visibility. But I wanted to revisit this assumption and consider the relative invisibility of slow violence. By that I mean a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries. Emphasizing the temporal dispersion of slow violence can change the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social crises, like domestic abuse or post-traumatic stress, but it is particularly pertinent to the strategic challenges posed by environmental calamities. Environmentalists face a fundamental challenge: How can we devise arresting stories, images, and symbols that capture the pervasive but elusive effects of slow violence? […] Our cultural moment is in thrall to speed and spectacle, which has the effect of distorting our perception of what counts as violence.

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