William Bostock

 University of Tasmania

The Latin root of the word violence is vis meaning strength or force. Violence is defined as vehemence, exertion, rapidity, injury, unjust force; not coming by natural means (as in a violent death); unlawful, unreasonable, severe or extreme. The verb is more specific: to violate means to treat with violence, roughly and injuriously; to mishandle, abuse, desecrate, profane; to infringe, break, disregard; to seize, possess wrongfully; to have carnal knowledge of, to possess (a woman) by force; to rape, to ravish. (Webster Universal Dictionary, 1968:1672).

Administration, from the Latin administrare , to manage, carry out, accomplish, means to manage a business or estate; public affairs, government; the law (as in the adminstration of justice); the dispensation of the Sacrament; the application of remedies, etc. (Webster Universal Dictionary, 1968: 34).

Administration is thus a ubiquitous activity necessarily present in all human societies but concentrated in business, government, law, religion, and health; where violence is employed in any one of these domains, one can identify a separate category of activity which may be called administrative violence.

Administrative violence can be seen in methods and/or results: if an action or policy results in a violent situation, such as that which may be caused by the withholding of food or medicine supplies, then administrative violence may be identified (Galtung, 1990: 10). The results of administrative violence may be physical, such as death through war, crime, preventable disease, or starvation, or psychological, through humiliation, misrepresentation, character assassination, torment, or lies, often with physical results. Policies or actions that produce, for example, sudden loss of status or self-respect through humiliation that can cause illness, loss of will to live and ultimately death, are certainly a form of administrative violence.

Violence by an administration may involve an offence against a criminal or commercial code or common law but the term administrative violence is more appropriately reserved for those violent acts of administration which do not offend against any established law or code of practice. Similarly, war, police action, detention, legal execution and state-sanctioned voluntary euthanasia are violent actions by administrations but should be placed in a separate category to that of administrative violence.

Administrative violence may take the form of small, innocuous and perfectly legal administrative actions such as the unannounced withdrawal of a physiotherapy unit, the closure of a branch line or small country primary school, the withdrawal of after-sales service of a product, or sudden increase in prices or charges without warning or justification. Within an organisation, administative violence can be used, particularly in personnel practice, when employees are dismissed without   warning or justification,   or their sections are placed under threat for capricious reasons or no good reason at all, or they are humiliated by sudden loss of responsibilities or status. The use of language, as in verbal abuse which may still not contravene anti-vilification laws, can constitute administrative violence. The use of ethnic or racial humour is a particularly widespread form which always has potentially dangerous repercussions. (Allen, 1983). The school playground can be a place of great violence, both physical and psychological, with sometimes extreme consequences: where this is allowed to go unchecked or is even condoned and institutionalised, administrative violence is taking place. The case has been reported of a Jewish boy who survived Buchenwald without having had a hand laid upon him but who later suffered severe depression when caned, ostracised, and made the victim of other forms of institutionalised violence in an English public school.  (Gill, 1988:77).

The Causes and Justifications of Administrative Violence.

Administrative violence can be rational in origin, particularly when fast, decisive, effective action is required: in, for example, saving a ship which is near to collision. Here the cause of the action provides its justification, and injury to passengers and damage to crockery through a violent turn would be understood and accepted by all. The sudden closure of a loss-making division in order to save a larger company from bankruptcy is another example of where the cause of the violent action and its justification are merged. If, however, no attempt is made to alleviate the impact on the retrenched employees, their families and their communities, then an administrative decision has been carried out with excessive and unwarranted administrative violence.

Administrative violence can also have non-rational origins through moods and emotional states such as frustration, impatience, anger, greed, fear or insecurity, or through the deliberation manipulation of these states. Often rationality and emotion are mixed to produce violent actions and reactions. In 1942 Czech agents, with British backing, assassinated Reinhard Heydrich the violent and sadistic Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. As a direct result, an estimated 23,000 hostages died, and no further assassinations of high-ranking Nazis were carried out (Bondy, 1981:285).

Violence can also be a response to conflict. In management literature conflict occupies a central place, being defined as behaviour occurring when two or more parties are in opposition or battle in where there will be a winner and a loser. (Litterer,1970:331). Conflict is often contrasted with competition which does not necessarily involve the destruction of a rival and can be friendly and in accordance with mutually agreed rules of conduct. Competition can generate positive emotions such as exhilaration whereas conflict will produce the negative emotions of anger, resentment, fear, and after loss, revenge. The victors in friendly and legitimate competition are accepted with grace by the vanquished and there is generally an opportunity at some stage in the future to turn the tables. Perceptions are also involved: Baron distinguishes competition from conflict in terms of the contrasting perceptions of the contest and the opponent, and the emotions aroused. (Baron,1983:402).

If violence is used in competition, a situation can quickly degenerate to one of conflict, with an escalation of violence to the point of mutual destruction. In conflict, the possibility of loss, be it possession, position, status, dignity, face, or life itself, can be almost certainly guaranteed to produce violence which will generate reactive violence, in the well-known cycle of violence.  (Haig, 1991:204).

Restraint in reaction under conditions of extreme provocation such as those provided by colonialism, which was denounced by Franz Fanon as an expression of violence (Carter, 1990:210), or racism, requires great wisdom, control of the emotions, and greatness of mind: qualities displayed by Gandhi (1869-1948), Martin Luther King (1929-1968), or Nelson Mandela (1918--). In the struggle against sexist discrimination, Emmaline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was one of the leaders in the movement to obtain the vote for women in England. Her group, the Women's Social and Political Union, used civil disobedience as its main weapon. The repeated gaolings of Pankhurst and her followers succeeded by non-violent means, in gaining attention and support for their cause. (Sargent, 1993: 133-134). However rare these qualities are, their application enabled lasting achievements that could not have been made had violence been used. This is because the use of violence always provides a justification internally and externally for a violent crackdown in a way that mass noncooperation for example does not. (Carter, 1990:213).

Administrative violence can be justified administratively where it is necessary to save a greater whole, for example, but its undesirable consequences of further violence must always be taken into account before its implementation. If violence to save a part leads to the destruction of the whole, it is clearly not justified administratively.

The Moral Justification of Administrative Violence.

The world's great religions all proclaim the sanctity of human life and disallow violence except in self-defence, the defence of the community, or as punishment for wrongdoing. Judaism permits capital punishment for a capital offence, as contained in the Law of Talion, ("an eye for an eye"), but emphasises restraint in punishment and the avoidance of the idea of unlimited revenge. (Thompson,1990:17). Christianity generally allows for capital punishment, as in for example in Article 37 of the Articles of Religion of the Church of England, but the teachings of Jesus were to avoid violence and retaliation, praying for persecutors (Matthew 5:39,44). When Jesus was arrested, he did not permit his disciples to use force to save him (Matthew 26:51,52). Islam seeks harmony and peace within the community (Ummah) but the problem of violence and hostility is taken seriously and the Qur'an provides fixed penalties including death for serious offences. (Thompson, 1990:48). Hinduism is a family of religious traditions. The law book Manusmrti states that a person is not guilty if he or she kills an assassin, and allows for killing to maintain social order. (Thompson, 1990:61). In Buddhism, the first of the five precepts (pansil) is that one should not take life as violence and murder harm not only the victim but also the perpetrator by destroying inner peace. (Thompson, 1990:73). Buddhists generally oppose capital punishment and believe that compassion should be shown towards wrongdoers, but they do not believe that crimes should go unpunished.

Thus concern with the damaging effects of violence, in both crime and in punishment, is central to the major belief systems, and in all cases the emphasis is on the control of violence.

Often administrative and moral justifications become merged. German opponents of Hitler saw their duty as not only administrative but moral, and came to realise that nothing less than the assassination of Hitler could save the German nation and others from destruction. In assessing the situation, the historian Rothfels was to write

"On this basis, murder could be considered a moral duty, a duty to clear the German name and free the world from evil..." (Rothfels,1970:151).

The Consequences of Administrative Violence.

As with criminal, political, or any other type of violence, administrative violence also produces undesired consequences in addition to those that are desired. The undesired consequences or side effects may well be highly damaging to the perpetrator, possibly even outweighing the cost of the damage that the initial use of violence was intended to overcome.

Physical violence is often a consequence of administrative violence. Prolonged and bitter strikes and lockouts, savage applications of retrenchment and other acts of administrative violence often produce a backlash of bashings, kidnappings and murder: one could refer to the case of the murder of the Chief Executive Officer of Regie Renault, one of Europe's largest car-makers, in 1986, after the application of precisely such policies. (Rao and Bostock,1990:23).

The psychological consequences of administrative violence are also quite negative. As it is impossible for people not to be hurt by violent administration, and although there may be a time-lag before there is full realisation, reactive violence may be predicted in the form of actions motivated by spite, revenge, anger, and a desire to "get even" through sabotage, industrial espionage, disloyalty, and an infinite range of small actions which can damage and ultimately destroy even the largest of organisations. In this instance, it is possible to explain the treachery of a notable group of young English intellectuals, notably Burgess, Philby, Maclean and Blunt, as a reaction to the administrative and psychological violence of the English class system in the 1930s as a result of which their loyalty was transferred to the Soviet Union. (Wright, 1987).

The Analogy With Natural Therapy.

Modern Western medicine has an impressively powerful range of weapons at its disposal in the   fight against disease:  surgery, radiation, lasers, and chemotherapy including the use of potent drugs and antibiotics. The violence of these highly invasive therapies and their significant side-effects is seen as a price most people would gladly pay for their proven effectiveness.

Natural therapy, also called alternative or complementary medicine (Stanway, 1979), is an approach to health based on a number of principles. Firstly, the emphasis is on prevention rather than cure, so that the violence of conventional medicine can be avoided. Secondly, it is holistic (from the Greek holo, meaning whole or entire), with the implication that the importance of the mind/body relationship is recognised as fundamental. Thirdly, it is multi-modal, being open to a variety of concepts and techniques, especially those from other cultures, and in opposition to acceptance of an orthodoxy. Fourthly, its goals are long-term, specifically long-term health maintenance, activity and survival, in contrast to the "smash repair" philosophy which seems to characterise most conventional paradigms of treatment. Lastly, there is respect for nature, the original and unmodified physical world. The natural world does experience violence, as in violent storms, or the killing of one animal by another for food, but it does have the essential qualities of long-term balance, sustainability, harmonious self-regulation, and permanence.

Natural therapy works with, rather than against, nature, and in accordance with these principles. Its techniques, using plants, massage, diet, the elimination of toxins, and concern to establish spiritual well-being, are nonviolent, without side-effects, and lasting in benefit. (Olshevsky et. al., 1989).

Administration can also be natural in being nonviolent, preventative, and holistic in aiming to unify material and philosophical objectives and techniques. It can be multi-modal in adopting concepts from other cultures and in so doing questioning the orthodoxies of conventional management and administration. It can pursue long-term goals rather than short-term advantage, in accordance with the underlying principles of nature, namely, balance, sustainability, harmonious self-regulation and permanence.

Using Natural Alternatives to Administrative Violence.

In examining successful, enduring organisations, one notices an absence of violence in the conduct of their affairs. In comparing the management of some U.S. companies with their more successful Japanese counterparts, two scholars have observed that

"One has only to pick up an issue of Fortune, Business Week, or the Wall Street Journal to read about some CEO slashing here, firing there, acquiring, divesting, or otherwise acting like a hack surgeon. One would be hard pressed to find accounts of similar episodes in Japan. They would surely not be honoured. There are times when one must cut deep, fast and crude, but they are rare in well-managed companies, and their frequency in the United States is a symptom of our managerial malaise." (Pascale and Athos, 1982:203).


Historically, Japan has experienced periods of great violence, but its post-war economic success has been accompanied by a prevailing ethos which has been one of nonviolence. Imai (1986) has described the approach to industrial administration as Kaizen , or gradualist implementation of long-term long-lasting but undramatic improvements, in marked contrast with the Western approach of "scrap and rebuild" with dramatic but short-term changes.

The implementation of new technology can be done in a natural way, with the support of personnel, or by force through violent conflict, a method often finding favour in Great Britain today, for example.

"We can see the extreme example of where this attitude leads in the mining and printing industries of Britain, with new technology being introduced literally at gun point in an atmosphere which is closer to being civil war than harmonious industrial relations." (Lowe,1988:10).

Security of tenure in employment is a major area for the application of nonviolence in administration and has been the hallmark of many successful organisations, the costs of reduced flexibility being recognised as an acceptable price to pay for the building and maintaining of a productive, enthusiastic and loyal team of employees. The widely acclaimed organisation theorist Perrow noted that despite its costs, the career principle is a sound one. Perrow saw the major factor in favour of the tenure/career model of employment as being the need to provide an incentive and guaranteed return on long-term investment in technical training and skill development.  (Perrow, 1986).

Another important area for the implementation of natural nonviolent administration is in the handling of information, specifically, the avoidance of violence to the truth through lying, distortion, misrepresentation, and concealment. Whilst the need for some information management for strategic reasons is accepted, gross violence to the truth is in the long run dysfunctional for the survival of the organisation. This was shown most graphically by Dr Goebbel's propaganda machine which after 1941 lost its credibility, even with the majority of its German listeners, in stark contrast to the British Broadcasting Corporation, which retained its credibility throughout World War II even though there were some important nondisclosures.   (Stevenson, 1976).

The use of physical violence in administration should be minimal. In reporting its findings to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, an official American investigation concluded that although violence was effective in achieving the short-run objectives of rooting out corruption, dealing with outlaws and imposing law and order, the long-run cost was "...a tradition of lawless vigilantism grafted onto the nation's value structure" (Kirkham,,1970:293).


It is important to identify violence as a method and style in administration, and that the full extent of its side effects be recognised. As a method of proven short-term effectiveness in the conduct of human affairs it will undoubtedly always find ready use and acceptance, and moreover, one sometimes having an administrative and a moral justification. However, where an enduring long-term solution is required, nonviolence or at least an absolute minimum of violence should be used. It has been remarked that the Gandhian technique of total nonviolence would not have worked against a different type of regime from that of the British (Carter, 1990:213), and would not, for example, have worked against the Third Reich. If, however, violence is unavoidable, it should be controlled to the absolute minimal level. It has also been noted that an excessively idealistic view of human nature can lead to conflict, violence and war (Garnett, 1976), which indicates that complete nonviolence in administration can be an unacceptable response also, particularly where a situation has bee allowed to seriously degenerate.

Administration in all of its applications can be made more effective and lasting in its achievements by following the principles used in the natural approach in the administration of health care: an emphasis on prevention rather than cure, so avoiding the undesirable side-effects of violence, and carried out in accordance with the principles of nature, specifically, balance, sustainability, harmonious self-regulation and permanence.


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