Symbolic violence

Symbolic violence: what it is, examples

Symbolic violence is a concept introduced by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu that emphasizes the dominant mode of the relationship of one person with another to establish a social asymmetry that generates considerable inequalities. This idea has been put into practice by various populations that saw the opportunity to impose laws, regulations, and cultural representations to respond to particular interests. 

However, the paradox of this concept is that it generates a benefit at the expense of another’s damage. Currently, many people impart their ideas without taking into account the damage they can cause to the environments they frequent. In order to detect these types of traits in time, it is important to have specific and precise information in order to have tools that reduce or avoid unpleasant effects.

In this Psychologyorg article, we will talk about symbolic violence: what it is, its examples, and its consequences.

What is symbolic violence?

Symbolic violence consists of a way of exercising a power relationship between people through the imposition of symbols, norms, and meanings. As its name indicates, this type of violence is not exercised through physical force, but through the use of words and inscriptions that generate a benefit for those who exercise it. In contrast, there is a sector of society that is significantly harmed by such impositions.

One of the aspects to highlight is that symbolic brutality can be implemented by groups, institutions, and/or specific people who have a specific objective of domination. In this sense, the use of language is the main tool that conveys the power relations that are established in society.

How to detect symbolic violence

Symbolic violence can be detected from specific indicators that allow its understanding. Next, we will need this information:

  • Analysis of discriminatory stereotypes: discourses that lead to discrimination of social groups due to various circumstances are installed and are displayed as naturalized messages that are not questioned by society.
  • Observation of social and cultural contexts: the spaces in which visual representations and concrete meanings are imparted can indicate the presence of symbolic brutality.
  • Listening to marginalized speeches: the isolation of social sectors as a result of the diversification of power relations means that certain people do not have the possibility of expressing any opinion about what has happened to them. For this reason, it is important to actively listen to those discourses that have been marginalized.
Symbolic violence

Examples of symbolic violence

In society, there are a wide variety of examples of symbolic violence. In this section, we will talk about the best-known models:

Objectification of women

In many social media and advertising arenas, women are treated as objects that can be dominated according to the interests of specific groups. Although this idea was more frequently presented in previous decades, it still persists on some occasions today.

For example, this is the case of advertisements in which a scantily clad woman is shown and a man ordered her actions to please him. Here we explain how to prevent gender violence.


Although homosexuality has been integrated into society thanks to the implementation of laws that allow marriage between two people of the same sex, there are still social sectors that exercise marked discrimination against this sexuality, as well as the rest of the acronyms of the LGBTI + collective.

Delimited roles

This type of patriarchal violence could also be associated with the idea of ​​the man as the provider of money and food for his family and the woman as the person who cooks, washes, and cleans the house. Thus, women are unable to work outside the home and men lack household skills.

Another example of this theme can be found in the widespread misconception that a man should not show his emotions because that would make him weaker and more vulnerable.

Consequences of symbolic violence

Symbolic violence has extremely unfavorable consequences for the development of daily activities that are carried out in society since they affect the way of interpreting reality. Here are the most important consequences:

  • Maintenance of low self-esteem: as a result of the discrimination imparted by symbolic brutality, it is common for many people to see their personalities affected and have feelings of inferiority. In relation to this, it is possible that large devaluations occur.
  • The appearance of psychological disorders: the perpetuation over time of symbolic brutality can lead to mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression, among others. In this sense, each diagnosis has a specific level of complexity and there is a risk for one’s own person as well as for third parties.
  • Social exclusion: there are social groups that are excluded from various social activities as a result of the highly discriminatory content that symbolic violence has. People who suffer from asymmetrical power relations are left out of many areas of social integration.
Symbolic violence

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FAQs: Symbolic Violence

Q1: What is symbolic violence?

A1: Symbolic violence refers to a concept developed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, which describes a form of power exerted through cultural and symbolic means rather than direct physical force. It operates through systems of representation, language, and other cultural practices that reinforce social hierarchies and inequalities.

Q2: How does symbolic violence differ from physical violence?

A2: Symbolic brutality operates on a more subtle level than physical violence. While physical violence involves direct harm or coercion, symbolic brutality operates through cultural norms, ideologies, and practices that shape people’s perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors, often without their conscious awareness.

Q3: Can you provide some examples of symbolic violence?

A3: Examples of symbolic violence can include derogatory stereotypes, discriminatory language, biased media representations, exclusionary cultural practices, and institutionalized norms that perpetuate inequalities. These examples reinforce existing power structures and contribute to the marginalization of certain groups.

Q4: What are the consequences of symbolic violence?

A4: Symbolic violence can have significant consequences on individuals and communities. It can reinforce social inequalities, perpetuate discrimination, and limit the opportunities and resources available to marginalized groups. Symbolic brutality also shapes cultural attitudes and beliefs, influencing how people perceive themselves and others, which can result in self-doubt, internalized oppression, and a diminished sense of agency.

Q5: How can we challenge symbolic violence?

A5: Challenging symbolic brutality requires recognizing and confronting the underlying power dynamics embedded in cultural practices and discourses. This includes promoting inclusive language, diverse representations, and equitable policies. Education, awareness-raising, and promoting critical thinking are essential in challenging symbolic violence and fostering a more just and equal society.

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