The Silent Killer


Violence can be understood as a sudden catastrophe, confrontation or devastation. An earthquake, explosion or a tsunami are all considered examples of violence. However, there are other forms of violence that are often overlooked. Violence is not always something that is sudden but can occur over a long period and go by gradually and unnoticed. It can be a silent killer with delayed destruction.

This blog post aims to discuss Rob Nixon’s (2011) notion of ‘slow violence’ as well as provide a narrative of four images based on an environmental concern which can be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. This aims to increase the public’s awareness of the environmental concern and its silent destruction of the ecosystem and biodiversity.

Slow Violence:

Slow violence is a term introduced by Rob Nixon (2011). It can be defined as violence that is gradual and that goes unnoticed, followed by a destruction that is spread out over a long period of time. Often this form of violence is not viewed as violence at all due to the public’s general understanding of violence (Nixon 2011:2). Violence is seen as an immediate action, erupting into something that can be seen. Humanity is only aware and responsive towards violence they can see. Yet due to slow violence’s invisibility, it is overlooked (Nixon 2011:14). One needs to begin to engage with this type of violence, providing narratives and representations to allow for a better understanding of what is happening in the world today (Nixon 2011:2).

Some examples of slow violence provided by Nixon are climate change, deforestation, toxic drift, radioactivity left as a result of war, acidifying oceans and other environmental problems that are slowly unfolding. They appear small now but will lead to massive problems in the future with dire consequences (Nixon 2011:2).

The Narrative:

I have provided a narrative that focuses on the consequences, effects and damages of slow violence. Four photographs have been provided which symbolise the growing environmental concern of deforestation and development of the city.

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This is a photograph of a beautiful tree I took on a hike in the Drakensberg. It stood out for me because of how tall it was. Trees are a symbol of growth and life. They provide shade, homes and food for animals as well as oxygen. They keep our air clean and free it of pollution, absorbing nearly a ton of CO2 in a lifetime (Davis 2012). They are something beautiful in our world that we often take for granted.

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I decided to go for a trip around Pretoria, taking note of different environmental concerns as I went. On my trip, I noticed this fallen tree that had been hacked and chopped. Right next to this tree was a fence that stood erect and appeared to be new. The comparison created between the fallen tree and the erect, man-made fence became a significant image for me as well as a symbol of the effects of deforestation. Trees are removed, chopped down and cleared away to make space for man whether it is to build fences, buildings or for farmland. This is happening at an alarming rate all over the world and because it is considered slow violence, the public does not see the immediate effects of it.

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Eventually this destruction and deforestation leads to what is seen in this image. Cities that are consumed by buildings, houses and cars where few to no trees remain. Trees also absorb the sound pollution of the areas they surround but because of the lack of trees, in cities such as this, it becomes very noisy. One only hears hooting, traffic and people. Biodiversity and ecosystems that survived due to the existence of the trees disappear with the trees. Animal life as well as other plant species also disappear from the area when the trees are cleared away in order for buildings to be built. As the population in South Africa and the world grows, so does the need for more space for houses, buildings and farmland, resulting in more trees and natural environments being destroyed.

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This environmental concern is an example of slow violence as not many people notice the effects of deforestation and rapid development now, but eventually when there are not enough trees to clean our air, humans will suffer from all sorts of lung diseases. Many different types of ecosystems will have been destroyed. When we reach this point it will be too late to turn back. We will all need to wear masks, just like in the photograph due to the extent of the air pollution. The hole in the ozone layer will keep growing at an alarming rate and climate change will become worse. The effects of deforestation may be small and slow now, but in the future, it may turn out to be our silent killer.


This photo essay aims to create awareness of slow violence as well as the importance of taking steps towards stopping environmental concerns such as deforestation and destruction of ecosystems before it is too late. It is hoped that the awareness created through this blog post will encourage readers to start educating more people about slow violence by providing their own narratives and representations of slow violence, so as to create stories that are dramatic enough to rouse public sentiment.

Sources Consulted:

Davis, J. 2012. 5 Unbelievable Facts About Trees. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016

Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


0 thoughts on “The Silent Killer

  1. Pingback: Theme 4: Slow violence | Digital Environmental Humanities

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