Slow Violence

The following article depicts a photo essay based on Rob Nixon’s notion of ‘slow violence’. Nixon (2011:3) argues that a major problem in raising awareness of slow violence is representational: “how to devise arresting stories, images, and symbols adequate to the pervasive but elusive violence of delayed effects”. This article identifies land conversion as an environmental concern that can be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. In addition, it utilises images, narrative and symbols that can increase the public’s awareness of land conversion and habitat destruction.

When Nixon refers to slow violence, he is referring to a violence that occurs over time and that is not visible, a violence of slowed destruction that is scattered across time and space, a violence that is not considered as violence at all (Nixon 2011:2). Violence is commonly accepted as an occurrence that is instantaneous in time and volatile in space. One needs to immerse itself in a various types of violence, a violence that is not immediate, but rather accumulative (Nixon 2011:2).

Habitats and land have been converted and utilised for housing residential developments, roads, business parks, shopping centres, parking spaces and industrial sites (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Hatfield, Pretoria is currently experiencing large amounts of developments in infrastructure and there is an increase in construction of buildings. These recent developments are due to the increasing demand for student accommodation in the area. These residential developments will soon accommodate hundreds of students who are seeking to reside near the University of Pretoria. Common activities that take place at these construction sites include excavation (digging and hollowing out of the earth) and building of large concrete structures and substructures. 

A hole that destroys versus a hole that rejuvenates

As mentioned above, excavation is a frequent activity that occurs during the process of construction (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).Excavation is the process of breaking down and degrading the earth, rock or other organic materials with machinery, equipment or explosives (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). It involves unearthing and tunnelling underground. Extremely large machinery and equipment is used to push its way through the fauna and flora to create levelled open land so that an area can be transformed into a residential building (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Heavy machinery is used to clear large areas of trees, crush grasses and pack the ground tightly. This process is not only eliminating trees and other plant life, but it is destroying the habitat of a diverse number of species (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). The animals must relocate if they are to survive at all (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Plants must habituate to the compressed land and find alternative ways to disperse their seeds (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

In opposition to the image of digging away at the earth to fragment and degrade the environment is an image of digging a hole to plant a tree which will in the future support many life forms and ecosystems. Planting a tree supports various life forms as oppose to destroying it . The digging away of earth to plant a tree has many environmental benefits. For example, trees improve our air quality by filtering harmful dust and pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide from the air we breathe (Benefits of planting trees 2015:[sp]). Trees give off oxygen that we need to breathe. Many species of wildlife depend on trees for habitat (Benefits of planting trees 2015:[sp]).

A comparison can be made between the notion of digging a hole that offers benefits to human and plant life and digging a hole that causes destruction. On the one hand, humankind is digging away at the Earth and destroying the environment. Humans are destroying the habitats of many other species for the convenience of our own. On the other hand , humankind is digging away at the earth to plant trees which provides new life and supports various life forms and ecosystems. 

Image 1: A construction site in Hatfield

Agents of destruction versus agents of growth and life 

Most construction sites make use of tower cranes. Tower cranes ascend high into the sky and can reach out just as far. The construction crew use the tower crane to hoist and transport steel, concrete, large tools and a range of other building materials. Tower cranes transport building materials efficiently and quickly, ultimately reducing the duration of construction and enabling buildings to be built much faster. Tower cranes are one of the many machinery types that allow for land conversion to take place much faster and are ultimately agents of destruction.

In opposition to the notion of tower cranes being an agent of destruction and a means of transporting harmful materials, which proves detrimental to the environment , is the idea of bees transporting pollen and being supporters of various life forms. Furthermore, a comparison can be made between the importance of a tower crane to the construction process during transportation of building materials and a bee as a transporter of pollen during pollination. 

Pollination is essential for plants to reproduce, and many plants depend on bees as pollinators (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). Most crops grown for their fruits (including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant), nuts, seeds, fibre (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock), require pollination by bees (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). Bees also play a crucial role in preserving and establishing natural plant communities and providing production of seeds in most flowering plants (Benjamin 2015:[sp]).

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 8.19.34 PM
Image 2: Tower cranes: Agents of destruction

Homes of destruction versus homes of nourishment

Recent residential and economic developments in Hatfield have lead to an increase in the area’s population. Because of the large number of residents in the area, there is a level high energy consumption, solid waste generation, global greenhouse gas emissions, external and internal pollution, environmental damage and resource depletion (Melchert 2007:[sp]). People and their living spaces have become producers of waste and destroyers of the natural environment.

Contrasting to this image of an environment that is deteriorated and contaminated is an image of an environment that is nurtured and nourished -a beehive. Beehives have a similar function to bees that houses and apartments have for people. A natural beehive is built with the intention to protect the inhabitant (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). The bees use the honeycomb in the bee hive to store food (honey and pollen).The honeybee uses the comb as a storage facility for nectar, pollen, water, honey and as a holding cell for egg, larvae and for the purpose of metamorphosis (Benjamin 2015:[sp]). Everything that the hive encloses is essential for maintaining life on Earth. If the bee dies out , the flower it pollinates will soon follow and the ecosystems fall apart (Benjamin 2015:[sp]).

Image 3: Residential developments in Hatfield

Sounds of deterioration versus the sounds of a healthy environment

The noise created by construction activities such as drilling, piling, trucks, hammering, impacts, backup beeps, welding, and other very noisy activities are the sounds of a deteriorating and dwindling environment.

In contrast to the sound of a dwindling environment is the sound of an healthy and well maintained natural environment- a bee buzzing. Bees buzzing are a symbol of an environment that is being nourished and looked after. Bees are capable of ‘buzz pollination’ and buzz from flower to flower whilst foraging (Why do bees buzz 2015: [sp]). A wide range of fruit and vegetables are pollinated by bees (Why do bees buzz. 2015: [sp]). Pollination is not only important for the food we eat directly, it’s essential for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat (Why do bees buzz. 2015: [sp]). The sound of a bee buzzing at work is symbolic of a maintained and proper functioning ecosystem. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 8.18.50 PM
Image 4: Sounds of a healthy environment: Buzz pollination


This article makes use of a photo essay based on Rob Nixon’s notion of ‘slow violence’. It identifies land conversion as an environmental concern that could be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. In addition, it utilises images, narrative and symbols that can increase the public’s awareness of land conversion and habitat destruction.


Alonzo, B. 2016. Human activities that affect the Ecosystem. [O]. Available:http;//
Accessed 24April 2016

Benefits of planting trees. 2015. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016

Benjamin,A. 2015.Why are bees important? [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016 

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

Why do bees buzz. 2015.[O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016


One thought on “Slow Violence

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

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