Re: Offline/online:domes.violence

Wed, 14 Dec 1994 11:40:09 -0700

First, thanks to Harriet for soliciting general contributions on domestic
violence. These are so immensely useful to me that I would have hesitated
to make the invitation myself, as I would have felt I was unduly

> Without going any further, I'd like to suggest that we need to be more
> specific about what it is that we're calling 'domestic abuse', or even
> whether such terms can be applied cross-culturally. I'll batten down the
> hatches now and await the onset of the storm.....
Indeed, this is a messy one. I prefer to use the term domestic violence
when I'm referring to a cross-cultural category, as this seems to
approximate a more observable, "objective" behavior, which most define
along the lines of "action intended to cause physical injury or harm to
another." Of course, this is far from problematic: is the parent spanking
the child "violent" under such a definition? And in societies where
there is cultural tolerance for husbands' physical discipline of wives,
the for-her-own-good exegesis throws a wrench into the works.

So, I employ a very gross, behaviorist cross-cultural category and
recognize it as being of very limited use.

Turning to a particular society, usually issues of legitimacy and
tolerace come into play to decide what is considered violence, this usage
approximating more closely the notion of abuse. In _Sanctions and
Sanctuary: Cultural Perspectives on the Beating of Wives_ (Counts, DA, JK
Brown, and JC Campbell eds., 1992 Westview) they distinguish between
wife-beating and wife-battering in the sense that the first is tolerated
and to some degree expected, while the second is not; there are no strict
corrolations to severity. Similarly, in _The Anthropology of Violence_
(D. Riches ed.) Riches defines violence as an act intended to cause
injury or harm that is deemed illegitimate by a third party. I have
problems with this, but it raises the right questions: why isn't
illegitimacy from the perspective of the victim sufficient? Can an
implicit third party (the law, social mores, etc.) suffice? Could "pain"
itself be sufficient criteria for violence, a la Elaine Scarry?

And this is only to contend with overtly physical violence.
Psychological, symbolic, verbal, violences each pose their own
quandaries. As is usually the case, sweeping theory can't go very far toward
resolving these problems, and most of the work needs to be done in/on
particular cultural settings.

Sarah Hautzinger