Social Construction of Family Violence


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A presentation to a health and social services agency about the social construction of family violence

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  • Social Construction of Family Violence

    1. 1. The Social Construction of Family Violence Silvia M. Straka CLSC René-Cassin
    2. 2. Agenda <ul><li>Social construction of social problems theory </li></ul><ul><li>Practitioners’ roles in the social construction of social problems </li></ul><ul><li>The example of “wife abuse” </li></ul><ul><li>The example of child neglect </li></ul><ul><li>The example of elder abuse </li></ul><ul><li>Summary </li></ul>
    3. 3. What is a Social Problem? <ul><li>Social problems were previously seen as having an objective reality </li></ul><ul><ul><li>they exist separate from our interpretation of them </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>they reflect a departure from a cultural/social ideal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>these “objective realities” were the focus of sociological research </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Social Constructionist View <ul><li>Social problems are social constructions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>they are products of claims-making (Kitsuse & Spector) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>different claimsmakers have different agendas </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>there are debates about how to define the problem and its solutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>social constructionism is a different view </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>there is an objective reality to most social problems, but the focus of study is on the claims-making process, rather than the problem itself </li></ul></ul></ul>
    5. 5. How are Social Problems Constructed? <ul><li>social problems are constructed at many levels </li></ul><ul><ul><li>culture: cultural images, categories and stereotypes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>mass media: primary and secondary claims-making </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>public life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>human services and social control organizations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Miller & Holstein, 1997) </li></ul></ul>
    6. 6. Practitioners’ Roles in the Social Construction of Social Problems <ul><li>this level of social problems work is very concrete </li></ul><ul><li>workers and organizations define who is a client, therefore, who has the problem </li></ul><ul><ul><li>example of practice decisions: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>victim of abuse; perpetrator </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>child abuse: “normal” spanking or physical abuse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>wife abuse: marital conflict, “mutual abuse,” or wife abuse? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>elder abuse: mental health, caregiving, elder abuse </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Loseke’s Work on Battered Women <ul><li>three new terms in 1970s: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>social problem of wife abuse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>social collectivity of battered women </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>social service of women’s shelters </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Loseke studied how shelter workers, on a case-by-case basis, transformed elements of individual women’s experiences and stories into those of a “battered woman” or “not battered woman,” and also into an “appropriate client” or “not appropriate client” </li></ul>
    8. 8. Shelters <ul><li>result of successful claims-making </li></ul><ul><ul><li>wife abuse is a social problem </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>battered women are a special and deserving client population </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>thus we need a new kind of social service </li></ul></ul>
    9. 9. Wife Abuse <ul><li>originally it was about “wives” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>one-way violence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>victims who do not cause their abuse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>husbands repeatedly and intentionally use extreme forms of violence causing injuries to the victim </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>set apart from “normal” violence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>note: currently referred to more commonly as conjugal violence, domestic violence, spousal abuse (result of counter claims-making) </li></ul>
    10. 10. Battered Women <ul><li>Question of why do wives stay? </li></ul><ul><li>Answer: they are not only abused, but trapped for numerous reasons </li></ul><ul><ul><li>financial </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>social conditioning about marriage, femininity, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>fear </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>psychological immobility from prolonged abuse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>abuse causes low self-esteem, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>creation of collectivity of “battered women” </li></ul><ul><li>creation of shelters to serve this collectivity </li></ul>
    11. 11. Definition of Shelter Clients <ul><li>Formal definition of clients: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>battered women, low on financial or human resources (in need) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>battered women </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>women-in-transition (without safe housing for any reason): contested by workers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Workers definitions of appropriate clients: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>need the shelter </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can be helped by the shelter </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>likely to be acceptable members of shelter commune </li></ul></ul>
    12. 12. Practicalities of Client Selection <ul><li>initially little or no client screening done, but too many women with too many kinds of problems were accepted </li></ul><ul><li>needed to screen to maintain acceptable numbers of clients and appropriate clients </li></ul><ul><ul><li>difficult to decide on acceptable number </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>unpredictability </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>current mix of women and children </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>special needs </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>urgent cases </li></ul></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Client selection (2) <ul><ul><li>difficult to determine appropriateness in practice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>heterogeneity of women and situations </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>problems might be judged as “too severe” to be helped here </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>are women’s stories truthful? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>woman has resources to go elsewhere but might “need” the supportive shelter environment </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>workers judgments of appropriateness often conflicting </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Loseke shows how workers construct a woman as an appropriate client or not, and how complex, subjective and inconsistent this can be </li></ul>
    14. 14. Access to Services <ul><li>shelters: depends on being labelled “battered woman” </li></ul><ul><li>accessing youth protection services in Montreal: which situations are easiest to get services for and which are most difficult? </li></ul>
    15. 15. Example of Child Neglect <ul><li>focus is on child abuse (physical and sexual) rather than neglect, even though half or more child protection cases are neglect </li></ul><ul><ul><li>media stories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>research </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>theories </li></ul></ul><ul><li>child abuse is constructed as a problem of individual/family pathology and/or stress </li></ul><ul><li>yet neglect is clearly associated with structural factors </li></ul><ul><li>interventions are aimed at the individual/family level for both abuse and neglect </li></ul>
    16. 16. Child Neglect (2) <ul><li>there are virtually no interventions specific to neglect </li></ul><ul><li>neglect continues to be responded to with a family preservation approach </li></ul><ul><ul><li>numerous short-term placements into foster homes, alternated with returns to the family </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>interventions aimed at the mother </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>empirical evidence shows these interventions are very ineffective for child neglect </li></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Questions for Reflection <ul><li>Why have there been no alternative constructions of the problem with no alternative solutions? </li></ul><ul><li>Who can advocate and become claimsmakers for such alternatives? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the forces preventing this? </li></ul>
    18. 18. The Case of Elder Abuse <ul><li>child abuse (1960s & 1970s) </li></ul><ul><li>wife abuse (1970s and 1980s) </li></ul><ul><li>elder abuse (1980s and 1990s) </li></ul><ul><li>social construction of older adult as frail, vulnerable, in need of protection </li></ul><ul><li>old age viewed as a disability: loss and decline model of aging </li></ul><ul><li>responses inspired more by child abuse discourse rather than wife abuse discourse </li></ul><ul><li>protective legislation: quickly implemented without empirical evidence </li></ul>
    19. 19. Claimsmakers in Elder Abuse <ul><li>experts as claimsmakers: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>professionals in health care settings (geriatric, homecare, hospitals, etc.) whose clientele tend to be more frail </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>researchers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ missing” voices: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>older adults </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>community organizations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>thus we have a very specific construction of the problem from a very specific perspective </li></ul>
    20. 20. The Social Construction of Elder Abuse (by Professionals) <ul><li>what is elder abuse? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>self-neglect is considered elder abuse in the U.S. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>issue of intent: not needed, e.g. cognitive impairment </li></ul></ul><ul><li>caregiving paradigm </li></ul><ul><ul><li>caregiver stress is key theory of causality </li></ul></ul><ul><li>medical model: focus on risk factors, screening procedures, assessment, and treatment </li></ul>
    21. 21. Implications of the Current Construction of Elder Abuse <ul><li>emphasis on physical harm from abuse or neglect </li></ul><ul><ul><li>despite reports that the greatest experienced harm is emotional and psychological </li></ul></ul><ul><li>de-emphasis and lack of theories and specific responses to some categories of abuse </li></ul><ul><ul><li>conjugal violence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>perpetrates the “ageing enterprise” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>policy priorities and funding are often directed at health and social services agencies and institutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>ex. training of professionals, development of protocols, development of instruments, multidisciplinary teams, etc. </li></ul></ul>
    22. 22. Summary <ul><li>An opportunity to reflect on practice: </li></ul><ul><li>family violence is a social construction </li></ul><ul><li>the roles practitioners play in “social problems work” </li></ul><ul><li>to be more conscious in your practice </li></ul><ul><li>to sometimes challenge existing constructions </li></ul><ul><li>to see how a social constructionist perspective can help renew practice </li></ul>