Research Men and Researching 

Men's Violences

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Research Men and Researching Men's Violences


Department of Applied Social Studies
University of Bradford
May 1993


Jeff(ery) Richard Hearn (born August 5, 1947) is a British sociologist and one of the founders of Critical studies on men

Hearn did his MA - specialised and Thesis in Organisational Sociology - at the Department of Management Studies of the University of Leeds. He received a PhD on Social Theory, Social Planning and Theories of Patriarchy at the University of Bradford 1986. His first published book was in 1983, a materialist analysis of men's relations to children, followed by the book, “'Sex' at 'Work'”, authored with Wendy Parkin, in 1987, on the power and paradox of 'organisation sexuality', and then “The Gender of Oppression”, a neo-marxist, pro-feminist critique of contemporary patriarchy in the same year.

Hearn has been Lecturer, Senior-Lectorer, Research Fellow, Visiting Professor, Professor and the like at universities in Bradford, Manchester, Sunderland, Ĺbo, Oslo and elsewhere. He is currently teaching as a professor at the "Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration" in Helsinki.

Jeff Hearn is a member of the British Sociological Association, since 2005 member of the Conference and Events Committee of BSA. He is co-editor

* Men and Masculinities, Sage, London, ISSN 1097-184X

associate editor of:

* Gender, Work and Organization, Blackwell, Oxford. (1994-), ISSN 0968-6673

and member of the editorial board of several other important journals of social science, e.g.:

* Leadership, Sage, London, ISSN 1742-7150

* Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society, Sage, London, ISSN 1363-4607 


I am grateful to Deidre Quill on behalf of Save the Children for permission to reproduce parts of the Save the Children/West Yorkshire Probation Service Victim and Offender Mediation Handbook 1993; Nicola Boyne and the Executive of the British Sociological Association for permission to reproduce parts of the 'Statement of Ethical Practice' (n.d. c.1991); RELATE for permission to reproduce parts of Confidentiality. Principle and Practice of Marriage Guidance (Marriage Guidance Council, Rugby, 1984); and Terry Philpott on behalf of Community Care for permission to reproduce 'Minimising the risk' by Neil Small published in the 2 May 1985 edition.

Jeff Hearn.

Researching Men and Researching Men's Violences: Methodological, Empirical and Political Issues1  - Jeff Hearn


This paper presents a critical evaluation of men conducting critical research that focuses on men, in the light of theoretical/methodological, political, empirical and practical issues. The first section will consider some of these questions, as well as some examples of the range of types of research that might follow this kind of approach and the critical problems that need to be faced in different contexts and within different methodologies.

The second section of the paper focuses on research on men who have been violent to known women. The process of the research will be described and key questions and difficulties that have been encountered will be explored. These include issues of access to men, the topic of violence, safety, confidentiality, men interviewing men, violence and talking about violence, and the structuring of accounts. The concluding section briefly considers the relevance of these specific issues for other areas of research on men.

  1. Researching Men Studying Men

    Studying men is not new: the world's libraries are full of the stuff. There, first, the long established malestream traditions of the social sciences, that have in their published versions at least, usually been author(is)ed by men, and have often been implicitly about men. Second, there are some more particular areas of study, including sociological study, where attention has been explicitly, or more explicitly, (about) men (Hearn and Collinson, 1993a, 1993b). Thesehave included in a rather uneven historical way, the sociologies of 'deviance', youth culture, alcoholism, homelessness. However, even within such more explicit arenas, 'men' may be treated as the taken-for-granted object rather than as phenomena to be understood sociologically. These have often been studies directed at men rather than on, of or about men. This distinction is also of relevance in the assessment of organisational men, whether talking of William H. Whyte (1956) 'classic', Kohn's (1971) study of 'bureaucratic men', or Weber's (1958) 'protestant capitalists'.

    Critical Studies on Men

    Having said this there are also well established feminist traditions which recognize the socially produced character of 'men'. This applies in both some, though not all, the analyses of First Wave Feminism, and more so still in the 1960s Second Wave, and since. This point is made very clearly in Hanmer's (1990a) chronicling of some of the 'classics' of that Second Wave.

    More recently still there has been a major growth of clearly and explicitly focussed and clearly and explicitly critical studies on men. There are diverse strands within these developments. They include (i) feminist studies that are looking in some detail at particular men or men in particular situations (e.g. Friedman and Sarah, 1982; Hey, 1986; Cockburn, 1983); (ii) gay studies, most obviously though not exclusively on gay men (e.g. Weeks, 1977; Plummer, 1981, 1992); (iii) response by men to feminism. This would include men's studies, sometimes profeminist, sometimes ambiguous in their relation to feminism, or even anti-feminist. (Compare, for example, the following North American texts, Brod, 1987; Kimmel, 1987; Kaufman, 1987; Baumli, 1985). However, there are also developing responses by men that are not necessarily in the traditions of 'men's studies'. These are directed to the social problematising of men, especially in relation to men's power. Some of these are rather generalised studies, such as Connell's (1987) Gender and Power, Brittan's (1988) Masculinity and Power, and my own The Gender of Oppression, (Hearn, 1987). As the titles indicate in these texts issues of power and oppression are seen as central in the analysis of men. As such they draw more on radical societal analyses within feminism, rather than simply liberal reconstructions of masculinity that provide reassurances to men. Current studies by both women and men are more focussed still. Increasingly, men are being scrutinized in ways that attend to feminist scholarship, gay scholarship, men's auto-critique, and issues of power and oppression, but in diverse and sometimes contradictory ways and arenas.

    For example, Cockburn (1991) has studied the diverse ways in which men resist 'sex equality' in organizations; Collinson (1992) has described the complexity of discursive practices of management and labour in the reproduction of masculinities; Hall (1990) had deconstructed the 'monolithic phallus' through a re-reading of men's letters to Marie Stopes; and my own study of the 1870-1920 period looks at historical change in men in the public domain (Hearn, 1992a).

    Men Critically Studying Men: Issues and Difficulties For men conducting critical research on men there are a number of specific issues and difficulties - practical, political, methodological and theoretical2.

    Firstly, there is the question of men's personal motivation and practical relationship to the research in question, and the way in which the (gendered) researcher is part of the research process, the research problem and even the research topic being studied. The general issue of reflexivity in social science is thus given a specific gendered significance, not least in the gendered experience of the researcher.

    Secondly, and closely linked to this, is the matter of men's political relationship to research. Most obviously this involves the political relationship of men (researchers) to feminism, women's material, women's experience and women's research. This is both a question of broad principles/standpoints (as in profeminist stances by men) and practical decisions (as in decisions to apply or not to apply for certain research funds or for projects on certain research topics). It is also a matter of responding to research agendas set within feminisms (such as how do we (men) prevent/stop men's violence) and contributing to actions and politics that are of benefit or assistance to women (such as assisting policy change on men's violence to women). Such an approach raises difficult questions about my and other men's relation to other men both within sociology and outside of sociology. Just as men's relationship to feminism is problematic (Hearn, 1992b), so the relationship of profeminist men to (other) men is also necessarily problematic (Hearn 1987). Within institutional and organisational contexts, such as sociology, there are additional reasons for (most) men not to take feminism seriously (Hearn and Collinson, 1993b). However, such intentions or decisions do not resolve methodological and theoretical questions on the relationship of politics and knowledge, in this context of critical research by men on men.

    Thus thirdly, there are methodological and theoretical questions, in particular how critical research by men on men relates to epistemology and ontology. To put this more directly, what theories, of epistemology and ontology are present or relevant in doing such research? What can be known by men? what cannot be known? and what is unlikely to be known? Just with current debates around feminist epistemology and ontology, and particularly the interrelation of feminism, modernism and postmodernism, it is no longer possible to just read off the truth value of particular statements; instead experience, knowledge, politics and theorising are in a continuing and changing relationship; both absolutism and relativism are flawed. Debates on feminist epistemology are often set in the tension between the material basis of experience (e.g. Irigaray, 1985), and the fragmentation of knowledge (e.g. Kristeva, 1980); meanwhile there is yet very little consideration of the relationship of critical studies by men on men to these matters of feminist and related epistemology and ontology.

    (Provisionally, the tensions within debates around feminist epistemology and ontology may also apply to critical studies by men).

    Partly in response to this structuring of objectivity/subjectivity, partly in the context of self-validating (rather than other-validating) political practice, and partly in terms of an epistemology that creates knowledge from effects rather than essences - there has been a strong attempt to assert the superiority of knowledge of the objectified, within feminism and elsewhere. Specifically, the route to knowledge and emancipation has often been constructed through subjectivity rather than objectivity. This has been particularly important in feminist approaches to emancipation.

    So what does this mean for men? If what is called objectivity is (perhaps in large part) a form of men's subjectivity, then a more direct, explicit and fuller resort to men's subjectiveness may be a means to reconstituting objectivity in critical studies by men of men. There are, however, at least three problems with this explicitly subjectivist approach to men's knowledge of men. First, men's subjectivity is itself set within power: it may, indeed it is likely to be, self-reproducing of further dominance and rationalisations of dominance. Second, men and men's situations vary greatly. And third, such an understanding of men's subjectivity has to be placed alongside, and perhaps in contradiction with understandings of women's subjectivity3.

    Epistemological and ontological questions, such as these, can be considered both as immediate practical concerns and as more generalised analyses of power relation and power location. Certain kinds of experiences of activities may only be easily or directly known by men. In some respects, men have access to knowledge that is not accessible to women. This includes experiential knowledge, knowledge of men only situations, and knowledge of men's effects on men.

    Certain kinds of activities, aspects, experiences of men or even certain types of men are not known about. There are definite gaps in knowledge.

    Some of these can be identified. These include those that are 'private', for example, direct observation of men's violence to women in the home or usually 'alone', for example, masturbation, or 'secret', for example, the activities of 'secret societies'. Then there are gaps around particular types of men, for example, 'stateless' men or men who are temporary transsexuals.

    Other gaps are not necessarily known. By definition some are difficult (perhaps impossible) to talk of. Indeed these kinds of gaps, which can only be speculated on, are most apparent retrospectively, for example, what did we not talk about ten years ago that we do now. Such gaps, such gaps in perception illustrate some of the problems of empiricism in researching men: how do we/I know there are gaps at all - does this rely on 'intuition', limited/personal/shared information and knowledge, for example, I have, know or have known someone who ... , so I can expect to look for something similar. These various kinds of gaps also illustrate the importance of relying on and linking together fragments of knowledge.

    Furthermore, in many, and perhaps in most respects, men's knowledge as researchers and/or as researched remains severely limited, by virtue of men's power locations as oppressors and/or members of an oppressor class (or classes), and certainly so relative to women's knowledge of the effects of men.

    The need to problematise the association of knowledge and objectivity is especially clear when the focus of attention on critical studies on men by men is in terms of power relations and power locations. Not only have men dominated what has been studied, but also how that study is to be conducted and what counts as knowledge. In particular this has included the equation of knowledge and objectivity, and the downgrading of subjectivity as non-knowledge. Of course both these processes have been and are gendered.

    Much, most, of what has been and is considered objective knowledge has been and is pre-scientific) for example, in the neglect, the blatant ignoring, of issues of gender, sexuality and violence. What is called objectivity reaffirms and reproduces certain kinds of subjectivity, as at least in the senses of being subjects in discourse, feelings of objectification, and structurings of knowledge systems or systems of rules of knowledge.

    Different Contexts and Different Methodologies Because of these and other complications, a variety of critical problems need to be faced, within critical studies by men on men, in different contexts and within different methodologies. In particular 'purely' subjectivist approaches to men have to be treated with caution for the reasons just outlined.

    In exploring the implications of these issues and difficulties for different methodologies, I will first say a little about the dominant modes of studying men in and around sociology. These present their own specific and gendered challenges.

    Autobiographical and indeed biographical writing is often cast in the grand narrative the hero, the lone man. Critical responses to that by men have included the relationship of experience, work, politics and theory (Hearn, 1983); the exploration of the dilemma between the confessional and the petitional (Morgan, 1987); the deconstruction of men's subjectivity as any kind of unified subject (Jackson, 1990); and life story work (Connell, 1990; Plummer, 1988, 1990).

    (Abstracted) empiricism, with its own bureaucratic and professional procedures and responsibilities, is another, dominant mode. This introduces the possibility of abstractism from responsibility within organisationally structured narratives. It has been relatively important in some parts of 'men's studies' in the United States, especially those of the interface of sociology and social psychology (e.g. Kimmel, 1987). Such studies can reproduceexisting methodologies with relatively little critique (Hearn, 1989b). Its strength is the handling of large amounts of data. A challenge here is how to combine large 'data sets' with responsive organisational methods as well as political and personal profeminism. This seems especially difficult, especially in the context of large hierarchical, indeed patriarchal organisations.

    Theorising is a third dominant mode. This has the advantage of facilitating critical reformulations that may be difficult in abstracted empiricism; some forms of theorising may be a means of avoidance of the personal and the political, and ways of reproducing academic hierarchies and less than critical traditions. A challenge here seems to hinge around the development of consciously gendered theorising that is more open to different forms of knowledge, including personal, experiential, political and empirical knowledge.

    However, the issues and difficulties outlined earlier cannot just be 'overcome' by getting the 'correct' methodology, less still by sheer determination and good intentions, important though they may be. Rather it is more likely that issues and difficulties have to be lived with and recognised as continuing tensions and contradictions. In particular it is always necessary to consider the relationship of critical studies by men on men to women's research, whether directly (for example, as collaborators and colleagues) or indirectly (for example, as previous or contemporary researchers elsewhere). Men's research in isolation (from feminism) is likely to reproduce some of the 'knowledge' and assumptions of anti-feminism.

    With this qualification in mind, several methodological possibilities do seem of interest in developing critical studies by men on men. First, there is the macro approach: the consideration of men's knowledge in the context of world patriarchy. Second, notwithstanding the earlier comments on the problems of men's subjectivism, there is the micro approach of 'deep' investigations - in depth interviews, even psychoanalysis, as means of both increasing self-knowledge and knowledge of others. The generation of knowledge in this way still has to be understood sociologically.

    Third, there is the development of more differentiated, contextualised approaches to men's subjectivity and objectivity. In particular there may be a need to specify different rules for the understanding of men's subjectivities depending on the power context of the experiences being investigated. Men's subjectivities may be understood as giving fuller information when they relate to men in relatively lesser power, and especially when recounting the effects of other men upon men or boys, for example, boys' experiences in relation to other men; in contrast, men's subjectivities that relate to men in relatively greater power need to be understood as giving lesser information because of the problems of rationalisation, minimisation, justifications, indeed further elaborations of power in accounts themselves, as for example in men's violence to women.

    Such differentiations become particularly interesting and complex when considering multiple oppressions, for example 'race' and gender, and reciprocal/mutual oppression, for example, men's violence amongst peers.

    These kinds of approach do offer the possibility for transcending subjectivity/objectivity in knowledge of men.

    Fourth, there is the possibility of multiple methods, not just a matter of technique, but as part of the broader concern with multiple perspectives of multiple/plural perspectives (Grosz, 1988; Hearn, 1992). It is unlikely that a single methodology will be able to encapsulate all that has to be said. Thus this is more than just a bringing together of qualitative and quantitative methods, important though that may be as an intermediate concern. The movement to multiple perspectivism is a commentary on the very nature of social reality, perception and politics, both personal and collective: it is a call to undermine the grand narratives of the malestream including the 'one best way' of disinterested positivism.

    Accordingly, a series of personal, political and theoretical relationships can be charted: Fig. 1 Multiplicity in research Multiple/plural perspectives Multiple Methodologies Multiple Methods

2. Researching Men's Violences

The remainder of this paper is an attempt to make some sense of some of the issues that appear to be important in the conduct of current research into men's violences4. (See Appendix 1) As such it is necessarily a provisional account.

I will begin with the development of my interest in researching men. This is followed by a brief description of the current research project on men's violences, and some of the issues that appear to be important from the perspective of the early stages of this research.

My Interest While I have been researching and writing on men for many years, it is relatively recently that I have explicitly researched on men's violence.

In retrospect I think I avoided that explicit focus for several years. My current interest in researching men's violences comes from a number of sources:

  1. theoretical and historical work on patriarchy/patriarchies;

  2. research on sexuality and organisations, including sexual harassment and thus violence;

  3. concern with child abuse arising from interest in childcare, teaching social work students, and collective work with the Violence Against Children Study Group (1990);

  4. the increasing prominence of public responses to violence by men, including practical and political organising on this issue, partly as a response to feminism.

Furthermore, within sociology the issue of violence and particularly men's violence is problematic, in the sense that the area of 'the sociology of violence' is strangely unformed and unrecognised. Instead its study tends to be scattered between a variety of disciplines (sociology, criminology, jurisprudence, social policy, etc.) and a variety of sub-topics (crime, deviance, child abuse, sexual harassment etc.). The topic of violence has been avoided both in sociology in general, and in Critical Studies on Men in particular.

There is also a much wider set of personal, practical, working and biographical features that I bring to doing research on violence. They include my own relationship to violence, enacted, experienced and witnessed; the different meanings to me of different kinds of violence; the association of sexuality and violence (partly summed up in MacKinnon's (1983) phrase 'the eroticisation of dominance'); my opposition to violence; the fact that I work where I do, whom I know, and so on. Working on violence is always, for me, a personal issue, even though it clearly has more general significance in relation to the power of men and the construction of masculinities. It is also a difficult area to work on, and an area of study and action that is demanded by profeminist standpoint.

This raises the question of the importance of political commitment against violence when working on and researching violence. Other areas of study of men that also demand attention and are probably even more difficult include state, corporate, institutional violences; militarism; corruption; and organised crime.

Contexts of the Research

The research follows on from previous research conducted in West Yorkshire on women's experiences of violence from known men (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984, 1987, 1993; Hanmer, 1990b). This research has involved, first, community-based surveys of women's experiences; second the conduct of action research feeding into the reform of Police policy on violence to women in West Yorkshire; third, the monitoring of that policy; and fourth, the placing of those developments in the broader social context of media and other social processes. This research has not only shown the scale of men's violence to women and children but has also examined the policy implications for effective policing. This essentially involves the police responding to men's violence to known women in the same way as other violence to others (West Yorkshire Police Authority, 1988). Other innovations in West Yorkshire include the establishment of Police Special Unit for 'Domestic Violence and Child Abuse' (as well as for Rape) and the creation of Domestic Violence Forums in six locations, bringing together representatives from statutory, voluntary and community organisations.

These have been important in the development of inter-agency work around violence to women and children.

The present research thus not only builds on local research, policy and community bases, it also develops a number of other themes:

(i) the investigation of men's experiences of violence towards women in parallel with the investigation of women's experiences of violence from men.

(ii) the adaption of a United States study of the battered women (Mitchell and Hodson, 1983) on the place of social support networks to the situation of men who have been violent to women.

(iii) the study of both individuals' relation to violence and agency responses to violence.

Current Research My current research is a project on men who have been violent to women they have known. It involves interviewing individual men and contacting agencies for (i) access to men; (ii) follow-up with agencies on individual men, with the permission of the men; (iii) information on general policies (see Appendix 1).

This project is linked to, but separate from, a project directed by my colleague Jalna Hanmer. The two projects are jointly funded but separately organised in terms of access, interviewing, confidentiality. Both projects use multiple methods: open-ended qualitative interviews, structured interviews, as well as triangulation with agency accounts.

The research thus investigates how much men talk about and understand or do not talk about and do not understand their own violence to women; the differences between women's and men's experiences in relation to men's violence; and the interrelation between individual accounts and accounts from agency personnel. The basic aim of the research is thus to find out more about men's violence to women and to contribute to the reduction and abolition of such violence.

Interviews with men are focussed on:

(i) the man telling his own story in his own words. This is an open-ended mode of interviewing using questions and prompts.

(ii) the gathering of biographical information about the man, and to an extent about the woman he has been violent to.

(iii) the gathering of information on the man's method of coping, his support system or lack of it, and his relation to agencies.

The men interviewed have been mainly from:

(i) police referrals.

(ii) probation officers.

(iii) counselling groups working against violence.

Some other men have also been interviewed from social services, other welfare agencies, prison, as well some men not involved in agencies contacted through local authority, company, youth and men's groups. In all cases the men themselves clearly had to give their permission before interview.

This diversity and range of sources mirrors an issue (and perhaps problem?) discussed by Lorna McKee and Margaret O'Brien with respect to fathers. They remark (1983, p. 147): 'The first problem we encountered in our studies was the recruitment of men as fathers. There is no ready-made sampling frame of fathers and as a group they are less accessible and conspicuous than mothers ... ' Because of the nature of legal and criminal processes, there are major difficulties in constructing a satisfactory sampling frame for men who have been violent to known women.

Issues and Difficulties So what issues and difficulties arise in this kind of research? The answer is very many. In effect all the major issues in methodology and 'stages' of the 'research process' may be viewed rather differently when (i) researching specifically on men; (ii) research is by men; (iii) researching on violence.

On Difficulties There is a powerful myth/ideology of near, linear, 'hygienic' (a racist metaphor?) research and research methodology: researching men's violence is not in my experience like that. Theexistence of 'social mess' in research is often perceived as a problem largely because of other expectations and assumptions.

In previous research on sexuality in organisations (Hearn and Parkin, 1984, 1987), Wendy Parkin and I were at pains to record the difficulties we were finding. A major revelation to us was how what were at one time perceived by us as 'methodological difficulties' were rather part of the way the topic, 'sexuality in organisations' was (or is). Thus such difficulties were there for investigation not avoidance. They were part of the way the substance, not just the method, of research: 'part of the way in which sexuality in organisations was obscured for us was by our perception of its study through the eyes of methodological difficulties rather than organisational processes' (Hearn and Parkin, 1987, p. 48).

Similarly, in researching men's violence there are great 'difficulties'.

Whereas these were characterised as around 'elusiveness' and 'secrecy' in looking at sexuality in organisations, with men's violence, I would describe them as 'pervasiveness', 'elusiveness', and 'avoidance' and 'ambivalence'. There are, however, not simply 'methodological difficulties' in research but rather likely features of the substance of men's violences.

'Men' Perhaps first and foremost is whether the research should focus on and be constructed around the social construct of 'men' in the first place. This focus and construction is necessarily informed by previous research on men's dominant use of violence, and women's accounts of violence. To put this rather differently, how might the study of 'men' relate to her study of 'women', and thus to her study of 'gender', when working in relation to the topic of violence? The deconstructions of the category 'men' is likely to lead in different directions when different focuses of research are in hand (cf. historical research, Hearn, 1989a, 1992a, 1993). Deconstruction does not necessarily dilute power relations, as in men's violences; indeed it may serve to illustrate the mythologies that surround men, including men as a gender class. In the case of men's violence, a particular challenge is to deconstruct 'men' whilst recognising both men's power as a gender class and the physical embodiment of men as males when violent or potentially violent.

Location An old problem in sociology is who is going to pay for research; then there is the problem of who is going to be studied; who is to do the studying; and are those studied and those studying to be the 'same people' or 'similar people'. In this research project men are studying men. But the project is also linked to another project, so that at a certain level of anonymous generality, women and men are studying men.

More importantly, the project is part of state funding, and is directed towards state organisations, organisations on the fringe of the state, unfunded voluntary organisations, and the individual men who are involved with them through violence to women. The state thus figures as funder, institutional location, producer of policies studied, and agencies in contact with men. Needless to say, the state(s) is excessively gendered (Connell, 1990).

Research Access and the Analysis of Organisations Research access is a standard part of any or at least most 'field' research. In this project it is especially important. Not only is the access a necessary stage in the research process; it is also significant in itself as a means of understanding organisational operations. In most cases, it involves access to men's organisations, that is organisations controlled by men. Important issues here include the means of access to men, the process of cooperation of access, and the ethics of access.

Just as in studying sexuality in organisations in methodological difficulties became reformulated as a substantive part of the research so in this project access issues are (a vital part of) the research. Access involves concern with the different constructions of violence in agencies.

In particular, different agencies clearly relate to violence in quite distinct and different ways, particularly in terms of how violence relates to their tasks and everyday work.

Differences around violence as a component of agency tasks are reproduced both in the definition of 'clients' (in the broadest sense of the term) and in the very conduct of the research, especially around research access.

Men in this case, are accordingly primarily defined in relation to or not in relation to violence. In the case of the Police, Probation and counselling groups around violence, it is violence that is recognised explicitly, even though in each case this is mediated through legal, procedural, social work, therapeutic or other discourses. However, there are also significant differences between such agencies, for example, in the extent to which men are understood and thought of in individual terms or collective terms. This is partly a question of professional and organisational ideologies, both formal ('clients') and informal ('villains') and partly a question of technologies of information handling.

For example, access to men through the Police has come by means of their computerised system together with their obtaining consent - men are treated in batches; similar access, through counselling groups has been to men as a group, albeit with the men's permission. In contrast, Probation contacts have been much more individualised, with the emphasis on individual office contact, individual life histories and appropriateness for individual cases. This is partly a technological and partly an ideological issue.

Whether men are seen in terms of violence explicitly or implicitly, separately from other parts of their being or totally defined as such, is part of which Rosengren and Lefton (1969) called the organisational orientation to clients. Their work on Hospitals and Patients and other medical institutions noted how different medical conditions suggested different organisational arrangements, but more importantly how the same person could be defined differently by different medical organisations.

Elaborating on Rosengren and Lefton's typology - the following contrast may be drawn between (1) violence as a very specific (separate/narrow) part of the person, and (2) violence as a more diffuse (integrated/broad) part of the person. This conforms to Rosengren and Lefton's definition of the lateral dimension in medical context. In the case (1) violence is the point of contact; the organisational personnel are only interested in the man in relation to his violence. This is the dominant pattern in the Police - C.P.S. - Court system. This approach looks at the 'client' in a more segmented way - violence is a lesser part of his being, yet paradoxically there is more possibility of resolving the problem by simply stopping the violence or not bringing it to attention of the organisation.

In contrast case (2) looks at the 'client' in a more 'integrated' way - violence is seen in the context of his total being or as a greater or more integral part of his being yet paradoxically a specific focus on violence may be more interest, through the realisation of greater difficulty in the resolution of the problem/the solution of the situation/man. This is the dominant pattern in counselling groups. Probation seems to be placed in the tension between these two ideologies in that is concerned with referral through the Criminal Justice System, and yet draws on its own model of social work. The broader implications of social work and the subjectivity of the client are discussed by Philp (1979), partly reflecting the dilemmas of control versus care.

Furthermore, there may be tensions between these modes of operation even within counselling groups - between approaches that emphasise professional/client relations as against mutual self-help, as between anger management as against more open-ended anti-sexist perspective (Gondolf and Russell, 1986; Horley, 1990; Dankwort, 1992-1993). These conditions of client definition bear strongly on the facilitation or otherwise of research access - there are in effect many 'good organisational reasons for bad resear ch access' (cf. Garfinkel, 1967). The reasons for the non-availability of clients for research reflect not just the reluctance of individual men to 'come out' as violent, but the organisational construction of violence and organisational reluctance to come out as centrally involved in violence - both at the policy level and at the level of the individual worker/professional/practitioner.

Preparation for Interviewing, Safety and Confidentiality

Then there are issues of preparation for fieldwork and interviewing, including training and the development of awareness of issues around men and violence. Closely related to this are detailed questions in the conduct of interviewing and other fieldwork itself, including the implications and meaning of men interviewing men, safety, confidentiality, the search for 'good data', the significance of 'denial', and the relevance of 'any account'. Making the arrangements to interview men has often been very difficult, involving care, assertion, patience, coping with stress, and humour. There are also questions of physio-emotional experience of doing research, of keeping going, of the effects on the researcher, the pain of research, the need for support, and so on.

A good deal of attention has been given to safety, in terms of establishing control and confidence, selection of venue, assessment of possible danger, giving absolute discretion for interviewers to withdraw, telephoning in after the interview and so on. Giving such absolute discretion to the interviewer is very important. For example, the drawing up of 'factors' to learn and watch for as indices of 'dangerousness' is no substitute for the interviewer having confidence in doing (and being given the confidence to do) whatever is appropriate in the interview. The reduction of risk and danger to lists of factors reduces the complexity to a formula and may lead to a sense of failure on the part of the person attacked or violated. These questions of safety and danger of the interviewer may parallel processes affecting victims or potential victims elsewhere. For example, there is a danger in the interviewer who experiences threat or even physical violence apologising that 'I shouldn't have rile him' or 'I was stupid too stupid to see it coming'. While this may in some ways reproduce the self-blame of some women survivors of violence and abuse, in other ways, there are clear differences between men interviewers and known women survivors. These differences are principally:

  1. gender

  2. (ii) types of social relation. Attention has also had to be given to confidentiality.

Moreover, confidentiality is itself a social and political construction. For example, different versions are operative for different agencies. Particular difficulties surround the possibility of men talking of (i) either their intention to be violent to women, or their intention to commit other crimes; (ii) their violence or other crime in the past, both unsolved crime, ongoing crime investigations, and crime which is not yet known to the police. Accordingly, while these are confidential research interviews, we have to inform the interviewee that we have to operate within the limits of the law.

Venues for Interviewing

Interviewing has not been done in men's houses, even when men were keen to be interviewed there, and men appeared to be safe, 'completely harmless' and 'not at all threatening'. We adopted this policy partly because we did not always know whom we were interviewing, and partly because we did not see apparent 'niceness' as any indication of safety (or danger).

Additionally, not interviewing in men's home meant that men might be able speak more freely away from their own home. Interviewing in their own home might mean that in some cases the woman who have been violated or other family members might be in the next room. Meeting away from men's own home also avoids particular association of the home, especially if aspects of the domestic scene might provoke violent feelings. Less dramatically, meeting outside the home might avoid interruptions (from television, telephone, callers), which in some cases could cause embarrassment; thus using another venue helped anonymity and confidentiality. Meeting outside the home also gave more control to the interviewer, beyond the immediate questions of safety. It enabled some consistency of venue.

The venues used were generally neutral locations in the sense that, apart from one occasion, they were clearly not our own offices. On a small number of occasions, interviewing rooms attached to the University were used. However, for the vast majority of interviews that were outside prison, we interviewed men in other locations - community centres, health centres, family centres, housing offices, and so on. If was hoped that through this safe environment away from the men's home would be provided.

In many ways the choice of venues mirrored the social situation which we were trying to create. This was one in which there was ambiguity between neutrality and equality on the one hand, and yet control being maintained by the interviewer on the other.

Men Working on the Topic of Violence

A basic issue in this research is the different understandings that there are of violence - between and within agencies, between men, and for the same man at different times. While physical violence is most easily and frequently understood when talking of violence with men, there is a range or continue of other kinds of violences and violations including sexual, emotional, psychological and verbal violences. This tendency to variation and elaboration equally applies to the reconstruction of past violences by men even though the relevant actions may not have been experienced or defined as such at the time (Kelly, 1987). Researching men's violence brings to the fore the contradiction between the certitude of the pervasiveness of violence and the multiplicity of definitions and meanings actually given to the notion of violence. Men's 'narrowing' of violence, usually to physical violence, is one form of men's domination. This necessitates both a firm expectation that there is violence to be investigated, a realisation that violence may be denied and minimised, as well as a really open mind in talking to men as regards the different kinds of violence, the different reasons for violence and the different kinds of context of violence. This fundamental open-mindedness, of not knowing what men do or say or say they do, must not neglect or dilute what we know about men's power, dominance and violence, particularly from feminist research and clinical interventions. In particular, open-mindedness about 'causes' of violence is necessary.

In working in this way, there are further difficulties. The most obvious one is that there may be tensions between listening, coping with listening and critique. This process of listening applies in both interviews and in the subsequent analysis of interviews. Listening is not just a matter of being a sponge to whatever is said. Similarly coping with what is said is a critical not a purely reactive process. Listening to and coping with men talking about violence can be unpleasant. It can be bad for you. It can also feed into men's feelings of vicarious interest, and superiority over and difference from other men. Such feelings may need to be addressed in the research group. Most importantly, such research on men needs to be pro-feminist in perspective, and located in close association with feminist research, with women controlling the direction of research development, particularly if dispute arises.

For men to research on the topic of violence is demanding: it entails the acknowledgement of our/my own violence and the potential for violence in the present and future; it involves being alert to the effects of working with and on violence, the need for sympathetic and critical support, and attending to whatever 'comes up' in the work, no matter how unwanted and apparently trivial that may seem; it also brings in my experience a depth of emotional engagement of sadness and of joy that is difficult to convey on paper; it demands a personal and political commitment against violence in all its forms; it produces a continuing personal and political re-evaluation, a process of consciousness-raising. Perhaps above all it necessitates a constant critical relation to the material - of self, of the research process, of the men interviewed, the interview data, the agencies studies, as well as various kinds of 'totalities'. In particular we need to be ready to recognise the multiple ways in which men can re-establish forms of power, dominance and violence, even when working against violences.

Working on violence also involves constant thoughts about violence. This is a different kind of tension to that specifically around safety. Not only is violence a troubling kind of thought, but violence also provokes personal and political re-evaluation. This is not always upsetting or negative; it may be an uneasiness; and sometimes a paradoxical positiveness. The uneasiness also relates to the complexity and depth of relations and situations. In particular working on violence challenges men who usually have limited experience of negotiating non-violently and non-abusively.

These processes are themselves complex, and deserve closer specification and conceptualisation. Studying violence and being against violence does not mean distancing oneself or oneselves from violence. On the contrary, it comprises a series of different and changing relationships with the material (of violence). In particular, this will almost certainly involve the recognition of some of the ways in which we have been formed by and through violence, our own and others, as well as our potential violence.

It will probably involve the examination of ambivalence towards working on violence. It is likely to entail attention to relations between men in the research group, particularly around issues of authority and power. While there are some dangers in working as a group of men on men's violence, particularly in terms of male bonding and collusion, on balance a group does create the possibility of counter-voices. Similarly, because of the danger of 'group-think', stereotyping of others, and scapegoating, a critical scepticism is useful.

It may also be helpful to consider the place of lightness and humour in working on violence. While the subject matter of the research is very serious this does not mean that doom and seriousness is necessarily an appropriate stance. Indeed the feelings that may arise from this kind of research can be partly dealt with by lightness and humour. At times this may be a form of avoidance and defence; on other occasions it may be a means of discharge emotions and distress; it may also be simply a more enjoyable way of working; sometimes the research, such as the things said by men, can be funny or tragi-comic. On the other hand there are of course dangers in this. The most obvious is the dilution of the seriousness and urgency of the problem of men's violence. A more subtle issue is that humour can lead to stereotyping of the men being researched and the distancing of ourselves from them. This can be a defence by which we as researchers may ourselves as different from 'them', and may even place ourselves in a falsely positive, even 'heroic' light.

Men Interviewing Men

It is assumed in much social research that the interviewer is in a position of power relative to the interviewee (Platt, 1981). Much, though far from all, social research practice has employed women for interviewing women and men on behalf of men .

In this project it is men who are interviewing men, in the wider context of collaboration with women. This raises some novel questions for traditional malestream social science in both ideology and practice.

Rather different patterns of power relations may operate in peer research: there may be ambiguity between the equal of peers and the hierarchy of interviewer/interviewee

This has raised the question in feminist research of the appropriateness of (survey) interviewing at all, and the need to work towards reciprocity, and reduction of power differentials. Thus feminist research has attempted to reduce the power of the interviewer over the interviewee and to develop less structured interviewing styles to complement this (Oakley, 1981, 1987; Malseed, 1987). With men interviewing men the situation is even more contradictory, and especially so when working within the framework of critical studies on men. Indeed in some senses, elements of all three approaches - malestream, peer, and feminist may be found in profeminist research on men.

In the paper 'Spotting the Invisible Man', MacKeganey and Bloor (1991) note the recent interest in the researcher's gender on the process of sociological research (Warren, 1986). This has been noted mainly by women researchers and mainly from feminist perspectives. There is less attention of men as researchers or by men as writers on research. Six studies are noted by men (two method textbook, two Ph.D's, one study of gay baths and one general methodological) - MacKeganey and Bloor note three themes in the literature:

(i) The tendency to use gender as a catch-all in accounting for processes that may be due to class, age, low status (e.g. of women researchers). They comment that this is clearly context-specific.

(ii) Discussion on extent to which influence of gender is negotiable, and especially how this may vary in different part of the research process, e.g. it may be more negotiable in intensive participant observation than in interviewing.

(iii) Limited visibility (sic.) and taken-for-grantedness of gender.

They conclude as follows: '

This selectivity (in attention to gender relations) is of course writ large in the typical inattentiveness of researchers to questions of male gender, so that (paradoxically) males are treated as the normal subjects of research.' They then go on to examine within gender for example, (male-male) and cross-gender relations for both research subject expectations and researcher expectations, especially around the researcher's adoption of gender stereotypical behaviour and attitudes. In one sense, men interviewing men represents no challenge at all to the tradition of how hierarchy of the interviewer over the interviewee, with the interviewer in control of the interview. Also men are very much used to being hierarchal situations over men. On the other hand, the situation does create several possibilities for a reformulation of interviewing along lines that relate to but are different from feminist debates. Firstly, the interviewer is a man rather than a women as might be more usual in research interviewing: a man is doing what may be perceived as 'women's work'. Secondly, both participants are men. Both know what is to be a man. Both can relate to other men in ways that we see as 'natural': what may be called 'fraternal' relations can be employed. Their peer status 'as men' may lead to taken-for-grantedness reframing/obscuring the information that is sought.

This is in some ways contradicted and in some ways reinforced by the fact that the interview is about violence and abuse, something that it is not usual to discuss in detail in many social situations of men. This may bring an unusual degree of intimacy and/or disclosure into the talk between two men who are strangers. On the other hand, the use of authority by the interviewer may be used to control the interview, and even to try and obtain information. More arguably, the power relations are potentially negotiable by virtue of the fact that the interviewee has power over the information which the interviewer wants access to. Talking about violence can also be a sign that the interviewee is now changed/changing: he is now different to the way he was: he assumes or is assumed to be now more like the interviewer.

In addition, there are other complexities:

(i) Differences between men may prevail - by class, 'race', age, sexuality etc.

(iii) Related to this is the specific possibility of collusion, conscious or unconscious, between interviewer and interviewee, for example, in the wish not to overstate the extent of form of violence. Such collusion might work at several levels, including in the interpretation of data. For men to critically interview men on violence involves both attention, listening, empathy, but also critical distance and critical awareness rather than collusion.

Violence and Talking About Violence

In one sense talking about violence is assumed to be some kind of reporting of past events. On the other hand, it is clearly also much more and much less than that. Talking about violence might involve defensiveness, diversion, denial, as well as directness, even bragging.

Talking about violence can be exciting, can convey threat, can be 'really interesting', sometimes even 'pleasant'. Interviewing men has sometimes been difficult, awkward, unpleasant, but often the experience has been surprisingly pleasant. The issue of the niceness in interview of men who have been violent to women, and the associated positiveness of the interview deserves much greater attention.

Again there are contradictions here to be noted, for example, in the assumption of what might be recognized as 'genuine openness' in interviews.

Indeed paradoxically faltering and incomplete accounts might seem more credible than those that give a 'complete and open' story. Talking about violence can have meaning in terms of absolution or redemption for both interviewee and interviewer. Making sense of accounts may often operate in relation to some sense of men's motivation for being interviewed in the first place. Of further interest is the structuring of men's accounts, and their relationship to those of agency members.

  1. Relevance for Researching Men

In some senses this is just another piece of research; in others it seems to involve the questioning of research methods at every stage, and research methodology in every respect. While it is important not to overstate the significance of this, the research is swimming against the tide of malestream. Accordingly, this research has many implications and connections with other research on men, both by women and men. All four approaches outlined earlier - macro, micro, differential reconstitution of subjectivity and objectivity, and multiple methods - are all of interest.

In the first case, the macro, while men's accounts of violence may be heard and listed to with full attention, they also need to be located within the context of men's societal power. The micro is a necessary aspect of interviewing into the private - sometimes interviews are reportedly told things never told before to anyone else. Reconstituting subjectivity and objectivity follow but in a discriminating and uneven way. Multiple methods are essential.

The specific issues highlighted - the sociological significance of 'difficulties', understanding of the category 'men', the funding and location of research, access, preparation for interviewing, the 'nature' of topics, the gendering of interviewing and the relationship of events and talking of events - are all of more general relevance. More specifically, they are likely to have a gendered relevance so that, for example, access, the nature of the topic, and preparation for interviewing are likely to be different for women and men.

To put this another way the three positions of:

  1. interviewer/writer/knower/subject

  2. interviewee/text/known/object

  3. interpreter/reader/knowing/subject-object are all gendered.

In particular in talking (on violence) the objects of the research become temporary subjects, just as they have been the subjects of violence. Crucially importantly, men as subjects of violence are talking about themselves: in so doing, they are being reaffirmed as people (men) of interest to other men, as at the centre of things. Critical studies of men need to recognize such temporary recentrings of/in discourses, and attend to their decentring. This brings us back to problematising 'men', and relating men's accounts to women's accounts.

Notes 1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the British Sociological Association Annual Conference 'A New Europe', University of Kent, April 1992. I am grateful to all those who commented on that paper at that session. I am also grateful to discussions with Jalna Hanmer, Roger Barford, John Davis, Mike Huett, Philip Raws and David Riley in the preparation of this paper, and to Sue Moody and Linda Arbuckle for typing versions of the script.

2. Further discussion of these issues and difficulties are included in Morgan, 1981, 1992; Hearn, 1987, 1989a; Hearn and Morgan, 1990.

3. For further discussion of the relationship of subjectivity and objectivity in critical studies on men, see Hearn, 1989b, 1993a, 1993b.

4. E.S.R.C. Project No. X206 25 2003 'Violence, Abuse and the Stress-coping Process Project No. 2' examines men's violence to known women. Project No. 1 is a linked but separate project on women's experiences of violence from known men, and is directed by Jalna Hanmer.

Research Unit on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations,
University of Bradford,
Research Paper No. 4.

BD7 1DP.
ISBN: 1-85143-087-3


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