COE 1999 : SEMINAR Men and Violence

Gendering research on men's violence to known women

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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66k-en_vio ... Violence


European Council of Europen - Human Rights

Section Equality between women and men

Seminar : Men and Violence Against Women

Strasbourg, 8 October 1999 - Palais de l'Europe - France


Gendering research on men's violence 

to known women


Jalna Hanmer, Leeds Metropolitan University (United Kingdom)

Jeff Hearn, Tampere University (Finland) and Manchester University (United Kingdom)


1.  Introduction: Making Gender Visible


While it is now clearly recognised that violence is gendered, the gendering of research on violence is discussed less often. Our focus in this presentation is on the ways in which research on gendered violence, specifically men’s violence to women, is gendered. In order to set this in context, we first consider the ways in which social research can address questions of gender, more or less explicitly. We outline here three forms of research engagement with gender: gender-absent; gender-neutral; and gender-present (Hanmer and Hearn, 1999). We then discuss why research on men’s violence has to be gender present and our experiences of doing gendered research on men’s violence. This is followed by the implications for future research on men’s violence. 


2.  Three research approaches to gender


The three research approaches to gender are: gender absent, gender neutral and gender present.


First, with gender-absent research, the category of gender is neither explicit nor visible. This can apply to the topic of the research, to the form of analysis, and to the conduct of the research itself. Gender-absence in research means one or more of the following:


Not noticing the ways in which gender operates in a situation;

Not seeing gender as a fundamental feature which interacts with, and modifies, other social divisions and social experiences;

Making specifically gendered and taken-for-granted assumptions in observation or analysis, for example, seeing all paid workers as he, or all carers as mothers;


Trivialising gender.


Gender-absence may be understood as a problem of the observer’s position and relation of the observer and the observed, in particular prioritising the male position (see Hearn, 1998c). 

Second, some research approaches are presented as gender-neutral. These are more explicit in arguing one or more of the following:


That their methodology does not need to deal with gender;

That their methodology can be applied to any situation, regardless of its gendering;

That gender is noticed but is a minor factor or variable relative to the major themes or explanatory frameworks of the study.


The preference for gender-neutral approaches and accounts is illustrated in the way in which methodology, particularly non-gendered methodology, is valued over theory, especially gendered theory (see Davies and Roche, 1980; Williams, 1999). A major characteristic of non-gendered approaches is the false separation of experience, methodology and theory.


Third, there is now a very considerable amount of work, particularly from within feminist scholarship, which has been devoted to making women more visible, to redressing that invisibility and to reconceptualizing gender in more thoroughgoing ways. There are clearly many ways of thinking about gender; these include: as biologically-determined; as the social construction of biological differences; as psychological differences; as social roles; as fundamentally rooted in power and power analysis; as a form of categorical thinking; as discourse; as social practice; as social consolidations of sexuality and violence. Most interesting are those views that see gender and sexuality as social construction, not just as the social construction of sex and sex differences.


One of the crucial issues that distinguishes different approaches to gender is whether gender is seen as one of several fundamental social divisions underpinning social life, individual experiences, and the operation of other social divisions (such as age, class, ‘race’, ethnicity, religion), on the one hand, or as just one of a string of social factors defining an individual’s response to a situation, on the other. Studies that simply refer to women or women’s experiences do not necessarily constitute a fully gendered approach. They may, for example, treat women (or gender) simply as a variable, rather than as constitutive of, or located in, some social structural formation. And moreover they may not analyse men as just as gendered as women. A fully gendered, that is gender-present, approach needs to attend to these questions. 

Accordingly, in our view a more adequately gendered approach would include at least the following features:


Attention to the variety of feminist approaches and literatures; these provide the methodology and theory to develop a gendered account;

Recognition of gender differences as both an analytic category and experiential reality;

Attention to sexualities and sexual dynamics in research and the research process; this includes the deconstruction of taken-for-granted heterosexuality, particularly in the study of families, communities, agencies and organisations;

Attention to the social construction of men and masculinities, as well as women and femininities, and including understanding masculinities in terms of relations between men, as well as relations with women and children;

An understanding of gender through its interrelations with other oppressions and other identities, including those of age, class, disability, ‘race’, ethnicity, religious;Acceptance of gender conflict as permanent, and as equally as normal as its opposite, as well as examining resistance to this view;

Understanding that gender and sexuality and their relationship are historically and culturally acquired and defined;

Understanding that the close monitoring of gender and sexuality by the state (the official biography of individuals) is not accidental, but fulfils the purposes of particular social groupings.



3. Why Research on Men’s Violence has to be Gender-Present 


Violence has been particularly relevant in developing fully gendered approaches to research and theory. There are several reasons for this beginning with the centrality of gender in the differential distribution of offenders and victims in crime statistics. Violence is a sensitive subject and, as with all data collection on topics involving shame, fear, public disapproval, criminality, and so forth, collecting these data requires careful planning and approaches. Research on violence against women began with a questioning of traditional methodologies and methods, deeply influenced by feminist academic challenges to mainstream understanding of subjectivity and objectivity. The reanalysis began with a questioning of the concept of objectivity in mainstream research theory, that is the possibility of the researcher being outside social relations. If this is impossible, then those most affected by violence are the most knowledgeable and a fully gendered research process must follow. Gendering the study of violence by recognising differences led to an analysis of violence as the expression of power and control by gendered individuals and groups.


To scientifically present violence as gender absent or gender neutral would require that it be random in its doing and receiving in relation to women and men. This does not apply to any form of violence, including same sex violence where for example, violence between men is far greater than violence between women. Violence takes many forms and all are gendered, including the abuse of children. It includes physical and sexual violence from and to those known and unknown, emotional and sexual degradation, sexual trafficking, homicide and some suicide to name the most obvious. The extent of violence can be relatively minimal or extensive and life threatening, one-off or persistent, emotionally more or less damaging. Attacks by men on women and children can be random or highly organised.


While the focus of research on violence began with the inter-personal and this dominates the field of study, research on gendered violence can be extended to larger groups, such as organisations, networks (for example paedophile rings, parastates, nation states and their joint organisation and actions). There are many different possible structures of (men’s) organised violence (ref Hanmer et al., 1994; Hearn, 1994), for example: 

The army and other forces as state mandated social units

Military policy-makers as separate from the those who ’follow orders’ and do the violence directlyGangs, more or less organised, with more or less clear leadership, hierarchy, armed and unarmed


However, not all men in armies/gangs do violence; there are those who resist and who for their own safety wish to keep this quiet.


A major factor correlated with increasing violence against women and children is social instability. While there can be various causes of this, social instability is noted for increased violence by men as individuals and within organisational groupings. The most extreme manifestation is overt organisation for war. While war can be conducted by nations with or without the direct disruption of the relative stability of their civil societies; the organisation for, and the conduct of, war alters social relations between women and men within states that wage war. This is a result of the gendered organisation necessary to wage war and the actions of violence during war even though these occur in other nation states. For those countries directly experiencing war, social instability and violence in civil society may involve living with threats and acts of violence, and sometimes enforced migration and refugee movements. Women and children can be directly targeted for sexual and other violence.


After inter-nation and some internal wars, there is the movement to what appears to be peacetime. But this aftermath is itself as gendered as was the previous war as the peacetime state exists through the activities of gendered war and gendered state formation. After war, and after refugees return to their pre-war lands, their cultural and social location is not the same. The end of war does not bring an automatic end to social instability; societies do not return to the same position. The society and gendered social order is fundamentally affected. The frequency and types of individual inter-personal violence increase after civil and other wars; for example, domestically located violence with women as victims and men as perpetrators.


During periods of relative social stability responding to violence requires policy, organisation, state (and sometimes parastate) responses. Gender remains important as organised statutory and voluntary agency responses are themselves gendered. They are also various, with uneven policies and delivery of social, welfare, legal and justice services. This is partly a social and cultural problem of defining ‘excessive’ violence. Whether in war or in families this is not straightforward. For example, in the latest wars in Europe who are the war criminals? What constitutes a crime against women and children during these wars? In families what is ‘excessive’ physical or other punishment? How does being defined as a "respectable" father affect definitions and decisions? If definitions can be agreed and become part of policies and procedures problems of implementation remain. The are major gaps between the policies and practices of statutory agencies of the state and voluntary agencies of civil society in the delivery of services and responses to those who victimise and those who are victimised. 



4. Experiences of Doing Gendered Research on Men’s Violence  


There are many ways in which research on gendered violence, specifically men's violence to known women, is itself gendered. These genderings have been found to be important in our own research; this includes research collaborative research between us involving women researching women's experiences and men researching men's experiences (projects 1 and 2) (Hanmer, 1996, 1998, Hearn, 1995a, 1996, 1998a, 1998b, 1998d); action research feedback to agencies and their policy development (project 3) (Hanmer, 1995; Hanmer et al., 1995; Hearn, 1995b); and evaluation research on a new operational model for policing domestic violence repeat victimisation (project 4) (Hanmer et al., 1999).


The particular issues include: broad matters of epistemology and methodology; the question of who does research on the problem and why; whether the focus is on women's experiences of violence from men or men's experiences of being violent; gendered issues in research access, for example, to agencies; how research can contribute to successful outcomes for new operational procedures and activities undertaken by agencies responsible for social, welfare, legal and criminal justice services; whether research methods are gendered, for example, different issues in doing qualitative interviews; issues of ethics, confidentiality and safety; and the organisation of research projects and research units on gendered violence. For reasons of space, only some of these are examined here.


Issues of gendered power and politics have permeated these research processes – in terms of the subject matter of the research (men’s violence to known women); the disciplinary location of the research work; and the relations of the research to existing paradigms in social policy research. Gendered power relations are thus basic and explicit in this research. Violence and abuse are recognised as directly connected to gender relations, not outside of gender relations. These gendered matters have been central in the development of research over many years. Time and time again gender relations have been found to be the key determining social relation in understanding violence. An important step was our establishment of a co-convened research unit at Bradford University in 1990 under the explicit title of The Research Unit on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations. This explicitly institutionalised the presence of not just gender (as, say, a variable) but gender relations, as central to future research development. Within this institutional context a number of research projects have been instigated. Jeff Hearn moved to Manchester University in 1995, and in 1996 the research unit moved to Leeds Metropolitan University under the direction of Jalna Hanmer to become the Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations. 


The research design of projects 1 and 2 involved a replication of a US study of 60 women in a battered women’s shelter and their patterns of stress-coping in relation to social support (Mitchell and Hodson, 1983). These projects were part of a UK national research programme on welfare research. (Further information on the whole research programme on The Management of Personal Welfare is given in Popay et al., 1998, Williams et al., 1998). Our study was in part (project 1) a replication of this US research in a British context and in part an extension by applying the same pre-coded questionnaire with a minimum necessary adjustment also to men who had been violent to known women (project 2). Project 1 had two subsamples: one of 30 Asian women living in UK, the other of 30 mainly white women. The sample was also structured longitudinally. As violence against women in their homes produces different needs and responses over time, the project 1 included two further subsamples: one of women living in the community, the other of women living in refuges. The sample of men in project 2 was not stratified into subgroups, although there were variations to be explored between men interviewed from different agencies sources. Men, too, were at different points in time and places in relation to their violence, for example, in men’s programmes, on probation, and in prison. 


A combination of research methods were used – unstructured and semi-structured interviews, precoded interview, and interviews and case records analysis with agency staff. Very different issues were experienced in gaining access to the men and the women. While access to about half the women was through refuges, the access to the men was often especially difficult and involved much greater time and effort in securing contact and making suitable arrangements. On the other hand, the interviews with the women were often longer, were in some cases in Asian languages, and produced far more agency contacts to be followed up. 


The qualitative process in the interviews was also very different. Men interviewers interviewed men; women interviewers interviewed women. The men interviewers had to develop an appropriate stance that was polite and respectful but that did not collude with the man in terms of the justification of his violence. Different methodological and ethical issues were present for the women interviewers. Another issue which distinguished the two interview situations was the question of safety, which was accorded a high priority in project, not least because it was not always known who the interviewee was. It was decided to produce extended working guidelines for the conduct of the research on interviewing men (Hearn, 1993).


This research design attempted to examine both women’s experiences of receiving violence and men’s experiences of being violent, and to do so in a clearly gendered way. It sought to obtain data on women, men and the agencies with which they had contact, that could then be compared on a number of dimensions relating to personal experience and social context. These include the very different experiences of women and men, and the responses of others to them; issues such as the impact on women and men of violence in relation to income, housing etc.; the relationship between the gendered intervention of agencies, the structuring of help seeking and giving, and the social location of women and men. There were numerous differences in the research material obtained from the women and the men. One of the most basic was different approaches to what was meant by violence in the first place. Women tended to speak of their inability to control the initiation of violent, harassing and threatening behaviours and the subsequent interactions (also see Hanmer and Saunders, 1984). Men focused overwhelmingly on physical violence. Although some men did refer to emotional, verbal and psychological violence, even these references were often constructed in relation to the threat of physical violence or were constructed as if they were physical violence in their reduction to ’incidents’. For men, violence to known women was generally constructed as: 


Physical violence that is more than a push – holding, restraint, use of weight/bulk, blocking, throwing (both things and the woman) are often excluded;Actual convictions for physical violence;

Physical violence that causes or is likely to cause damage that is visible or considered to the man to be physically lasting;

Physical violence that is not seen as specifically sexual; sexual violence is seen as separate.


The research design also made its gendered presence felt in the day-to-day organisation of work in the Research Unit, including the social dynamics at work, organisation of office space, the arrangement of a variety of types of regular and gendered research meetings, and the need for gendered practices on confidentiality.


Project 3 focused on policy development with agency managers, policy-makers and practitioners. This raised other gendered questions around the gender structuring and gendering of agencies, and the way that many agencies could be characterised as ’women’s organisations’ or ’men’s organisations’, in the latter case especially so in state bureaucracies and the criminal justice system. Formal ’men’s’ agencies often used men’s definitions, which in this context meant men’s definitions of violence and understandings of violence. Alternative definitions, policies and practices have been developed through women’s voluntary organisations in relation to violence against women. Such contested definitions and meanings of violence, implicit and explicit, apply not only to agencies and their policy development but also to academia and social theory. 


Project 4 focussed on men as providers of services and men as perpetrators of violence in home-based settings. The new model of interventions required a largely male police force to pro-active police men and to ensure the safety of women. The data required on the three tiered model with its progressively increasing interventions was identical for the police and the research evaluators. Close working relationships were established around data collection and the researchers gave regular feedback on policing progress. These features improved data collection and policing progress. A major aim, to institutionalise new ways of responding by all officers, was gradually achieved along with a reduction in repeat victimisation of women by men in the home.


These kinds of researches raise many questions for social theory. These include the reformulation of historical and cultural definitions and the meaning of individual action, organisations and social structure; the place of experience in the creation of knowledge; the rethinking of power; and the deconstruction of the self. Violence is not usually understood as a characteristic form of interpersonal or structural relations. In contrast, the most usual model is of the’rational individual’, with a unified self, who conducts his or her affairs in a liberal and reasonably tolerant way. In this view, violence is portrayed as relatively isolated exceptions to ’normal’ social life. Violence is not usually seen as integral or embedded or imminent in social relations, and social relations are not usually understood as characterised by violence, actual or potential. These features are almost exactly paralleled in men’s accounts of their own violence and in men’s social theory. Violence is seen as occurring as ’incidents’; it is literally incidental. It is understood as exceptions within non-violent ordinary, normal life. This is comparable to views on national, international and inter-ethnic violence on a mass scale that may occur after many years of living ’peacefully’ as ’good neighbours’.  



5. Conclusion: Implications for Future Research on Men’s Violence 


While research on violence has made a major contribution to a gender visible approach, further research on men’s violence needs to be placed within much broader, gendered contexts. It requires the explicit gendering of men as individuals and in social organisations and processes, including wars, militarism, civil unrest, refugees, etc. It requires the explicit gendering of women and children, how they become involved, respond and are affected. Researching men’s violence requires a re-examination of ungendered historical accounts and the writing of history around gendered violence. This is necessary in order to create a more complete social understanding of violence as an integral part of social relations at both inter-personal and institutional levels. In order to reduce and manage violence, it is essential that it be more fully understood as gendered social process, with various types and aspects sometimes seen as undesirable and to be eliminated, sometimes tolerated or accepted as ‘natural’ or ‘desirable’. 


 We are at an early stage in researching violence as gendered, although some progress has been made, particularly in recording family based physical and sexual violence to women and children in some European and other Western countries. In our view an effective research agenda should start from the premise that violence is always gendered and a characteristic form of inter-personal and structured social relations. Gendering men in the study of violence opens a much larger theoretical and research agenda. Gendering men raises questions on the how, what and why of the organisation of violence, the social purposes it serves, the transformation of social relations, the integration of violence into modern Western life, and its reduction, management and control.





Davies, Celia and Roche, Sheila (1980) ‘The place of methodology: a critique of Brown and Harris’, Sociological Review, Vol. 28(3), pp. 641-656.  

Hanmer, Jalna (1995) Patterns of Agency Contacts with Women who Have Experienced Violence from Known Men, Research Unit on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Research Paper No.12, University of Bradford. Available from The Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University.


Hanmer, Jalna (1996) ‘Women and violence: commonalities and diversities’ in Barbara Fawcett, Brid Featherstone, Jeff Hearn and Christine Toft (eds.) Violence and Gender Relations: Theories and Interventions, Sage, London, pp. 7-21.  

Hanmer, Jalna (1998) ‘Out of control: men, violence and family life’ in Jennie Popay, Jeff Hearn and Jeanette Edwards (eds.) Men, Gender Divisions and Welfare, Routledge, London.  

Hanmer, Jalna and Saunders, Sheila (1984) Well-founded Fear, Hutchinson, London.


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Hanmer, Jalna, Hearn, Jeff, Dillon, Cath, Kayani, Tiara and Todd, Pam (1995) Violence to Women From Known Men: Policy Development, Interagency Approaches and Good Practice, Research Unit on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Research Paper No.14, University of Bradford. Available from The Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University.


Hanmer, Jalna, Griffiths, Sue and Jerwood, David (1999) Arresting Evidence: Domestic Violence and Repeat Victimisation, Police Research Series Paper 104, Home Office, London.


Hanmer, Jalna and Hearn, Jeff (1999) 'Gender and welfare research', in Fiona Williams, Jennie Popay and Ann Oakley (eds.) Welfare Research: A Critical Review, UCL Press, London, pp. 106-130.


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Hearn, Jeff (1994) ‘The organisation(s) of violence: men, gender divisions, organisations and violence’, Human Relations, Vol. 47(6), pp. 731-754.  

Hearn, Jeff (1995a) "It Just Happened" - a Research and Policy Report on Men's Violence to Known Women, Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations Research Unit, Research paper No.6, University of Bradford. Available from The Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University.


Hearn, Jeff (1995b) Patterns of Agency Contacts with Men Who Have Been Violent To Known Women, Research Unit on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Research Paper No.13, University of Bradford. Available from The Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University.


Hearn, Jeff (1996) ‘Men’s violence to known women: men’s accounts and men’s policy development’ in, Barbara Fawcett, Brid Featherstone, Jeff Hearn and Christine Toft (eds.) Violence and Gender Relations: Theories and Interventions, Sage, London, pp. 99-114.  

Hearn, Jeff (1998a) ‘Context, culture and violence’ in Ralf Kauranen, Elina Oinas, Susan Sundback and Östen Wahlbeck (eds.) Sociologer om Sociologi och Metod: Festskrift till Kirsti Suolinna, Åbo, Meddleanden Från Ekonomisk-Statsvetenkapliga Fakulteten Vid Åbo Akademi, Socialpolitiska institutionen Ser., pp. 1-22.  

Hearn, Jeff (1998b) ‘Men will be men: the ambiguity of men’s support for men who have been violent to known women’ in Jennie Popay, Jeff Hearn and Jeanette Edwards (eds.) Men, Gender Divisions and Welfare, Routledge, London, pp. 147-180.  

Hearn, Jeff (1998c) ‘Theorizing men and men’s theorizing : men’s discursive practices in theorizing men’, Theory and Society, Vol. 27(6), 1998, pp. 781-816.  

Hearn, Jeff (1998d) The Violences of Men. How Men Talk About and How Agencies Respond to Men's Violence to Women, Sage, London.


Mitchell, Richard and Hodson, Christine (1983) ‘Coping with domestic violence: social support and psychological health among women’, American Journal of Community Psychology, 11(6), pp. 629-654. 

Popay, Jennie, Hearn, Jeff and Edwards, Jeanette (eds.) (1998) Men, Gender Divisions and Welfare, Routledge, London.


Williams, Fiona (1999) ‘Exploring links between old and new paradigm: a critical review’ in Fiona Williams, Jennie Popay and Ann Oakley (eds.) Welfare Research: A Critical Review, UCL Press, London, pp. 18-42.  


[1] Professor and Director of The Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK

[2] Professorial Research Fellow, University of Manchester, UK, and Visiting Professor, University of Oslo; Swedish School of Economics, Helsinki; and Tampere University.


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