The Social Dynamics of Family Violence
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The Social Dynamics of Family Violence

Angela J. Hattery, Earl Smith

  1. 510 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
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eBook - ePub

The Social Dynamics of Family Violence

Angela J. Hattery, Earl Smith

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About This Book

The Social Dynamics of Family Violence explores family violence throughout the life course, from child abuse and neglect to intimate partner violence and elder abuse. Paying special attention to the social character and institutional causes of family violence, Hattery and Smith ask students to consider how social inequality, especially gender inequality, contributes to tensions and explosive tendencies in family settings. Students learn about individual preventative measures and are also invited to question the justice of our current social structure, with implications for social policy and reorganization. Hattery and Smith also examine violence against women globally and relate this to violence in the United States. Unique coverage of same-sex and multicultural couples, as well as of theory and methods, make this text an essential element of any course considering the sociology of family violence.

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She died in September by the ugliest means, weighing an unthinkable 18 pounds, half what a 4-year-old ought to. She withered in poverty in a home in Brooklyn where the authorities said she had been drugged and often bound to a toddler bed by her mother, having realized a bare thimble’s worth of living . . . Marchella weighed 1 pound 4 ounces when she was born, prematurely, on April 3, 2006. A relative recalls thinking she was about the size of a one-liter Pepsi bottle. A twin sister, born first, died. Her name was Miracle.
N. R. Kleinfield and Mosi Secret, “A Bleak Life, Cut Short at 4, Harrowing from the Start,” New York Times, May 8, 2011
This chapter will set the stage for an in-depth, theoretically framed discussion of various types of family violence, including elder abuse, intimate partner violence, and child abuse. In addition to defining key terms, we will also discuss the concept of family violence itself, which is, perhaps surprisingly, contested; compare and contrast scholarly approaches to thinking about family violence; and offer a reconceptualized model for considering family violence.
■ Provide the latest empirical data on a variety of types of family violence
■ Define critical concepts and recognize key issues relevant to the study of family violence
■ Identify and introduce the theoretical paradigms that have been employed to analyze and understand family violence: (1) the family violence approach, (2) the feminist approach, and (3) the race, class, and gender (RCG) approach
■ Illuminate the ways in which social structures and institutions, such as the economy, cultural norms, religious ideologies, and the military, shape violence in families
■ Illuminate the ways in which social statuses—race, social class, gender, age, and sexuality—shape patterns of violence in families
■ Provide an honest discussion of the issues that families living with violence face
family violence
family violence theory
feminist theory
race, class, and gender theory
cultural norms
the military
social status variation
From their earliest formation families have been complex and dynamic units that have evolved in order to meet the changing needs of both individuals and societies. Although families are inherently private, they are also public. In the United States alone the government has, on many occasions, involved itself in family life, most frequently by passing laws or deciding court cases that determine the structure of the family and establish the rules about families and marriage. For example, one of the major issues of the early twenty-first century entails various branches of state and federal governments—legislatures, voting referenda, and courts—engaged in shaping the legal structure of families through the debate on gay marriage; in the summer of 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5–4 decision that the prohibition against gay and lesbian marriage was unconstitutional, and marriage equality became the law of the land.
Although discussions of gay marriage range from the uninterested to the frantic, just like the discussions of interracial marriage in the 1960s (Smith and Hattery 2009), most Americans focus on their personal beliefs about sexuality rather than the legal aspects of defining family. For example, when we ask students in our classes to conjure up an image of a wedding and share it with the class, most describe a religious ceremony in a church, temple, or mosque. They describe clothes: tuxedos for men and white wedding dresses for women. And, unlike the tuxedo, the white dress has values and norms attached: it denotes that the woman is a virgin. They describe music, dancing, and food rituals. Despite some variation by race, religion, social class, or region of the country, there is a high level of agreement among the students about the necessary elements of a wedding. What students rarely, if ever, describe is the signing of the marriage license. Yet it is the marriage license that is the most critical part of the wedding, far more important than the selection of the wedding dress, despite what Randy, the fashion consultant on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, might say, because it is the legal contract that binds two people and their future children together and defines them as a legitimate family.
This legal contract impacts everything from taxes to health insurance to inheritance (Jackman 2011). Furthermore, the legal definition of family is an important aspect of the ways in which violence that occurs in families is treated by the criminal justice and legal systems.1 For example, there are likely to be differences in the way judges issue protective orders to cohabiting couples as opposed to married couples, or gay or lesbian couples as opposed to heterosexual couples. However, the sting of a slap, the gasp for air when one is punched, and the frantic desire to be safe from violence do not differ across the individuals in these different types of couples. Whether the law recognizes the relationship may shape the way individuals are treated, but it does not shape the feelings of hurt and disillusionment that individuals in these families experience. As important as legal definitions are to shaping the response to violence by the criminal justice and legal systems, for individuals living in families, the definitions of family otherwise have little impact on the actual experience of violence. Therefore, other than when necessary, our discussions of family violence will not be limited by legal definitions. Rather, we will operate under the assumption that families can be, and often are, defined by their members in much broader ways.
Our primary objective in writing this book is to examine the state of violence in families in the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In this book, we examine through a sociological lens the most important issues that researchers, policymakers, social service providers, and families themselves face. These issues, which are central to the academic discussions of family, include child abuse, both physical and sexual; elder abuse; intimate partner violence (IPV); and violence in subgroups, such as among gay and lesbian families and families in the military. We also include a discussion on the role that social institutions and structures—such as the economy, religion, the military, and college campuses (fraternities and sports groups in particular)—play in structuring family violence. Last, we explore variations across family groups, including differences across race and ethnicity, social class, and sexuality. We do all of this using a straightforward approach to these issues, many of which have reached the level of crises of epic proportions in families yet remain largely ignored. We begin, as any discussion of a complex phenomenon should, with some basic definitions. This allows us all to “be on the same page” as we begin our discussions.
Family scholars have developed several different definitions of the term family. We discuss five:
1. Family is a set of people with whom you live and with whom you share biological and/or legal ties (Burton and Jayakody 2001).
This definition focuses on what many of us refer to as the nuclear family. This definition restricts family primarily to parents (who are married) and their biological and/or adopted children. This is the definition of family that is used by the census, and it is the most common definition of family in use by both scholars and the average American.
2. Family is a set of people you may or may not live with but with whom you share biological and/or legal ties (Cherlin 1999).
This definition of family is often referred to as the “extended family.” As such, it is used to acknowledge that both in the past and continuing today, many households include extended family members such as grandparents. It also recognizes the continued importance of family once children have permanently moved out of the house.
3. Family is a set of people you live with but with whom you may or may not share biological or legal ties (Landale and Fennelly 1992).
This is a much more contemporary definition of family that is designed to acknowledge several changes in family life, specifically the rise of cohabiting couples, who in the twenty-first century are increasingly likely to be raising children together. Specifically with regards to the African American family, this definition recognizes both higher rates of cohabitation and the practice of sharing child-rearing with nonrelatives in response to a variety of forces, such as incarceration. This definition was developed, in part, to recognize same-gender couples as “families” long before the law did. And, though we will devote an entire chapter to LGBTQ families, it is important to note here that the law has been applied in various and often confusing ways to LGBTQ families. Although some stability has been brought to the discussion of same-gender families by the US Supreme Court decision in 2015, which ruled that prohibitions against gay and lesbian marriages are unconstitutional and marriage equality—the legal marriage between two members of the same gender—is the law of the land, there continue to be many areas of the law, especially as it relates to trans-identified people, that do not guarantee civil rights, including the right to marry, to all, and thus this definition of the family remains necessary.
4. Family is a set of people with whom you share social, physical, or financial support or a combination thereof (Sarkisian and Gerstel 2008).
This definition is very inclusive and was developed, as noted above, primarily to acknowledge the existence of gay and lesbian households, which at the time were not legally recognized (which was, of course, reversed by the 2015 US Supreme Court decision). Furthermore, this definition is designed to emphasize a key feature of families: the fact that members are interdependent. Families generally provide support of various sorts for their members. The flow and direction of this support may change over time—for example, from parent to child during the period of child-rearing and from child to parent during later years. For the purposes of our discussion in this book, family can also characterize one’s involvement in a variety of social institutions, including the military, fraternities—where members refer to themselves as brothers—elite sports teams, and the Catholic priesthood, whose members work, play, and live together.
5. Family is a set of people whom you love (Neff and Karney 2005).
The most inclusive of all definitions, this one recognizes that, increasingly, people create their own “families” that may or may not be based on formal ties (biological or legal), and that these important people may or may not live together. The classic example used to illustrate this concept is the popular television program Friends. Friends depicts a group of young men and women who provide support for each other and love each other but do not necessarily share any biological or legal ties (of course, there are two exceptions to this rule: Ross and Monica are siblings and Chandler and Monica eventually marry). Some of the “friends” lived together, but others did not. Yet they provided for each other most of the very things that have historically been provided by people with formal family ties. Family scholars often refer to this form of family as fictive kin, and this is especially common when referring to African American family relationships. Some may find the term fictive kin offensive because it assumes that some relationships (those based on biology or law) are real and that others (those not based on biology or law) are “fictive”—that is, not real. Thus, we refrain from this kind of distinction and suggest that the initial development of the term carried no such qualifier.
The final two definitions are critical to the focus and discussion of this book because they both highlight what is perhaps the most devastating aspect of family violence: that whatever form it takes, family violence shatters notions of love, respect, interdependence, and mutual support. Whether the violence involves a man beating to death the woman he claims to love, an adult daughter emotionally and financially blackmailing her elderly parents, or an uncle engaging in incest with a young niece or nephew, family violence always hijacks safety and security, the very notions on which family is built. Thus, regardless of who is the victim and who is the perpetrator in any specific example, this shattering of the safety and interdependency is universal.
Often when we think of violence, we think only of physical abuse: h...

Table of contents

  1. Cover Page
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Praise
  6. Table of Contents
  7. Expanded Table of Contents
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Preface to the Third Edition
  10. 1 Setting the Stage
  11. 2 Historical Perspectives on Family Violence
  12. 3 Theories for Studying Family Violence
  13. 4 Methods for Studying Family Violence
  14. 5 Abuse Across the Life Course: Elder Abuse
  15. 6 Abuse Across the Life Course: Child Abuse
  16. 7 Sibling Abuse
  17. 8 Outcomes of Child Abuse: Increased Risk for Experiencing Violence in Adulthood
  18. 9 The Economy and Intimate Partner Violence
  19. 10 Cultural Factors and Intimate Partner Violence
  20. 11 Religion and Family Violence
  21. 12 Institutionalized Violence
  22. 13 Violence in LGBTQ Families
  23. 14 Prevention and Avoidance: The Early Warning Signs
  24. 15 The Response to Family Violence: The Criminal Justice System and the Social Welfare System
  25. 16 Where Do We Go From Here?
  26. Index
Citation styles for The Social Dynamics of Family Violence

APA 6 Citation

Hattery, A., & Smith, E. (2019). The Social Dynamics of Family Violence (3rd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)

Chicago Citation

Hattery, Angela, and Earl Smith. (2019) 2019. The Social Dynamics of Family Violence. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Hattery, A. and Smith, E. (2019) The Social Dynamics of Family Violence. 3rd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Hattery, Angela, and Earl Smith. The Social Dynamics of Family Violence. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.