Session 19

SMUSI_19- Analysing Hidden Forms of Violence and their Spatialities: The Methodological Challenges of the Research on Intimate Partner Violence and Sexualized Violence

The subject of violence confronts researchers with a wide range of methodological, theoretical, and methodical challenges, which are addressed by various approaches from different angles. Violence is not a uniform static concept but varies with its social context and the social relation it is embedded in, including the positionality of the research itself. Thus, violence defies unambiguous empirical determination (Hoebel/Koloma Beck 2019). There are various notions of the meaning of “violence,” which has repeatedly triggered discussions in the sociology of violence regarding the “right” definition of the concept. Again, this discussion highlights the contingency of violence as a social phenomenon, and the readings of violence – even in scholarly thematization – are correspondingly context-bound. Concisely, “what” counts as violence is – contrary to everyday intuition – not empirically evident but bound to construction performances in everyday life and in scientific analyses (Hoebel/Koloma Beck 2019). Recent sociological research on violence has increasingly relied on video analyses due to a methodological focus. Moreover, these analyses allow a practically facilitated and economically favorable approach to research the subject of violence (Collins 2011). However, this focus on highly visible forms of violence, such as street fights or mediatised violence, research risks include developing a visibility bias, both theoretically-conceptually and methodologically. Therefore, we argue, if researchers of violence focus primarily on phenomena that are comparatively public and thus relatively easily accessible and audio-visually preserved, this affects their interpretations and explanations. Moreover, forms of violence – such as intimate partner violence and sexualized violence – and those affected by these forms of violence that are not “public”, visible, or observable remain unconsidered in violence research and theory building due to this visual and situationist limitation. Another risk could be that violence is reduced to a limited, observable situation. The possible consequence is that non-public, non-visible, and strongly taboo phenomena of violence are not considered due to bias (Nef/Lorenz-Sinai 2022). One of the central unifying elements of intimate partner violence and sexualised violence is that both forms of violence are enabled and performed in power relations and have long been socially, legally, and politically legitimized. Moreover, this invisibility is even reinforced due to strong social taboos. Therefore, the opaqueness of these hidden forms of violence, mostly require different methods and methodologies. It is precisely these less accessible forms of violence that induce the question of appropriate methodologies. As its concrete social situatedness – of the act of violence, the interpretation of violence, the verbalisation of violence as well as the theorization process of violence – and the contextual peculiarities of its respective reality have to be considered and reflected (Hoebel/Koloma Beck 2019). In concrete terms, violence is not to be reconstructed as a pure (situational) power dynamic whose goal is to establish an asymmetry between a person who exercises violence and a person who suffers violence but as a multilateral constellation and generation in which processes of interpretation are of constitutive importance. Whether, for example, a rape that occurs within marriage is considered a legitimate right of the spouse or an act of violence is not solely derived from the (physical) confrontation of two persons but is rather decided in historically and socially preconfigured processes of interpretation and evaluation (Nef/Lorenz-Sinai 2022). Therefore, violence cannot be reduced to (physical) interactions/experiences and/or situations; however, violence has a subsequent effect. Hence, violent productivity emerges, and violence should be reconstructed as a social process. Thus, qualitative interviews can be mentioned as prevalent and highly apt (Helfferich/Kavemann/Kindler 2016; Nef 2021). The data that is produced and analysed, (re-)produces a certain perspective on the phenomena of violence itself. This relation needs to be reflected. Often an event of violence is primarily experienced in a bodily and sensual way. This experience is not always immediately verbalised. The verbal interpretation of the experience often follows retrospectively. However, the verbalisation is not the moment of the violent experience itself. e.g. in a narrative interview about violence a violent event is narrated in verbal form, which was primarily experienced physically and sensually. This relationship between the bodily sensual dimension and its verbalisation and verbal representation for research literature is methodologically highly presuppositional. From a sociology of knowledge point of view, the relation between subjective experience and socially communicable meaning is of great interest. Whereas both of these aspects are part of the multilateral generation of violence. For the subject of sexualised and intimate partner violence the spatial forms, and the different regionalities, connected to their social and historical contexts can be essential for an adequate understanding of the developing situation. Not only focussing the events referred to as violent but also the process of referring to them has to be analysed by research. Therefore, the spatiotemporal dimension of violence needs to be considered as well as third persons and objects that participate in the empirical process of interpreting violence by the affected persons – the earlier mentioned multilateral generation of violence. This session aims at discussing the different challenges emerging from the questions of how domestic violence, sexualized violence and other often difficult perceivable forms of violence can be studied. A central dimension to the forms of violence is their spatiality, its regionality and its contextual embedding. It also aims at addressing the methodological problems that arise in the study of violence, and at relating the methods to their aptness to specific forms of violence. We especially encourage to discuss that topic through the spatial dimension, that includes e.g. the difference between the public and the private sphere, the role of bodies in space during events of violence and in the process of interpreting the experience in relation to their contexts. The session also asks if and how specific spatial embeddings allow for regional as local comparability concerning the specific forms. We especially invite papers that address the following questions: How not only the prevalence or causality, but also the form and spatio-temporal unfolding of hidden forms of violence can be analysed? Which methods are suitable for studying a wide range of forms of violence? How can the role of researchers in this multilateral constellation and generation in which processes of interpretation are of constitutive importance be included and addressed in the analyses? How can the spatial dimension, embeddedness and relationality of hidden forms of violence be addressed? Is there a gender bias in methods that focus on specific spatial forms? How do specific methods have an impact on the theoretical understanding and definition of what can be perceived as violence? How does the social and historical context influence the events and the interpretation of intimate partner violence and sexualized violence? How violence which is embedded in specific context-related relations of power and domination, which results in, certain forms of violence that  that are not considered violence, as they are legitimized or linguistically veiled (which can vary, such as depending on the social position of those affected by violence, the institutional and legal context, possible “observers” (Koloma Beck 2011),) can be systematically analysed and taken as a starting point for social theoretical insights from a comparative perspective?