Data Type: Journal Article

Confronting “victim” discourses: The identity work of battered women

Leisenring, A. (2006). Confronting “victim” discourses: The identity work of battered women. Symbolic Interaction, 29(3), 307-330.

This article explores how battered women interact with “victim” discourses in order to construct and represent themselves. The author begins her analysis in this field by examining the way that society has defined a “victim” of domestic violence, and then examines the way that a group of battered women interact with these definitions. Specifically, Leisenring is interested in seeing when battered women would accept or reject existing social assumptions about “victimhood”.

Leisenring used a qualitative grounded theory approach and an interactionist perspective for data analysis. She collected data from interviews with forty women who reported violence from a heterosexual intimate partner, and who had previous involvement with the courts due to domestic violence. The author utilized a broad definition of “violence” that included physical abuse, “verbal abuse (including threats of physical violence), and emotional and psychological abuse” (314). Interviewees were recruited using flyers sent to women finishing the first phase of a domestic-violence-related court case, and posted at shelters and agencies, which aimed to help women who had experienced domestic violence. Each interviewee received $30 for participating (314). Leisenring ultimately found that, varying on their experiences, four narratives of victimhood proved relevant to the women studied, “victimhood” as: someone whose experiences warrant sympathy or retributive action, someone responsible for her “victimization”, someone who has suffered injuries they could not have prevented, and someone who is powerless in the face of “victimization” (307). Additionally, she found that, within the discourses, discussions about “victim empowerment” (a notion sympathetic to victims but leaves them responsible for their own problems [320]) and “survivor” (in which one moved beyond simply being a victim and instead became someone who had coped with her experiences) also influenced the way that women made sense of, and take some degree of control over, their experiences.

This article is relevant to the literature on the sociology of psychology because it explores complex processes of self-representation and self-construction, issues that are oven confronted during therapeutic services. Working from an interactionist standpoint, this work illuminates the fact that some social concepts such as “victimhood” can be subjectively chosen not to be adopted, even if one’s experiences fall in line with the socially acceptable definition of a victim. This suggests that identity, and processes of self-construction, are not merely accepted or rejected—they are complex processes consisting both of the acceptance and rejection of social constructs like “victimhood”—a notion that may have implications for psychological treatment.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Social Construction, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness, Symbolic Interaction
Publication Date: 2006