Resistance Strategies: A Grounded Theory Approach to Domestic Violence

Martha Dettman, Edgewood College
Lee M. Johnson, Valparaiso University

Women in ongoing abusive relationships may be popularly conceived as having insufficient psychological resources such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, or as lacking in social power. Over-psychologized portrayals of domestic violence victims may cast them as individuals who lack the ambition and knowledge to break out of their abusive circumstances--as existing in a state of "learned helplessness." Over-socialized portrayals may cast them as powerless victims of their low placement into social stratification systems. What these polar, over-simplified perspectives share is a failure to account sufficiently for human agency. Much work in social psychology warns against theoretical explanations of dominant-subordinate relationships that do not take into account the agency of the subordinates. Whether we are talking about sex/gender, race/ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, or any other system, it should be recognized that lower-status persons are not passive recipients of their subordination--subordinates too are an active force in the social construction of reality. Some recent feminist literature argues cogently that women in subordinate positions create and utilize cognitive and behavioral strategies to negotiate their social situations and identities, including resisting dominant forces and solving problems stemming from oppression, represssion, and exploitation. This analysis contributes to this literature in that it illustrates strategies used by women to resist their abusive male partners. Unstructured, in-depth interview data was gathered from a sample of 15 women located across the state of Iowa. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The analysis involved extracting comments that revealed the ways in which these women tried to protect themselves and remove their abusers from their lives. A rich collection of qualitative data show that they used creative strategies aimed at countering and/or evading physical attacks, avoiding future attacks, and learning about and utilizing criminal justice and social service agencies.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006