Dissertation Abstracts

The Good Beating: Social norms supporting men’s partner violence in Tanzania

Author: Jakobsen, Hilde , hildejakobsen@gmail.com
Department: UiB Global
University: University of Bergen, Norway
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Gender , Violence , Africa , Tanzania
Areas of Research: Deviance and Social Control , Women in Society , Logic and Methodology


This thesis is a qualitative investigation into the discourses that support wife-beating in Tanzania. Tanzania is recognised as a particularly peaceful country in the region. Nevertheless, one in two Tanzanians say a man can be right to beat his wife, according to the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey. What is the meaning of the violence that enjoys such wide support? Which wider discourses and shared social values does the support draw on and refer to? These questions are explored by analysing the transcripts of 27 focus group discussions conducted in two disparate districts in Tanzania: Arumeru and Kigoma-Vijijini. The data were analysed in a constructionist manner, as public discourses constructed collectively.
The thesis comprises three articles. The first concerns the data generation method. The power difference between researcher and researched, and the positionality of the white researcher in Tanzania, posed challenges to the data quality. I describe how maximising the distinguishing features of the focus group method, by decentering herself and encouraging interaction between participants, enabled her to address these challenges.
The second article speaks to ongoing debates on the relationship between partner violence and gender. It interrogates the ideal good beating that was constructed from the main interpretive repertoires that recurred across most groups, for resonance with theories of gender as a multilevel social structure. It concludes that hegemonic gender norms are among the norms supporting the good beating, and that the beating that is widely supported enforces the performance of gender, maintains gender hierarchies, and is in itself an enactment of gender.
The third article examines the data for insights into how non-state violence can constitute social order. Here the good beating construct illustrates critical theories that reconceptualise social control and deviance as censure, as well as Gramscian notions of how coercion and consent combine in hegemony. This analysis speaks to the dilemma of how to interpret women’s support for practices that feminists claim repress women, arguing that the dichotomy between consent and coercion is a false one. It concludes that wife-beating, where supported by community norms, can be seen as community norm enforcement.
The thesis relates the findings presented in the articles to how law, deviance, social control and censure have been theorised in criminology and socio-legal studies. It shows how theorizing on these issues can improve our understanding of non-state violence in the Global South and can in turn be improved by such an understanding.
In particular, it shows how the hegemonic norms connected to wife-beating can be seen as non-state law. The legitimated beating is that which controls deviance and upholds community norms of social order. The ‘law’ it enforces and upholds constitutes an informal marital contract whereby husbands control their wives’ labour – a law which undermines structural gains towards gender equality.
The study has implications for how critical criminologists and other socio-legal scholars can engage better with Southern empirical realities. It recommends that they recognise that informal hegemonic norms at community level can play the same ruling role as that which makes formal law, law, in continuation of a colonial strategy of ruling by proxy. Regarding policy and practice on violence against women in East Africa, the conclusions of this study illustrate that serious progress requires a change in gender ideologies of inequality.