Current Sociology

Sociologist of the Month, January 2023

Please welcome our two Sociologists of the Month for January 2023, Kate Fitz-Gibbon (Monash University, Australia) and Floretta A Boonzaier (University of Cape Town, South Africa).
Fitz-Gibbon is one the guest editors of the Special Subsection on femicide published in Volume 71 Issue 1 of Current Sociology. 
Boonzaier if the author of one of the articles included in this Special Subsection, Spectacularising narratives on femicide in South Africa: A decolonial feminist analysis.
All articles included in this Special Subsection are Free Access this month.

Kate Fitz-Gibbon

Floretta A Boonzaier

Could you please tell us about yourself? How did you come to your field of study?

K Fitz-Gibbon: I have been researching violence against women for over a decade. I first became interested in researching in this field of study due to observing unjust outcomes in the court cases of men who killed their female intimate partners and were able to utilise the partial defence of provocation to excuse their use of lethal violence. I was (and still remain) outraged at the inadequacy of the law’s response to different forms of violence against women and the prevalence of victim blaming narratives throughout the court system. Adopting a focus on gender, theories of responsibility, and justice my research seeks to inform improved responses for victim-survivors.

What prompted you to research the area of your special subsection on femicide?

K Fitz-Gibbon: The Special Subsection on femicide is particularly timely. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UN Women have recently released the findings from the global study on the killing of women and girls worldwide. The study found that on average, more than five women or girls were killed every hour by someone in their own family in 2021. Femicide is a global crisis and the different ways in which we define and examine femicide have significant implications for which deaths are counted, how the prevalence of femicide is understood, and how government responses to femicide are developed and implemented. The articles contained within the Special Subsection interrogate the definitions used to understand femicide and demonstrate the importance of measuring the act of femicide at the individual, community, national and global levels.

What are the wider social implications of your research in the current social climate? How do you think things will change in the future?

K Fitz-Gibbon: Research has evidenced the range of reasons why violence against women increased in frequency and severity during the first two years of the COVID-19 global health pandemic. Labelled the “shadow pandemic” in early 2020, while the evidence on how pandemic related restrictions impacted acts of violence against women have emerged at the local, national and global levels, there remains limited understandings of how the pandemic has impacted on the prevalence, nature of and responses to femicide. As the precarity of women’s lives worsens globally, due both to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic but also due to the rising cost of living, the impacts of conflict, and the impacts of natural disasters and other climate emergencies, there is a need to ensure that women's safety and security remains forefront in the minds of policymakers.


Could you please tell us about yourself? How did you come to your field of study?

F.A. Boonzaier: I came into a feminist consciousness about gender and violence having been raised by strong women like my mother and grandmother, who, although they didn’t call themselves feminists, lived their lives in ways that could be characterised as such. I was also surrounded by men like my father and grandfather who took up non-traditional roles, role-modelling gender equality in families and relationships.

I came specifically to the work on gender-based violence being frustrated with one question that was constantly being asked: Why do women stay with abusive partners? To my mind this was a question that was widespread in both popular discourse and academic research and it made it seem as if women themselves were responsible for the violence that was perpetrated against them in intimate relationships with men. This frustrated me immensely as I felt that the lens should be placed upon perpetrators of intimate partner violence instead and that we should look at the multiple ways in which women negotiate and resist, even while they may continue to have no option but to stay in relationships with men who are violent. Over the years my research has explored these and many more questions through a critical feminist lens – that especially interrogates popular narratives about violence. I have worked with victims and perpetrators of violence to unpack the meanings they make of the violence and how it relates to their identities as victims/survivors and perpetrators.

What prompted you to research the area of your article, “Spectacularizing narratives on femicide in South Africa: A decolonial feminist analysis”?

F.A. Boonzaier: I have been doing research on gender-based violence for over two decades. This research has always taken a critical perspective on understanding how broader intersecting contexts, historical, social, political, economic, ideological and discursive, for example, support, sustain and allow for meanings to be made about gender-based violence at an interpersonal level and everyday level. I have continued to be frustrated with easily accessible arguments about why gender-based violence occurs, especially in South Africa that sees alarming rates of violence, especially against women. The history of apartheid and the ways in which it instituted racialised patterns of inequity at social, political, spatial and economic levels of society that are still visible today has been a common way in which violence in South Africa has been understood or made meaning of. Yet, there is a longer history of colonisation and slavery that has not always been accounted for and whose effects are still visible today. This paper emerged out of work I had been doing to take this longer history and its ideological and other ramifications into account when interrogating violence to show how it has shaped how we see and understand gendered and sexual violence.

Constantly seeing work that continues to produce images of black men as inherently violent and black women as disposable has forced me to step back and ask critical questions about knowledge production on gendered and sexual violence and to think carefully about ongoing forms of epistemic, structural and symbolic violence.

This paper also emerges out of a strand of my work in which I have begun to more seriously examine media discourse as a powerful actor in both drawing on popular narratives about gender-based violence and producing these narratives which allow us to make everyday sense of the violence. It has been part of thinking about the role of narrative – and the stories we tell about gender-based violence and how that shapes our thinking as a society about why violence happens, who is responsible for it, and what can be done to end it.

What do you see as the key findings of your article?

F.A. Boonzaier: For me the key findings of this piece relate to the ways in which long-standing racialised and colonial tropes about black bodies and identities continue to emerge in contemporary media discourse about femicide in South Africa.

The way in which a spectacularised narrative about femicide and violence is framed and the implications of this are also important. For example, gender-based violence is framed as a war that should be fought; establishing an us versus them quality – who us is and who them is is not quite articulated and this means that even men who had perpetrated violence against women can see themselves as part of the ‘us’ – as those needing to fight violence, without actually examining their own violence or their ongoing support for violence through reinforcing hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Importantly too the key finding that illustrates a meta-narrative about femicide as monstrous and spectacular, positioning the South African media-consuming public as outsiders to the violence. I find remarkable the fact that the South African media produces a western gaze upon South African society – and taps into colonial, anthropological tropes about those ‘barbaric and uncivilised’ Africans ‘over there’, ‘killing their women’. In doing so, it offers a disaffected, distanced reading of femicide – which will have implications for the ways in which it might be overcome.

What are the wider social implications of your research in the current social climate? How do you think things will change in the future?

F.A. Boonzaier: This work has implications for how we read femicide in contexts beyond South Africa, especially contexts that have been marked by settler colonialism. It shows how the most marginalised, frequently black, indigenous and other women are read as ‘disposable’ and how their lives (and their deaths) are accorded lesser value compared to other women. This deeper, historical analysis is important for making visible the afterlives of colonisation and slavery and for showing how its ideologies continue to operate in the contemporary moment. Decolonial feminist work is gaining greater traction globally and this paper contributes to this trend especially in relation to an analysis of femicide and gender-based violence. This work is important and will continue to uncover the deeper ways in which coloniality operates globally and will offer new ways of tackling ongoing systemic and structural injustices and inequities – as well as fostering transnational solidarities.

Do you have any links to images, documents or other pieces of research which build on or add to the article? Or a suggested reading list?

F.A. Boonzaier: I would recommend that readers take a look at the reference list of the article and follow these, especially for work that speaks to a developing decolonial feminist trend within work on femicide and gender-based violence.

And also these two presentations: