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Manufacturing Difference:Double Standard in Swiss Institutional Responses to Intimate Partner Violence
Responsable du projet Faten Khazaei
   
Résumé Due to the efforts of feminist movements, there is now a transnational recognition of violence against women as a public problem. Whereas this type of violence was originally problematized as being intrinsically associated with gender relations, more recent public policies and debates in Europe in general, and specifically in Switzerland, have focused on migration. Consequently, specific types of violence against women that a priori involve migrant populations, such as ‘forced marriages’, ‘female genital mutilation’ and ‘honour killing’, are increasingly the focus of public action. This focus implies that violence against women is primarily perceived as a migrant problem. Although various scholars have already criticized the instrumentalization of gender equality and the women’s rights discourse and its role in racializing violence against women, they have targeted the types of violence that are cast as ‘cultural pathologies’, as noted above. This research takes an alternative approach. It focuses instead on the wider public problem of ‘intimate partner violence’, conceived as a public, population-wide health issue in many European countries. This approach enables to lay bare the institutional mechanisms of manufacturing difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Through an ethnographic exploration of diverse actors’ interventions to support victims, this study investigates how intimate partner violence is identified, named and addressed differently in relation to Swiss citizens and migrants, even though it concerns the same social problem, is treated by the same institutions, and involves people living in the same territory. To this end, a women’s shelter, a medicolegal service of a hospital and a police emergency unit in French-speaking Switzerland were chosen as the study sites. Field observations and uncountable informal interviews, supported by 56 expert interviews with agents from these institutions, were conducted over 18 months from 2014 to 2016. Case studies and ethnographic descriptions of agents’ practices were complemented by a study of agents’ discourses to better understand the meanings that these agents attribute to their practices and how they emerge out of specific representations of ‘others’ and their supposed ‘culture’.
A close study of public action against intimate partner violence shows, first, that the general framing of such violence is gender-blind, revealing a politics of silence surrounding unequal gender power relations in the intimate sphere. Intimate partner violence is alternatively framed psychologically, and individually as isolated instances of deviant behaviour caused by alcohol, drug consumption, or psychological problems. In sum, non-structural explanations are offered, privileging psychotherapy and family consultations as solutions. Second, however, when the targets of intimate partner violence include migrants from the Global South, the incidents are associated with a racialized conception of culture in which unequal gender relations disadvantage women and trivialize male control and abuse. This double standard through a visibilization of gendered power relations in specific cases, and their occultation in others, leads to perceptions of ethnic and racialized differences that are subsequently equated with moral differences between ‘them’ and the ‘civilized us’. Last, the practices of institutions are critically examined to document some of the concrete consequences of these manufactured differences in recognition and naming.
This study of the institutional responses to intimate partner violence in Switzerland provides valuable insights that contribute to several academic debates. First, similar mechanisms behind the ‘racialization of sexism’ have been observed in other European countries. Hence, this case study contributes to this field of research and to the broader field of postcolonial and critical race studies by providing further comparisons of different contexts. Second, this thesis contributes to the literature on intimate partner violence, which has largely disregarded the specific effects of differentiating social groups. Last, the thesis demonstrates methodological originality, illustrating how migration studies can be de-ethnicized by shifting the focus from migrants to all of the beneficiaries and their relations with public institutions, in this case, institutions dealing with intimate partner violence. This shift enables an interrogation of the social construction of the category of ‘migrants’ by centring attention on the context in which they are categorized and labelled as such.
   
Mots-clés Differentiated institutional responses, De-gendering and re-gendering domestic violence, Double standard, Ethnography of public institutions, Intimate partner violence, Manufacturing difference, Politics of difference, Politics of silence
   
Type de projet Recherche de thèse
Domaine de recherche Sociologie
Source de financement Doc.ch FNS
Etat Terminé
Début de projet 1-3-2014
Fin du projet 9-9-2019
Contact Faten Khazaei