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Seminar Series - Young people and violence: gendered understandings of violence and discourses of acceptability

Date: 16 November 2011 Time: 12.30 - 2.00 p.m.

Venue: FASS MR1

Dr. Vanita Sundaram, Department of Education, University of York.

Young people and violence: gendered understandings of violence and discourses of acceptability

This paper reports on research which explored young people's views on interpersonal violence. The specific research objectives were to explore how young people characterise violence; to explore the factors that influence young people's views on what constitutes violence; to examine whether some forms of violence are viewed as more or less acceptable and/or inevitable than others; and to investigate the reasons underlying the perceived acceptability of some forms of violence relative to others.

Theoretical framework

Knowledge about young people's views on different forms of violence has important implications for violence prevention initiatives, particularly those in schools. If young people's acceptance of violence is linked to their understandings of appropriate gender behaviour then an inherent aspect of effective violence prevention will also be to destabilise existing gender norms and expectations, including those produced within the school context.

The majority of previous studies on young people and violence analyse intimate partner violence in isolation from men's other violences. The theoretical framework used here posits that normative expectations of gender which underlie men's use of violence towards women are the very same as those underpinning men's use of violence towards each other. In order to fully understand young people's understandings of violence, knowledge is needed about their (interrelated) perspectives on different forms of violence. The present study therefore attempts to move forward from previous work on violence and gender by explicitly analysing the common norms for gender which underpin all forms of men's violence.


The paper reports on a small-scale, regional study of 14-16 year-olds' views on interpersonal violence. The sample comprised 70 pupils from 6 secondary schools in Yorkshire. Focus groups were used in order to uncover the ways in which violence is understood, rationalised and even justified by young people. Vignettes, statements and images about violence were used to stimulate discussion and many of these were constructed on the basis of previously tested models. [i] [ii] [iii] Each scenario, statement or image was presented twice in different forms; once with a male perpetrator of violence and once with a female perpetrator of violence. This was done in order to elicit participants' views on different levels of acceptability depending on the form, context and dynamic of the violence.


Preliminary findings indicate that young people do differentiate between different forms of violence between young people, as well as between adults. Differential discourses of acceptability operate to constitute men's (or boys') violences against each other as 'normal' and as more acceptable than men's violences towards women and children. Normative expectations of gender were invoked by young people in same-sex and mixed-sex focus groups to justify why some forms of violence were more or less inevitable than others and (sometimes therefore) more or less acceptable. However, links between gender norms and views on violence were very rarely made by the young people themselves. There were very few instances of gender difference in understandings of what constitutes violence. Discourses of inevitability pervaded the discussions about violence and the potential of schools to prevent violence was viewed as limited.

[i] McCarry, M. (2009a). Justifications and Contradictions; Understanding Young People's Views of Domestic Abuse. Men and Masculinities, 11(3), 325-345.

[ii] Renold, E. (2005). Girls, Boys and Junior Sexualities: Exploring Children's Gender and Sexual Relations in the Primary School. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

[iii] Renold, E., & Barter, C. (2003). 'Hi, I'm Ramon and I run this place': challenging the normalisation of peer violence in children's homes. In: E. Stanko (ed.), The Meaning of Violence. London: Routledge.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for Social Justice and Wellbeing in Education, Educational Research


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