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Resisting domestic violence is a political act

14 March 2014 Taylor & Francis

Resisting domestic violence is more than a personal act; it's a form of activism, claims a Durham University academic.

Writing in the current issue of Social & Cultural Geography and drawing on interviews with 16 male and female survivors of domestic abuse, Rachel Pain discusses the complex emotions felt by her subjects, and how they can work together to lead a person to resist domestic violence.

This resistance, because it challenges existing power relations, is viewed by Pain as “a political struggle”. This makes resisting abuse a form of activism (in its modern, redefined sense) including “not only spectacular, staged actions which have a clear legacy, but also more banal, everyday actions and relations”.

Throughout her article, Pain borrows from Earth Sciences to write vividly of a ‘seismology of emotion’. During an earthquake, “major events are the only visible manifestation of long-term, much smaller movements of the earth’s crust that both build up to and succeed spectacular events.” For Pain, the emotion of fear works much the same way: “as a chronic, shifting, largely silent state that occasionally culminates in changes that become visible to a wider public,” like resistance. 

The key to Pain’s work is illuminating how individual resistance ‘scales up’ to bring about social and political change. She cites two important examples.

The first is when people experiencing domestic violence come into contact with others who support them. This ‘collective action’ raises awareness and widens the support networks.

The second is when children see their parents challenging violent behaviours – and being supported by others – they themselves will be less likely to be abused, or an abuser, themselves. Pain notes that this is ‘one of the most effective ways in which individual activism will radiate outwards, slowly but cumulatively, to create a safer social context.’

Individual acts of resistance and activism can inspire and become part of wider social change. “The actions described in this paper are only necessary in a wider social and political climate which continues to place more emphasis on individual than collective responsibility for domestic violence,” Pain concludes. “People who experience domestic violence, whether they leave the situation or not, are engaged in a form of political activism. But the eradication of fear requires wider social responsibility for violence.”

In other words, we all have a part to play in creating a safer society, through resisting abuse, reporting abuse, and supporting the abused and their rights through our political, judicial and legal systems.

Read the full article, free of charge, online at:

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