Subjects of Violence : On Gender and Recognition in Young Men’s Violence Against Women

Abstract: The dissertation concerns young men’s violence against women partners. It is based on in-depth qualitative interviews with nine men who have been violent against women partners in their youth, and an additional interview with the mother of one of the young men. The method is informed by Hollway and Jefferson’s psychosocial methodology and Hydén’s teller-focused interview approach. The interviewees’ stories of violence are analysed combining psychoanalytic theories of intersubjectivity with an attention to discourses. The aim of the dissertation is to explore men’s experiences of being violent against women partners in youth and to investigate the gendered intersubjective dynamics of young men’s violence against women partners. Jessica Benjamin’s theories on gender and recognition are central to the analyses, and other feminist, psychoanalytic and psychosocial theories are used in the dissertation’s analysis of the men’s stories of violence. The study highlights the role of early relationships, gendered identifications, recognition, and discourses of masculinity and sexuality in using and desisting from violence. Men’s identifications and disidentifications with violent father figures are particularly significant, as are relationships with male peers in youth and the men’s (denied) vulnerabilities. The temporality and liminality of youth are also explored, as the first romantic relationship poses particular challenges to young men who have been exposed to violence and abuse from a young age, or who lack parental support. The time of youth figures as a porous boundary of old and new dependencies, hierarchies and relationship patterns. It is shown how the men’s definitions of violence are also shifting, and the particular nexus of love and aggression within relationships is thus highlighted. Violent situations are demonstrated to denote a breakdown in mutual recognition, which, using Benjamin’s notions, takes the form of oneness – denying difference and alterity – or twoness – over-emphasizing difference and complementarity. In line with Donald Winnicott, these processes of non-recognition involve failed destruction and survival – the inability on the part of the men to tolerate their partners’ acts of negation without retaliating. Desisting from violence consequently involves striving towards an ideal of thirdness or reciprocal recognition.Another central finding is the prevailing experiences of exerting sexual coercion in youth. In situations of pressurized sex, the men fail to recognize the sexual subjectivity of the woman other. The change in the interviewee’s experiences troubles a linear temporality, and by using the psychoanalytic notion of afterwardsness – it is shown how the men become retroactive perpetrators, which reorganizes their embodied and affective memories and subjectivities. By stressing the nonlinear qualities of temporality and memories, this dissertation destabilizes the idea of childhood and youth, pointing to the unfinished and (re-)constructed nature of these life phases, while simultaneously arguing for their vital importance and ‘real’ influence in the lives of subjects. This is thus a contribution to youth studies as well as an argument for broadening the conception of the youth subject.