Views And Reviews

Male Violence

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 30 April 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1174
  1. Paul Wolf-Light

    Ed John Archer Routledge, pounds sterling 14.99, pp 414 ISBN 0-415-08962-X

    For anyone working with violent men or writing about them, Male Violence is an excellent book. It offers 18 chapters of empirically researched arguments on the nature and expression of violence in the context of sex and gender, augmented by a myriad of theoretical positions.

    <FIGURE> A poster from London's Zero Tolerance campaign organised by the Association of London Authorities. The campaign against violence to women began in Montreal, Canada, after the murder of 14 women engineering students. It moved to Edinburgh in 1993 and to Labour controlled London councils in January this year

    Archer has accepted the differences of the authors and sought to grapple with the root causes, be they Darwinian, economic, or social in origin. There is a clear attempt throughout to work with the interaction of nature and culture in comprehending the sources of violence rather than seeing them as separate sides of a dichotomy. Accepting the ensuing tensions has created a rich and stimulating stream of perspectives; the whole culminates in the final chapter, in which Paul Gilbert attempts, with some success to create an integrated frame in which to place the diverse views expressed.

    Structurally the book is divided into four parts. The first section looks at aggression in childhood, to indicate some of the developmental origins of male violence. Part two looks at violence among men, with a study of delinquent gangs as well as a sociohistorical survey of warrior values and the linking of these with basic concepts of masculinity. This section is particularly welcome as there has been relatively little study made of male violence towards other men. Part three is concerned with male violence towards women and children, a topic of increasing public concern. This covers violence in the family, sexual violence towards women, and the abuse, sexual and otherwise, of children by men. The final part of the book is concerned with explanations of male violence. Among the perspectives explored here are the immediate biological influences of hormones and heredity; the ultimate biological explanation of evolutionary adaptation; power explanations, which are structural explanations involving people's positions in society; socialisation; and the social representations of violence by men and women which provide the cultural background to socialisation. An overview is then given that attempts to integrate these and link male violence to mental health concerns and wider societal values.

    The only criticism I would make is that there is little practical description of the various approaches, therapeutic and educational, that currently exist to help prevent male violence. An elucidation of their principles and practice within the theoretical and statistical frameworks set out here would have been enormously valuable. This aside, I fully recommend the book for practitioners and academics alike.

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