Structure and dynamics of escalation from the batterer's perspective

Zeev Winstok, Zvi Eisikovits, Richard Gelles

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Most theories dealing with the escalation of intimate violence have examined the components of escalation, rather than the dynamic processes involved. This paper develops a theoretical model addressing the structure and dynamics of escalation. To develop the model, we studied the transition between nonviolent and violent realities of cohabitant couples from the male partner's perspective. A sample of 25 interviews was selected from a database consisting of 120 in-depth qualitative interviews that were collected for a larger study dealing with the experience of violence among cohabiting couples that remained together in spite of the violence. Sampling data collection, and data analysis followed the principles of grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Findings indicate that the men interviewed perceive themselves as entitled and obligated to defend their dyadic existential frameworks, while recognizing the costs and benefits involved in the use of violence to achieve this end. These men tend to create the rules, judge when the rules are being infringed upon, and take steps to enforce the rules. Their evaluation of the extent of their control over their own actions and the related cost-benefit considerations are highly influential in their attempts to reestablish the lost balance in their dyadic life. The process of constructing a reaction to their partner's behavior consists of two distinctive but interrelated phases: (a) identifying an action by the partner and constructing it into being worthy of reaction; (b) constructing an appropriate reaction. Men's construction of the escalation process is not random or situational but rather constructed within a set of personal, interpersonal, and socially recognized scripts that delineate the boundaries of the entire process. Theoretical and practical implications for assessing the risk of violence and subsequent societal reaction are suggested, as well as directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-141
Number of pages13
JournalFamilies in Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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