Personhood, Masculinity, and Male-Perpetrated Intimate Partner Violence
Understanding the Centrality of Culture and Context in Violence Research
Keywords:personhood, masculinity, self-esteem, intimate partner violence, culture, Ghana
Most international violence research that are firmly rooted in the ontology and cultural background of individualism make rash generalisations about violence and human nature by taking the examples of self and gender concepts in Western settings as the only reference point for their claims. Based on the understanding of self in Western cultures, many social psychological studies have over the years blamed interpersonal violence, including intimate partner violence (IPV), on perpetrators’ self-image. For example, while some studies indicate that people with low self-esteem are more likely to turn violent in order to gain esteem, others have theorised that individuals with inflated (high) self-esteem are more susceptible to use violence, particularly when the inflated self is threatened in interpersonal relationships. A growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship also traces the aetiology of IPV and the propensity for men to commit violence against women to the internalisation, endorsement and enactment of culturally defined male gender role. Despite the valuable contributions of these studies, there are significant challenges inherent in research that make broad universal claims about self and violence at the expense of culture and context. One of the most important phenomena that seems underexplored, overlooked or neglected in the context of violence research is how culture-specific notions of personhood and masculinity shapes male-perpetrated IPV. In this article, I explore the centrality of context and culture-specificities of personhood and masculinity in understanding male-perpetrated IPV. I discuss how the dialogical relationship between men’s psychological sense of who they are (personhood) and cultural notions of masculinity provides new insights for understanding violence research in context. I argue that, rather than a threat to a person’s dispositional self, the social pain of unfavourable third-party communal evaluations of masculine inadequacy threatens a man’s relational sense of personhood, and consequently provoke the use of violence towards the source of the threat in intimate relationships in Ghana.