What’s the problem represented to be? : Swedish public policy constructions of violence against women


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Publication Details

Author list: Hoppstadius, Helena

Publication year: 2018


Traditionally, in Sweden as well as in many other countries there has been a great tolerance of men’s violence against women. In modern time, this violence has been criminalized and defined as a social problem. Since 2007, the work of combatting domestic violence has intensified in Sweden, using as a starting point an action plan adopted by the Swedish government 2007. The plan is called: ‘Action plan for combating men’s violence against women, violence and oppression in the name of honour and violence in same-sex relationships’ (Skr 2007/08:39). As a result of this action plan, several authorities have published different materials with the purpose of increasing the knowledge within social service about violence against women, to better meet the needs of women subjected of violence. How polices in social work are produced has practical significance at several levels; in addition to clarifying society’s responsibility, these also highlight how to draw attention to and address a particular problem. However, instead of just considering policies as possible solutions to predefined issues, we also need to consider how policies represent a problem, and what effects these representations may have. How violence against women is named, framed and conceptualized is important, since explanations that are put forward can affect both policy and practice. The purpose of this study is to investigate how violence against women is conceptualized discursively in one public manual on violence, and five public educational materials originating from the action plan, through Bacchi’s policy approach ‘What’s the Problem Represented to be?’. The study revealed that many acts are considered to be violence in a Swedish context, where certain acts are punishable, for example battery, while other acts are not, such as neglect. How we understand violence against women and how it can be predicted, prevented and treated may differ depending on which theory social workers adopt. In the material, several theories are mentioned; however, it is hard to say whether any particular theory is advocated. Special attention is given to the situation of so called ‘honour-related violence and oppression’. The study also revealed a representation of abusers in a gender-neutral way, which may disregard women’s specific vulnerability to violence. How violence is conceptualized, named and framed discursively may affect those women subjected to violence, depending on how social workers interpret and apply the materials.


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