Governmentality and gender violence in Hawai'i in historical perspective

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Although gender violence was not a major public issue in 19th-century Hawai'i, a substantial number of cases arrived at the lower courts. Offenders were typically prosecuted promptly and punished. Like contemporary legal interventions in gender violence, the punishments were minimal. But unlike contemporary practice, punishments were largely small fines designed to deter quarrelling. There was nothing like the contemporary effort to retrain offenders into more egalitarian conceptions of masculinity. Despite frequent convictions for wife battering, the courts primarily reinforced a notion of marriage as an enduring and sexually exclusive relationship. Judges urged couples to live in peace but made no further efforts to change batterers. This historical study of court records on a small town in Hawai'i shows that 19th-century punishment focused on maintaining marriages rather than reforming batterers, leaving the patriarchal power of the batterer unchallenged. As this study demonstrates, the shape of legal intervention depended on the cultural conceptions of marriage that were being reinforced and the overarching logics of punishment in play at the time.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)81-111
    Number of pages31
    JournalSocial and Legal Studies
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 2002

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • General Social Sciences
    • Law


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