Narrating Domestic Violence: Producing the “Truth' of Violence in 19th' and 20th‐century Hawaiian Courts

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Stories told by and about men who batter women in the courts of Hawai in the mid‐19th century and in the late 20th century are strikingly similar. Courts, then as now, accept some justifications for battering and reject others, in the process constructing the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate violence. Throughout this period, the legal system claimed to focus only on the violent act itself, not the emotional or personal violation. The law interprets the violence as brute fact, knowable without regard to the social relationship or system of cultural meanings within which it occurs. There are persistent contradictions between the law's construction of domestic violence as an unambiguous physical act and litigants' and judges' views that these violent acts are moments within the social dynamics of gendered power relations. At the same time, there are recurrent tensions between the efforts of the legal system to portray violent acts against women in terms of rational categories of action and, in contrast, the experience of violence and the meanings within which it occurs that are often opaque to such sense‐making, defiant of a simple means‐ends calculus.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)967-994
    Number of pages28
    JournalLaw & Social Inquiry
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Oct 1994

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences
    • Law


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