`Remedial Work': Men's strategic responses to their violence against intimate female partners

Kate Cavanagh, R. Emerson Dobash, Russell Dobash, Ruth Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


Based on interviews with 122 men who had used violence against their partner, and employing Goffman's (1971) concept of `remedial work', this paper interrogates violent men's perceptions, constructions and understandings of domestic violence and their responses to its use. Accounts of women partners are also examined. `Remedial work' involves the perpetrator of an act of untoward behaviour in various forms of `damage limitation' intended to change the meaning of the offensive act into one that is deemed acceptable. Goffman's three related devices of remedial work - `accounts, apologies, and requests' - are used to explore men's narratives of violent events, their definitions of the event, rationales and perceptions of consequences. Revealed are the exculpatory and expiatory discourses which dominate men's narratives and which expose the purposeful yet paradoxical nature of their responses to violence, directed at mitigating and obfuscating culpability while at the same time seeking forgiveness and absolution. We suggest that through these devices men seek to impose their own definitions upon their woman partner and thereby neutralise or eradicate her experience of abuse and control the ways in which she interprets and responds to it. These findings strongly support Goffman's theoretical conception. In addition, they highlight the need for further investigation of how men's and women's accounts, definitions and responses to violence are interactionally connected through men's attempts to define the violence in exculpatory and expiatory terms and in women's resistance to such definitions and their implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-714
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2001


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