Methodological Issues in the Study of Family Violence
Richard J. Gelles
University of Rhode Island
A review of the table of contents of social science journals published prior to 1970 would uncover virtually no articles on family violence. Readers would be left convinced that family violence was not a significant social problem. The reports of child abuse or occasional wife abuse that were tucked away in the middle pages of newspapers, emblazoned on the front pages of The National Enquirer, or presented as clinical case studies in social service and medical journals appeared to be rare aberrations which most certainly were the product of the mental illness of the offenders.
Today we know that violence in the home is a significant social problem with an estimated incidence far greater than the risk of experiencing violence on the streets. Research points to a problem that is not confined to a few mentally ill or emotionally disturbed individuals. Battered wives are not the cause of their victimization, nor are those who remain in violent homes masochists.
With the vision of hindsight we now assemble historical records and uncover centuries of violence and abuse between family members (see for example, Bakan, 1971; DeMause, 1974, 1975; Radbill, 1980; and Shorter, 1975). Additional research reveals that the pattern of violent family relationships cuts across cultures ( Gelles & Cornell, 1983; Korbin, 1981; Taylor & Newberger, 1979). Finally, research finds violence in virtually all family relations--victims not only include children and women, but young and elderly parents, siblings, and dating partners.
That there has been an explosion of research on all facets of family violence is obvious even to a casual consumer of the professional literature. Although there is an abundance of research, the collected body of knowledge is diverse, often contradictory; and frequently the data collected, and even published, fail to meet