الرئيسية Teaching Sociology Book Review: Framing the Victim: Domestic Violence, Media, and Social Problems
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436 Framing the Victim: Domestic Violence, Media, and Social Problems. Nancy Berns. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine. 2004. 194 pages. $23.95. This interesting and well-organized book provides a solid sociological study on the media portrayals of domestic violence in the United States. The analysis centers on the media’s role in shaping the public’s perception, using data from an extensive content analysis of magazine articles and advice books for freelance writers as well as interviews with editors. Typical media stories direct our gaze towards the victim— diverting us away from the abuser and distracting us from the cultural and structural factors that facilitate and tolerate this behavior. The desire for higher profits leads to the selection of sensational, dramatic, and inspirational stories, further narrowing the media’s coverage of domestic violence. Berns describes in detail the various frames used by the media, with the most common one depicting domestic violence as an individual problem that must be solved through victim empowerment. The shift in journalism towards using news as entertainment is documented and linked to this preoccupation with the victim. Following a discussion of this individual frame of responsibility, Berns identifies two other less common but important perspectives: antifeminist and social justice frames. The book concludes with an informative summary and provides several recommendations for preventing domestic violence and broadening the public’s view so they see more of the landscape of this social problem. The book begins with a well-defined research problem, and the first chapter provides a social context for the analysis and an overview of the major ideas to be examined. Chapter 2 describes the public’s view of domestic violence— buttressed by opinion survey data—and Chapter 3 explains how the media becomes a “tour guide,” selecting snapshots and providing commentary on domestic violence. Chapters 4 and 5 present findings from interviews with magazine editors as well as a content ana; lysis of advice books for writers and articles from women’s magazines including Essence, Glamour, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, and Seventeen. As an interesting contrast and revealing the antifeminist and social justice frames, Chapters 6 and 7 describe the depiction of domestic violence in a diverse group of magazines—The New Republic, Penthouse, Playboy, The Nation, and The Progressive. Chapter 8 provides a brief description of TEACHING SOCIOLOGY how the battered women’s, victims’ rights, and self-help movements contributed to the public’s myopic focus on the victim. The book concludes with thoughtful ideas to induce a cultural shift and specific social changes to bring about a reduction in domestic violence. The chapters are structured to maximize the readers’ ability to retain important points by using pertinent subheadings and providing brief summaries. In addition, most chapters conclude with questions that are addressed in the following section. This technique is effective in providing an intellectual bridge between chapters, bringing a sense of continuity to the book. One of the major strengths is the use of a myriad of data from national public opinion surveys, interviews, and innovative content analyses. The excerpts from the author’s qualitative research findings based on the magazine articles and editors’ comments provide a rich flavor to the discussion. Illustrative metaphors along with these excerpts make the book appealing to read and provide substantial and convincing evidence for the frames of domestic violence. These aspects of the book make it ideally suited for students as well as scholars. While the book seems a bit specialized for an introductory sociology class, it is especially well designed as a supplemental text for a social problems course and classes that focus on violence, the media, or gender. The chapters are written in such a way that portions of the book, particularly with the addition of some general background provided by the instructor, could be used in additional courses. Chapters 4, 5, or 6 could be used in research methods courses as examples of how to effectively present qualitative research findings. The frequent reiteration of the main arguments is generally helpful but may become repetitive if much of the book is read at one time. The chapter on the antifeminist and social justice frames seems dense, but that may be due to the content rather than the style, since the other chapters are easier to digest. The most significant drawback to using the book in the classroom is the lack of explicit references to, or situating the study within, traditional sociological theories. The analysis is more than fair to the media, since it is their unbridled desire for profits that is at least partially responsible for the public’s lack of “peripheral vision” and “wide lens” understanding of domestic violence. However, these issues do not substantially detract from this important study on the how the media encourages a narrow view of domestic violence focusing on the victim. Upon reading this book, students and schol- BOOK REVIEWS 437 ars will appreciate the power of the media to shape the public’s view of domestic violence. The author presents a powerful and convincing case study on domestic violence, demonstrating the important role the media plays in our perception of social problems and ultimately in the social construction of reality. Kristi Hoffman Roanoke College Flesh and Blood: Adolescent Gender Diversity and Violence. James W. Messerschmidt. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 2004. 176 pages. $65.00 hardcover; $19.95 paperback. Gender, as a consistent factor in violence and criminality, cannot be ignored. Yet much of criminological theory and research lacks an indepth inquiry into how gender relates to the self and violence. James W. Messerschmidt argues that sociological criminology has largely ignored the body in relation to the self and crime. In Flesh and Blood: Adolescent Gender Diversity and Violence Messerschmidt uses structured action theory to overcome the historical problems associated with the mind-body and sexgender binaries. He argues that individuals construct multiple gender projects as strategies for negotiating different settings. So rather than focusing on the “mind-body, sex-gender, and gender difference binaries,” Messerschmidt calls for a “concentration on 1) embodiment as a lived aspect of gender, 2) both gender differences and gender similarities in the commission of crime, and 3) how embodied social action is embedded in specific structural gender relations in particular settings” (emphasis original, p. 32). Flesh and Blood is organized into four parts. Part 1 gives an interesting and useful history of criminology as a discipline, emphasizing particular theorists’ attempts (and lack thereof) at explaining gender and the body. Part 2 presents the theoretical framework for Messerschmidt’s analysis. Structured action theory emphasizes the construction of gender as a situated social, interactional, and embodied accomplishment. Gender is not related to just the body but rather grows out of embodied social practices in specific social structural settings. Messerschmidt focuses on three settings in his analysis: home, school, and street. How people do their “gender project” (p. 40) is influenced by specific social structural constraints. Part 3 of the book presents four case studies of white working-class youth. Messerschmidt uses a life-history method to explore boys’ and girls’ use of violence. These two chapters examine why boys and girls from the same social area engage in violence for different reasons and in different settings. With an emphasis on gender construction and gender projects, Messerschmidt uses these four case studies to illustrate how violence and nonviolence are related to gender. The case studies provide interesting stories to engage students in the discussion. Chapter 5 compares Lenny, the “wimp,” and Perry, the “bully,” while Chapter 6 compares Tina, the “badass,” and Kelly, the “ladybug.” The four young people have different stories involving their bodies and gender identity and how they use violence strategically to “do gender.” Messerschmidt ties together the youths’ experiences at home, school, and in the street to illustrate how gender meanings are fluid, contextual, and central to identity. Part 4 applies structured action theory to the four case studies presented in Part 3. This section of the book helps the reader make connections between the lived histories and the abstract theory. Again, Messerschmidt emphasizes the three sites—home, school, and street—and discusses how they relate to gender and violence. The final chapter emphasizes how girls’ violence challenges what we think we know about gender differences. Flesh and Blood is dense with historical and theoretical insights on criminology and gender. It is more suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduate classes than introductory classes. Messerschmidt offers a thought-provoking analysis of gender, but this book will be more useful for students who have had some background in gender theory. For students who are ready to think about gender and crime at a more complex level, this book offers rich insights. Flesh and Blood is well written and weaves together an impressive array of literature on criminology and gender studies. Among the classes that might use the book are youth and crime, criminology, gender studies, theory, and violence. Flesh and Blood ties in nicely with the recent interest in “wimps and bullies” in our school system. It also gives a good overview of the “culture of cruelty” (p. 108) within schools and its highly gendered cliques. Messerschmidt provides a rich account of what young people go through in school and how their experiences relate to their body images and their desire to do gender, both of which are also influenced by their families. These topics provide easy access for students to discuss the theoretical issues raised by the book. The case studies and timely topics will help professors using the book in