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Study Notes

Burman et al. ‘Researching Girls and Violence: Facing the Dilemmas of Fieldwork’ (2001)


Last updated 5 Oct 2020

This is an overview of some contemporary sociological research.

Brief summary of research methods:

  • Investigating teenage girls’ views and experiences of violence and violent behaviour
  • Utilised a range of methods including the collection of field-notes, self-report questionnaires, small-group discussions and individual in-depth ‘conversations’
  • Authors defined the research as ethnographic
  • Approximately 800 girls, aged 13-16 years, participated in one or more aspects of the study
  • Girls from a variety of locations across Scotland and from a range of socio-economic and class backgrounds
  • A small number of these girls had been labelled as ‘troublesome’ or ‘violent’ by education or juvenile justice systems
  • Authors approached their research from a feminist standpoint as they wanted to focus on women’s experience and definitions of violence and reduce any power dynamics or hierarchical relationships between ‘researcher’ and ‘respondent’

Key findings:

  • Girls from the study often engaged in ‘play fighting’ which comprised of arm wrestling, hair tugs, sitting on and slapping one another which was accompanied by laughter and non-violent intent.
  • Many girls did not identify or name their experiences as violent and often minimised the harm done to, or by, them.
  • Some girls were very forthright and descriptive about their violent experiences whereas others were more tentative and cautious.
  • Asking the participants about their views and experiences towards violence can cause personal, emotional, psychological and social harm.
  • Talk of violence spilled into physical violence whereby participants demonstrated certain acts or the ‘jovial’ nature of violence.
  • Violence research has the ability to revive old antagonisms.

Link to specification:

Link to Crime and Deviance:

  • Provides insight into how young girls define violence and violent activity.
  • Could explain the growth in female gangs and violence as they are becoming more comfortable with carrying out acts of violence and are less likely to see it as an ‘exclusive male activity’.
  • Also provides insight into female experiences of victimisation as the girls from the study often minimised the harm done to them or did not always acknowledge its impact in its entirety. This could link to instances of domestic violence and explain statistics on why females experience numerous counts of domestic abuse before reporting it to the criminal justice system.

Link to Theory and Methods:

  • Good example of feminist research which attempted to uncover female views and experiences of violence without creating a hierarchical relationship between the researcher and respondent.
  • Highlights the complexities and sensitivities involved when researching violence both in an individual and group setting as talk of violence often created more violence.
  • Also highlights the importance of researchers not using their own narratives and experiences to influence the data gathered as the researchers often had different definitions of violence compared to the participants.

Link to original article:

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