You're On The Floor, I'm The Roof And I Will Cover You: Social Representations Of Intimate Partner Violence In Two Cape Town Communities

  • Taryn Van Niekerk University of Cape Town
  • Floretta Boonzaier University of Cape Town
Keywords: antinomies, gender, intimate partner violence, social networks, South Africa



The act of intimate partner violence (IPV) is a social event, shaped by a complex web of social conditions and intersections. Consequently, a theory that is sensitive to the socio-historical context in which IPV occurs is necessary, as well as recognition that a man who perpetrates violence against a woman partner, does so in relationship to other men and women, to a family, community and society. In this paper, we employ the theory of social representations to gain new insight into this multifaceted phenomenon, and to unearth representations of partner violence against women amongst male perpetrators and their social networks in Cape Town, South Africa. Individual interviews were conducted with eleven men, recruited from a men’s programme at an NGO, and focus group discussions were conducted with the men’s social networks. The findings shed light on the polarity of human thought in defining gender-appropriate performances for men and women, whilst excluding the ‘other’ who fails to conform to such ‘gendered laws’. Gender role norms were represented as static categories confining men to violent performances of masculinity, and women to subordinate positions in relation to men. The findings also demonstrated the extent to which men’s representations about violence were influenced by an audience of networks and community representations that make violence permissible. The value of studying the community, relationships and individuals as inseparable spheres is a key outcome of this paper, and the contextualised analysis of power and oppression is shown to open possibilities for social change.

Author Biographies

Taryn Van Niekerk, University of Cape Town

TARYN VAN NIEKERK obtained her PhD in psychology at the University of Cape Town. Her doctoral work explores the social representations of intimate partner violence against women, amongst men, their social networks and within the media in the South African context. Her research interests include feminist poststructuralist theories of gender, the social construction of masculinities particularly within the South African context, and intimate partner violence against women, recognized as occurring within specific historical, social contexts, and social networks.

Floretta Boonzaier, University of Cape Town

FLORETTA BOONZAIER is Associate Professor in psychology at the University of Cape Town. Her primary research areas include work on the social psychological aspects of gender-based violence, the intersections of raced, classed and gendered subjectivities, and a focus on the social construction of femininities and masculinities. She has published on intimate partner violence against women locally and internationally, and is co-editor of The Gender of Psychology (2006), published by UCT Press and co-author of South African Women Living with HIV: Global Lessons from Local Voices, published by Indiana University Press.