Accepted paper:

Decolonising aetiologies and theories of IPV in public health scholarship and practice: insights from an ethnographic study of conjugal abuse from an Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahәdo community


Romina Istratii (SOAS, University of London )

Paper short abstract:

This paper will advance a decolonial critique of paradigmatic approaches to intimate partner violence (IPV) in public health discourse. The aim is to increase reflexivity about the 'situatedness' of these constructs in western epistemology and to propose more cosmology-sensitive approaches.

Paper long abstract:

Intimate partner violence (IPV) has comprised one of the priority areas of public health research and practice, especially in relation to African development. However, this scholarship and practice has been dominated by gender-based violence (GBV) aetiologies that conceptualise IPV almost invariably in reference to hierarchical gender systems and relations. These aetiologies are recurrently transposed cross-culturally through a sociological methodology that is rarely informed by comprehensive ethnographic studies of IPV from specific societies. Consequently, such aetiologies have not integrated well local knowledge systems and worldviews, and especially religious belief systems. On the other hand, studies based on more empirical or anthropological evidence do not eschew epistemological limitations by remaining situated in western metaphysics of gender and religion. This can hinder understanding the contextual and nuanced mechanisms that sustain or facilitate conjugal abuse or favourable attitudes about it in societies outside of western epistemology, and especially those that are embedded in authoritative indigenous religious traditions. To demonstrate this I will draw from a year-long ethnographic study of conjugal abuse from an Orthodox society of Ethiopia that accounted for the religio-cultural cosmology of the research participants in analysing interactions between gender norms, individual attitudes and human behaviour associated with conjugal abuse. To overcome the epistemological limitations of all ethnographic research and analysis, the methodology integrated ethnographic with participatory research approaches that prioritised the discourses of the local populations. The overall aim of this research has been to consolidate a model of development research and practice that is centred on local worldviews.

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Disrupting health research
Decolonising health research for development [paper]