Perpetrators and Protectors: Centering Family Relations in Addressing Violence in Poor Neighbourhoods

In this report, we ask ‘How and to what extent do families and kinship relations protect against, perpetrate and/or suffer from violence?’ While we have worked with families as a crucial stakeholder in all communities, we have not explicitly explored the ways in which families play a part in protection and perpetration as well as fall victim to violence. Hence, we designed this research project to try to understand families and their struggles to survive in Liberia, South Africa and the Philippines. Conceptually, the project was animated by two bodies of literature – intersectional analyses and ecological approaches – to understand the relationship between families and violence. Empirically, the analysis is based on experiences from past interventions as well as a systematic data collection project among some of the families involved in the interventions. The ambition is not to compare families and violence across different sites. Rather, it is to enable an inductive process of reflection and innovation by putting different contexts into a structured conversation. Among the important conclusions of the study, families are shown to be gendered and generational institutions that are embedded in a larger ecology of communal, state and non-state authorities. This social ecology is structured by strong normative ideals about what families should look like, what constitutes moral comportment and what forms of violence are perceived as legitimate. In this way, we argue that specific configurations of roles, power and status produce specific forms of normative and practical notions of family life. However, despite the strength of these models, family behaviour often failed to conform to them, leading to significant amounts of tension and violence. Secondly, across all contexts we found that legacies of violence, poverty and marginalisation animated family life and the ability of families to cope. Along with the temporal dimension, the study suggests that we cannot necessarily see internal family violence (domestic violence, intimate partner violence or child abuse) as separate from violence visited upon the family from the outside (vigilantism, extrajudicial killings or torture). Instead, the study illustrates how different domains of violence across the social ecology fold into family life. This analysis led us to explore critically how families perceive the functionality of violence based on a situated consideration and justification of whether it is appropriate, legitimate, or necessary in a non-judgmental way. It was clear from the research that most of the families were struggling – not only to survive and cope with the violence in its different forms, but also simply with being a family.