Theses Doctoral

Mobilising against Intimate Violence: Feminism, Social Theory and the Dutch State in the 1970s and after

Houwink ten Cate, Lotte

Between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s, second-wave feminism involved both the construction of a distinctive body of social theory and socio-political activity with the explicit goal of turning violence from a private injury into a political problem demanding state intervention. In two decades the most radical wing of second-wave feminism launched an extraordinarily successful campaign against male violence that led to legislative reforms, and embedded itself in the interstices of state-funded social provision in European capitals.

Most broadly, this dissertation examines how and why violence behind closed doors has come under the purview of the state as a vacuum to be filled with criminal law, and participates in a broader spectrum of queries about the rethinking of the state monopoly on violence, the erosion of the welfare state and the usages of law and punishment as vehicles for social change. A visionary radical feminist project, that had initially sought systemic change, instead folded itself into world affairs. The history of this transition is drastically under-researched, and has been left by historians to theorists.

I propose a form of intellectual history centred on collectivity, on recovering underappreciated histories and on challenging the scripts by which the stories of making and unmaking feminist thought are told. In this dissertation I examine the transformation of intimate violence, first defined as “violence against women”—in public perception, social science, and the law—from a private matter to a state concern. I consider feminist activism and theory, academia (notably sociology and women’s studies), social democratic politics, and the legal system, to understand how intimate violence has become a terrain for action and thought.

This dissertation demonstrates the centrality of violence to feminist arguments against women’s economic dependence, and shows how the exposure of violence against women resulted in new categories of need, that enabled the Dutch welfare state to produce welfare subjects accordingly. I explore how radical feminists first exposed violence in the intimate realm, why it became a focal point for liberal feminism as well, and how this exposure has set in motion a process of social change that veered into recuperation. Gradually, the cultural, political and legal outlook shifted—ultimately the siren call of law was answered. This is a history of classifications and (unintended) consequences.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Mazower, Mark A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 28, 2024