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"Honour thy Father and thy Mother": Notions and practices of violence and abuse to parents, in Sweden 1600–2000.

Research project The aim of this study is to throw new light upon changes of attitudes to ageing and its interconnection with gender, power and authority in along historical perspective, by analysing abuse of and violence to parents in Sweden during the period 1600–2000.

The silence on the subject is massive. In our society we pay attention to violence in geriatric care, but at the same time rarely notice parents who are violated by their children. In a culture where parenthood is idealized, this kind of punishable offence is strongly connected to shame, not least for the victim. Furthermore, it is not at all obvious that violence to parents should be seen as a punishable offence. The interpretation of these acts – violence as well as abuse – seems to have changed from crime, to pathological symptom, and from pathological symptom to sign of social maladjustment. The aim of this study is to throw new light upon changes of attitudes to ageing and its interconnection with gender, power and authority in along historical perspective, by analysing abuse of and violence to parents in Sweden during the period 1600–2000.

Head of project

Åsa Bergenheim
Professor emerita
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2007-03-13 2010-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research area

History, History of ideas

Project description

The aim of this study is to throw new light upon changes of attitudes to ageing and its interconnection with gender, power and authority in along historical perspective, by analysing abuse of and violence to parents in Sweden during the period 1600–2000. Modern historical research has paid attention to the dramatic decrease in manslaughter and serious assault in Western Europe during the 17’th and 18’th centuries. The figures for violence to parents during the 18’th and 19’th centuries however, show the opposite trend. What appears from the records is a shift from violence in public sphere, to violence in family sphere. In the middle of 19’th century there was a marked decrease in the number of persons sentenced for violence to parents. During the same time “verbal abuse and violence to parents” disappear as an independent category of aggravating circumstance. In statistical records from 1878 and forth, abuse and violence to parents is no longer specified and remains hidden among the figures for other crimes of violence and abuse. The lack of reliable statistical information is also apparent in an international context. At the end of 20’th century, violence to parents occasionally is specified in reports on violence to elder. From 1962 Swedish legislation does not separate violence to parents from other violence, and abuse of and violations to parents no longer exists as a specific crime.

The silence on the subject is massive. In a culture where parenthood is idealized, this kind of punishable offence is strongly connected to shame, not least for the victim. Furthermore, it is not at all obvious that violence to parents should be seen as a punishable offence. The interpretation of these acts – violence as well as abuse – seems to have changed from crime, to pathological symptom, and from pathological symptom to sign of social maladjustment. In our society we pay attention to violence in geriatric care, but at the same time rarely notice parents who are violated by their children. Public records show that violence to elder has gone through major increase since the mid 1970’s. In 2000/01 almost one percent of elderly people in Sweden were violated or threatened in a private home. However, the figures do not tell in how many cases the violators were their own children.

Violence to and abuse of parents has so far not attracted much attention in historical research, neither national nor international. This study makes it possible to uncover notions on parenthood, ageing, power and authority, reflected and expressed in judicial and non-judicial contexts. Following questions will be focussed: To what extend has the violence to and abuse of elder parents attracted public eye? Which actions and remarks have been seen as abuse and violations, and why? How, and to what extend has violence to and abuse of elder parents been explained and excused? Is it possible to distinguish patterns or recurrent themes in the conflicts brought to court? What is the relevance of ideas of gender, and how can these ideas be related to age and authority?

In this study we analyse notions and practices reflected in texts, relate these ideas and concepts to different social and cultural contexts, and study the change over a period of time. The main source material consists of court records, forensic records, official reports and laws, but we will also use sources like newspapers, religious texts and narratives. The sources make it possible to study three levels: institutional level (e.g. court, church), social level (e.g. family, friends) and individual level (e.g. accused, victim). These three levels may be studied within both the judicial and the public sphere. The theoretical framework consists of perspectives form sociology, history and gender studies, primarily concepts as discourse, power, gender, identity, shame and trust. We will also use the different competences in the project team, such as statistical, demographical, psychological and medical expertise.

Schedule
In accordance with our competences, Liliequist will carry out the main part of the research on the early period (1600–1800) and Bergenheim on the late period (1800–2000). We will pursue the work in close interaction and continuously discuss findings, hypothesis, interpretations, analyses and results. The results will be presented at conferences, in scientific articles in national and international papers, and in a monograph.