Thursday, March 11, 2004

Engaging Men in Preventing Family Violence: An Information-centric Approach

I have been putting considerable thought into a particular topic: how to engage men in the cause of preventing domestic violence. I'm not talking about those guys who have run afoul of the legal system but regular guys who pay their taxes and like a few beers on the weekends. What can we do to get them off the couch?

My interest in this topic is a bit different from those of psychologists and sociologists. While I have a personal interest--I volunteer at the organization Changing Ways--my interest is also professional and I'm particularly concerned with the information we use in our attempts to engage men. Instead of using the individual (i.e., psychology) or social group (i.e., sociology) as my unit of study, I intend to use information.

Many of the existing models for engaging men in this cause depend heavily on information. The White Ribbon Campaign and the Family Violence Prevention Fund both offer a resources on engaging men. These resources largely consist of pamphlets. In our information science lingo, these pamphlets are certainly "information-as-thing" and the assumption in the violence community seems to be that if we inject enough pamphlets into the lives of everyday guys that they will become infected with a desire to become really involved in preventing domestic violence issues. I suspect, however, that most of these guys have already been culturally inoculated by years of feminist rhetoric that blamed men for... well, everything.

Before I get flamed mercilessly about being a misogynist, I want to say that I am a feminist and that I believe in social equity. I also feel, however, that our education campaigns have done a disservice in that men now often assume that fighting domestic violence is a women's issue and that they have no place in the discussion. Indeed, some of the education materials seem to address men as if their sex is a pathology that has caused domestic violence. While this pathology may exist, the rhetorical style does little to overcome the cultural inoculation many men may now experience.

To engage men, we have to meet them where they are. Part of this is understanding where this location actually is. How can we create materials that will establish cognitive authority if we don't know what the everyday experience of men really is? Unfortunately, determining this everyday experience is incredibly tough. As Michel de Certeau said: "At some point we're all minorities."

My thinking gets a bit fuzzy at this point but I want to lay out a brief outline of my ideas:

1- Understand the social rituals of men and create appropriate materials that are consistent with this world view. Many of the existing materials treat men as deviants. People want to associate themselves with normalcy (whatever that is) so we must determine this normal condition in order to establish the cognitive authority of our materials.

2- With cognitive authority established, we can begin to label and construct the typical male identity, the male as minority.

3- With a dogma and identity established, we can begin a process of deconversion. As noted in the theological literature, deconversion is often more important than conversion to.

4- I suspect that as part of this deconversion process, men will experience a "critical moment" when they embrace a different sort of belief structure i.e., like a religious conversion or coming out of sexual identity.

5- Following conversion, there is another process of establishing and maintaining cognitive authority.

Somehow, this all seems to map onto Prochaska's Trans-Theoretical Model. I'm just not sure how. Perhaps the best approach is to try to determine the context of the critical moments experienced by men involved in these sorts of issues.

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