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Levels of Theoretical Explanation

Before we explain both the factors that increase the overall risk of violence in intimate relationships compared to other social interactions, and before we inventory the various theoretical explanations that are applied to explaining intimate violence and abuse, it is important to point out that there are various “levels” of theoretical explanations: (1) Intra-Individual; (2) Social-Psychological; (3) and Socio-Cultural.


Intra-individual levels of explanation look for factors within the individual that lead to violent behavior. As noted throughout this book, the most common means of explaining violent and abusive behavior is to look for a personality or character factor that leads to violence. In addition, factors such as alcohol and drug use and misuse are considered intra-individual factors.


Social-psychological levels of explanation examine the interaction between individuals or between individuals and groups. Perhaps the most common social- psychological explanation is that violent behavior is learned behavior—t hat observing others use and justify the use of violence increases the likelihood of violent behavior.


Socio-cultural levels of explanation are generally the province of sociologists and anthropologists. Rather than search for individual personality defects, socio-cultural explanations examine factors such as cultural values and norms. A socio-cultural explanation will not necessarily explain why one individual is violent, but rather why one nation or culture is more violent than another. In terms of explaining intimate partner violence, a socio-cultural explanation will not focus on antisocial tendencies of offenders, but rather on why male violence is so commonly used against females across time and cultures.

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