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The Political Economy of Intimate Partner Violence and Crisis Management: An Institutional Ethnography in Rural Vermont

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health issue affecting one in four women in the United States. Tasked with addressing IPV, crisis centers can significantly impact women’s health outcomes and approaches to perpetrator accountability and community education. Informed by eight months of field work at a rural crisis center and 40 in-depth interviews, this dissertation investigated how the lives of Vermont women experiencing violence and crisis center work are both shaped by larger social, political, and economic relations within capitalism. Dorothy Smith’s method of institutional ethnography provides an investigative pathway for centering survivor experiences and examining crisis center practices. Focusing at the institutional level affords an exploration of the ways in which crisis center service delivery and solutions to IPV are discursively reproduced by dominant ideas regarding patriarchy and IPV. Building on Dána-Ain Davis’s (2006) critique of “institutional entanglements” – societal institutions that exacerbate violence against women – I posit that crisis centers, as part of the “nonprofit industrial complex,” are themselves an entanglement. Using a political-economic approach, this dissertation examines the discursive practices of rural crisis center workers in Vermont, all the while centering the voices of women experiencing violence – in the case of this dissertation – poor and working-class rural White women. Discursive practices are concomitantly located in and produced through: 1) service delivery, 2) the conceptualization and treatment of male perpetrators; and 3) the design of community education programs. I argue that the work of crisis centers must be reimagined – in order to address the seemingly “private” issue of IPV, IPV must be understood as a public issue embedded in capitalism. This project furthers the field of study on intimate partner violence and strengthens public health approaches focused at the structural, rather than individual behavior change, level.
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