Ambivalent and Consistent Relationships: The Role of Personal Networks in Cases of Domestic Violence

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Ambivalent and Consistent Relationships: The Role of Personal Networks in Cases of Domestic Violence


  • Elisa Bellotti Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, UK
  • Susanne Boethius Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sweden
  • Malin Åkerström Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sweden
  • Margareta Hydén Department of Culture and Society, Linköping University, Sweden


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Abstract:  Social networks are usually considered as positive sources of social support, a role which has been extensively studied in the context of domestic violence. To victims of abuse, social networks often provide initial emotional and practical help as well useful information ahead of formal institutions. Recently, however, attention has been paid to the negative responses of social networks. In this article, we advance the theoretical debate on social networks as a source of social support by moving beyond the distinction between positive and negative ties. We do so by proposing the concepts of relational ambivalence and consistency, which describe the interactive processes by which people, intentionally or inadvertently, disregard—or align with—each other’s role‐relational expectations, therefore undermining—or reinforcing—individual’s choices of action. We analyse the qualitative accounts of 19 female victims of domestic violence in Sweden, who described the responses of their personal networks during and after the abuse. We observe how the relationships embedded in these networks were described in ambivalent and consistent terms, and how they played a role in supporting or undermining women in reframing their loving relationships as abusive; in accounting or dismissing perpetrators’ responsibilities for the abuse; in relieving women from role‐expectations and obligations or in burdening them with further responsibilities; and in supporting or challenging their pathways out of domestic abuse. Our analysis suggests that social isolation cannot be considered a simple result of a lack of support but of the complex dynamics in which support is offered and accepted or withdrawn and refused.

Keywords:  domestic violence; negative and positive ambivalence; negative and positive consistency; social support; social isolation; social networks; sociological ambivalence

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v9i4.4545


© Elisa Bellotti, Susanne Boethius, Malin Åkerström, Margareta Hydén. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.