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21 In this chapter, I examine the social history of one of the most important tools used by the movement to stop violence against women. The tool, or model, is called the “Power and Control Wheel.” Activists and advocates at the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (hereafter the Duluth Project) devised the Power and Control Wheel as a tool for participatory education, but it was altered as it became popular throughout the United States and became institutionalized in many antidomestic violence programs. From the beginning of the second wave of feminism in the early 1970s, feminist activists made the connection between violent relationships and the institutions that supported violence against women. Ellen Pence, a well-known activist associated with the Duluth Project, describes the unwillingness to yield a social and political analysis of violence against women. The battered women’s movement has, since its earliest days, identified battering not as an individual woman’s problem, but as a societal problem linked to the oppression of all women in our society. Institutions in our communities were engaged in practices that blamed women for being beaten. Early organizers in the movement challenged mental health centers who claimed women were sick, police who charged that women were provocative, courts that refused to acknowledge that women’s bruises were the result of criminal behavior . . . and an economic system and a community . . . over and over again reinforced a batterer’s power over women. (Pence et al. 1987, 5) The political project of Pence and others was to raise critical understanding among battered women of how institutional, structural, economic, and cultural forces are implicated in violence against women. The activists who invented the Wheel were trying to link private and public violence. The Power and Control Wheel From Critical Pedagogy to Homogenizing Model CHAPTER ONE 22 structural violence At some point, however, part of their work became co-opted by oppressive economic and organizational forces. As one counselor in New York told me in an interview, “We follow the ‘Duluth Model’ of Ellen Pence. If you want funding in New York, you must use that model.” As it became institutionalized around the country, it was used in a way that masked the link between public and private violence . It was also used in a way that made diversity in the experiences of gendered violence harder to see. Success in one set of terms—public recognition, increased funding—has resulted in a failure to sustain its more ambitious political critiques. Though originally open to a diversity of understandings of violence, including the collusion of a range of social and cultural forces in violence towards women, it now seems generally to be used to provide a template to describe violence against women as if it followed a single pattern. Pence, one of its authors, seems to have congealed in her views. “The ones that are on there I think are core tactics that almost all abusers use” (quoted by Pheifer 2010). The story of the Power and Control Wheel shows how grass-roots, democratic research can be used to analyze and fight against oppressive forces, in this case against a largely invisible and diffuse war against women. The other side of Figure 1. Power and Control Wheel. THE P OWER AND CONTROL WHEEL 23 the story, however, is that one must be vigilant to insure that politically liberating practices remain so.1 The perils of institutionalization are not lost on the founders. In a training manual to combat domestic violence, Ellen Pence and Bonnie Mann express an unwillingness to surrender a collective and collectively renewed political, social, and cultural analysis of the circumstances of battered women. “Over the past ten years the nature of women’s groups offered by shelters and battered women’s programs has evolved from a cultural and social analysis of violence to a much more personal psychological approach. Our own experience fits this pattern” (1987, 47). How did their work move from social analysis to psychologizing individual women? In the introduction to this work, I argued for the need to dismantle the fiction that women’s experiences of violence are uniform. As one looks at institutional response to violence against women, one sees that these institutions tend not to see—in fact tend to erase the differences. In particular, the social, cultural, and structural forms of violence are often the most elusive. In this chapter I describe one place the differences are erased: in some strands of the movement to end violence against women...


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