Resource Theory

Resource theory (Goode 1971) is one of the first theoretical explanations developed to explain intimate partner violence. Resource theory is a more sociological version of the self-concept explanations. The theory assumes that all social systems (including the family) rest to some degree on force or the threat of force. The more resources—social, personal, and economic—a person can command, the more force he or she can muster. However, according to William Goode (1971), the author of the theory, the more resources a person actually has, the less he or she will actually use force in an open manner. Thus, a husband who wants to be the dominant person in the family, but has little education, has a job low in prestige and income, and lacks interpersonal skills, may choose to use violence to maintain the dominant position. In addition, family members (including children) may use violence to redress a grievance when they have few alternative resources available.

Social Exchange Theory

Many scholars use exchange theory to explain the complex dynamics inherent in intimate violence (Gelles, 1983, 1997). The theory proposes that both partner abuse and child abuse are governed by the principle of costs and benefits. Individuals use violence when the rewards of doing so are greater than the costs (Gelles, 1983). Exchange theorists assert that inflicting costs on someone who has hurt you is rewarding (e.g., Homans, 1967). The notion of “sweet revenge” is useful for explaining why victims may respond with extreme forms of violence after having been victimized. There is a gain to using violence, and that gain is the achievement of dominance and control over another. The private nature of the family, the reluctance of social institutions and agencies to intervene in intimate relationships—in spite of mandatory child-abuse reporting laws and mandatory-arrest laws for partner violence—and the low risk of other interventions reduce the costs that abusers face for using violence. In addition, the cultural approval of violence as both expressive and instrumental behavior raises the potential rewards for using violence—the most significant reward being social and interpersonal control and power.

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