There are two distinct approaches:
Faulk (1974) was concerned to show that men who had been convicted of wife abuse could be classified as mentally ill. However, these findings have not been confirmed by other studies.
Several researchers have found a link between violence and excessive consumption of alcohol. Borkowski et al argue that "practitioners" in the field - solicitors, social workers, health visitors and doctors all rated alcohol as either the main or a leading contributor to domestic violence.
A study by Strauss et al showed that people who grew up in violent homes were more likely to use violence than those who did not.
However, Strauss also found a considerable amount of violence is perpetrated by people whose parents were not violent to them and not violent to each other.
Here, explanation is in terms of social context and not particular individuals. For example, we could see beyond the link between drunkenness and violence to the way that some cultures see both phenomena as symptoms of masculinity and male dominance.
Goode (1971) argues that the family, like all social institutions, rests to some degree on force or threat. Husbands/fathers are the most likely to use that force. The family is a form of social control and violence is one of its features.
Some have viewed violence as a feature of some sub-cultural patterns. The idea here is that violence is seen as normal and accepted in certain social groups. This theory links with general sub-cultural theory such as that provided by Miller who argues that among the focal concerns of the working class is "aggressive masculinity".
Dobash and Dobash (1979) argue that we need to place violence in its proper historical setting. They argue that such an approach exposes violence not as deviant or pathological but as a normal and accepted part of English culture.
Certainly the legitimization of violence by the wider society is an important part of this approach. Violence against wives occurs at all levels in societies and in very different societies. Schlegel (1972) looked at 45 societies and showed that 75% of them permitted husbands to be aggressive towards their wives.
Dobash and Dobash suggest three aspects of English culture that seem especially important in understanding the cultural props supplied to violent men: women's place in history.
Women's place in history has often been at the wrong end of a beating, up until the end of 18th century British husbands could beat their wives for what was called "lawful correction". The subordinate position was seen as natural, it was enshrined in the law and given religious backing. It was even argued that women enjoyed being beaten thus 'our women are like dogs, the more you beat them the more they love you' (Lancashire saying). The image of the nagging wife still remains as a justification for wife beating.
Patriarchy is the universal domination of men over women. Some researchers see the operation of patriarchal ideology in the failure of the police until very recently to prosecute wife beaters. Wife beating was not regarded as serious. Similarly, social workers were reluctant to threaten the continuance of the family unit even where violence is occurring. Maynard (1985) found that social workers disbelieved what battered women said about their domestic situation, supported men's reasons for violence and encouraged the women to understand these reasons. Russell (1982) argued that the police take no action because most police officers are male and identify with the male assailant. This is no longer the case and official attitudes are now much more supportive of battered women.
This process begins with early socialization; girls' toys teach them to nurture. Girls are more controlled and supervised; boys are encouraged to be more independent. This early socialization teaches girls to be more submissive and compliant. The period of courtship is characterized by the increasing isolation of the woman and the increasing possessiveness of the man. Women are encouraged to discontinue their independent social relationships and restrict their network of friends, committing themselves to their man.
A final aspect of this ideological control is our division of the world into public and private. Somehow violence against a female partner is seen as different from violence against a stranger. It seems that the intervention of the state is seen as less necessary when individuals are linked by family ties.
Whose privacy is being respected?
During the 1970s, governmental response to the exposure of domestic violence as a social problem was to introduce a set of legal reforms.
Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976: Applied in the County Courts and permitted courts to issue non-molestation and exclusion injunctions.
Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates Act 1978: Extends above powers to magistrates courts. However provisions only applies to married women.
Housing Act 1977: Made it the responsibility of local authorities to re-house certain categories of people - mainly families -providing they had not intentionally made themselves homeless. Act explicitly stated that women who had left a violent man should not be seen as having intentionally made themselves homeless and should be re-housed.
The outcome has been a situation where, in theory, the law provides necessary remedies, but in operation it fails to protect women as fully as it should.