Helping break the cycle of violence

  • Date

    Fri 9 Feb 24

Conversation expert Dr Rebecca Clift has received a Distinguished Scholar award from the Harry Frank Guggenheim (HFG) Foundation to investigate how domestic scenarios can escalate into violence.

Dr Clift, from our Department of Language and Linguistics, will use the methods of conversation analysis to investigate how arguments arise and how they could be managed to calmer conclusions.

Using, predominantly, raw footage from Channel 4 TV series The Family – where over 25 remote-controlled cameras filmed two British families in their home continuously for 100 days – Dr Clift will analyse the family arguments as they actually unfold.

“We rarely see what goes on behind closed doors in family homes and arguments are rarely captured on film, so this unique footage of unprecedented size and intimacy is a goldmine for my research which is investigating how some arguments can de-escalate and fizzle out, whilst others escalate into violence,” explained Dr Clift.

Dr Clift’s project – “Behind Closed Doors: Trajectories to violence in intimate interaction” – will use conversation analysis to investigate how the family arguments captured in the footage arise and how they can be managed to safer outcomes. She is the first Essex academic to have received this award.

The HFG Foundation is dedicated to examining violence. Its 14 Distinguished Scholars for 2024 were chosen through a rigorous worldwide peer-review competition, and are exploring the causes, manifestations, and control of violence around the world.

Most research on violence focuses on the risk factors amongst certain populations and social environments. In contrast, Dr Clift’s project seeks to look at the interactional origins of violence.

“Considering 85% of homicides are committed by people known to the victim – either a partner, family or friends – we know remarkably little about the explosive emergence of violence as it happens during conflict,” added Dr Clift. “It is important to get a better understanding of how these situations arise in the first place so we know how they can be managed to a safer conclusion for everyone involved.”

The project will ultimately help develop a new and better understanding of how situations can lead to violence in domestic setting. This can then inform interventions and policy designed to break the cycle of aggression and violence that can be so destructive for individual well-being and family relations.