Feminist Review

, Volume 112, Issue 1, pp 144–162 | Cite as

exploring symbolic violence in the everyday: misrecognition, condescension, consent and complicity

  • Suruchi Thapar-Björkert
  • Lotta Samelius
  • Gurchathen S Sanghera


In this paper, we draw on Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of ‘misrecognition’, ‘condescension’ and ‘consent and complicity’ to demonstrate how domination and violence are reproduced in everyday interactions, social practices, institutional processes and dispositions. Importantly, this constitutes symbolic violence, which removes the victim’s agency and voice. Indeed, we argue that as symbolic violence is impervious, insidious and invisible, it also simultaneously legitimises and sustains other forms of violence as well. Understanding symbolic violence together with traditional discourses of violence is important because it provides a richer insight into the ‘workings’ of violence, and provides new ways of conceptualising violence across a number of social fields and new strategies for intervention. Symbolic violence is a valuable tool for understanding contentious debates on the disclosure of violence, women leaving or staying in abusive relationships or returning to their abusers. While we focus only on violence against women, we recognise that the gendered nature of violence produces its own sets of vulnerabilities against men and marginalised groups, such as LGBT. The paper draws on empirical research conducted in Sweden in 2003. Sweden is an interesting case study because despite its progressive gender equality policies, there has been no marked decrease in violence towards women by men.


symbolic violence consent complicity misrecognition condescension Bourdieu 



The authors would like to thank GEXcel (Centre of Gender Excellence) for providing the research environment to develop this paper. To Professors Nina Lykke and Barbro Wijma for giving us the opportunity to be GEXcel scholars. A special thanks to Professor Franca Bimbi, Angela Toffanin and Giulia D’Odorico at Padova University, Italy, and to Professor Margrit Shildrick at Linköping University, Sweden for their invaluable and generous comments on our presentations. The empirical material for the article was collected during a project funded by FAS (now FORTE), the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare.


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© Feminist Review 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Suruchi Thapar-Björkert
  • Lotta Samelius
  • Gurchathen S Sanghera

There are no affiliations available

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