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Cultural nuance

Guggenheim Foundation honours sociologist for Ghanaian intimate partner violence research

By Chad Pelley

War. Crime. Abuse.

The best way to reduce violence in our world is to address its root cause.

That’s why the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation provides research grants to notable scholars whose work is actively addressing urgent matters of violence in our world.

The Guggenheim Foundation has selected Dr. Eric Tenkorang as a recipient of its Distinguished Scholar Award. He will receive as much as US$90,000 over two years to help further his research into a link he’s uncovered between lineage and intimate partner violence (IPV) in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Tenkorang is an associate professor, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. His work on intimate partner violence has been recognized by a number of prestigious honours.

In 2020, he was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, and won Memorial’s President’s Award for Outstanding Research. He was also the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship in 2021.

To date, his research has influenced policies in several African countries, and has been particularly illuminating because it considers the cultural nuances of the places he studies.

Intimate partner violence

Dr. Tenkorang’s ongoing exploration of socio-cultural norms affecting IPV in the African context has led him to identify a link between intimate partner violence and lineage in several African countries.

His Guggenheim-funded study will focus on Ghana, where two lineages are especially predominant: matrilineal and patrilineal. Power dynamics, social norms and access to economic resources differ among these lineage structures, he says.

“Our work will make significant contributions to policy formulation in Ghana and beyond.” — Dr. Eric Tenkorang

Dr. Tenkorang’s recognition of this link is significant because most research on IPV in the area has used ethnicity as a proxy for lineage, which is misleading.

As a result, a significant amount of existing academic literature fails to accurately portray how lineage affects a person’s likelihood to experience intimate partner violence in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Using ethnicity as a proxy for lineage has been criticized as unidimensional,” Dr. Tenkorang said. “It also reduces the operationalization of lineage to a binary/dichotomous construct (matrilineal/patrilineal), leaving little room for those who identify with or belong to both.”

Fill the gaps

As part of his Guggenheim Foundation-funded research project, Dr. Tenkorang will interview ever-married [persons who have been married at least once in their lives although their current marital status may not be married] Ghanaian women aged 18–65.

The goal of his new research is to broaden abuse research from its focus on theories of modernization and westernization to include the role played by Indigenous structures and to deepen understanding of these links by establishing theoretical and empirical pathways between lineage and IPV.

Informed advocacy

Like his previous work, this research will have the capacity to enact real-world change.

“We will disseminate findings by publishing in academic journals and presenting at scholarly conferences around the world,” he said.

“We will also target government agencies, media outlets, non-governmental organizations, the Ghanaian public, and other organizations interested in violence against women to enrich public discourse on how lineage identities create vulnerabilities in women’s experiences of IPV. Our work will make significant contributions to policy formulation in Ghana and beyond.”

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