Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Eli Teram

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This paper chronicles the experiences of the members of a post-treatment mutual support group for wife abusers (MS group). A review of the accumulated research on male abuser interventions suggests that this field is dominated by positivist program evaluative efforts. There is a paucity of qualitative research initiatives into the experiences of this population. The paper attempts to contribute to the very small but growing body of qualitative research on male abusers through the description of a grounded theory-naturalistic inquiry investigation into the individual and organizational strategies used by the members to construct an image of themselves as non-abusers. The author spent six years in the field as a participant observer at MS group meetings. The analysis of the data led to the development of a model of the social construction of a non-abuser image.

The process of seeking and receiving male abuser group treatment has resulted in post-treatment mutual support group (MS group) members' self-identification as a stigmatized' population. The central role of the MS group is to assist its members, individually and collectively, to construct a new, non-abuser image. This is accomplished through the use of two central overlapping processes, deimaging and reimaging. Deimaging strategies are those which enable both individuals and the group to deal with the deleterious impacts of having been labelled a "wife abuser;" for example: implicating claims; victimization claims; and, determinism claims. Reimaging strategies are those which allow members to publicly display language, attitudes, ideation and behaviours which they perceive as incongruous with an abuser image; for example: professionalizing; ritualizing; recounting changes; and, show casing adaptive behaviour. The stigmatized image as a male abuser is never completely shed, however, and members report that reconstructing their non-abuser image is a life long process which will require their continuous effort and constant vigilance.

This model is diagrammatically portrayed and illustrated using examples of group members' discourse. The grounded theory is discussed within the context of three broad areas of literature: 1) the research on male abuser groups; 2) the literature on the linguistic strategies used by deviants to draw their behaviour into alignment with dominant culture; and, 3) the writings on the identify transforming strategies used by organizations of negatively labelled populations Finally, the potential of the model to meet the criterion for a formal grounded theory which could be used to describe the process of image transformation among other stigmatized populations is explored.

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