Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 8-15-2003


The boundary between public and private is a contested area. What occurs “behind closed doors” is considered personal business, protected and confidential, as opposed to that which is “fit for public” viewing and general discussion. This becomes particularly salient when the origin of a problem, in this case domestic violence, is in the shuttered realm of the private, yet deemed by some to be worthy of, and requiring, public remediation. This study looks at the evolution of “domestic violence” as a public problem, through rhetorical analysis of narratives from three representative texts. Gusfield tells us that in order for an issue to become a public problem it must have an owner, who assigns causal and political responsibility; it must be deemed real (possessing facticity) and remediable; and it must be seen as a moral responsibility of the individual member of society. Issue owners are viewed as able to speak authoritatively on the topic; they frame the issue, define the boundaries, assign blame and demand resolution. In this study, a loose coalition of feminist advocates, survivors of domestic violence, and a local safehouse (domestic violence outreach/advocacy agency and shelter), are seen to assert ownership of the issue of domestic violence. This study examines how narratives are used to make arguments about the mental state of victims, to personalize and humanize women survivors, and as an instrument of institutional voice as Boulder County Safehouse attempts to redefine domestic violence into a matter of social justice. During the course of the evolution of a public problem, narratives are also used to make what Hauser would label vernacular appeals for localized publics formation, and as suasory tools to call publics to personal ownership of the problem, and to moral action. Finally, the attempt to redefine domestic violence as a social justice issue illustrates the attempt by an institution to retain and extend control over a public problem, as Boulder County Safehouse educational outreach continues to advance a narrative calling for publics formation and action.