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Review 3 of "Infidelity, Liability, and Violence"

Published onMay 24, 2022
Review 3 of "Infidelity, Liability, and Violence"
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This is a most interesting paper. The author uses the case of homicide to discuss variation in accountability or liability for wrongdoing as measured by who is attacked or attempted to be attacked in romantic triangles. Drawing on modern and cross-cultural research, the author isolates three logically distinct scenarios: the partner is attacked (partner liability), the romantic rival is attacked (partner liability), or both are attacked (dual liability). He goes on to discuss several variables that might explain such variation: opportunity, domestic distance and inequality, and honor norms. The emphasis in honor culture on manliness, for example, might led one to expect that pure partner liability is unlikely to be as prevalent as rival or dual liability. He concludes with a call for further exploration of the issues. 

The paper has several nice features. Elegantly framed and clearly written, it puts the spotlight on something that has long been ignored but has important real-world consequences. Consequences for the parties – who gets killed – but also consequences for criminology: partner and dual liability results in domestic homicide but rival homicide falls into a different category (e.g., acquaintance/stranger homicide) even though they both arise out of the same kind of conflict.  The paper also illustrates the ability of Blackian theory to frame an issue in a novel way – to present who gets killed in romantic triangles as a matter of liability for wrongdoing more generally.  Thus, the implication of the paper extend well beyond the empirical case it addresses.

A question I have, however, is whether the author has laid out the full spectrum of liability. He draws upon his own study of suicide files in coroner’s files but does not consider the suicide as a form of liability for the infidelity.  Are there cases where jilted partners holds themselves responsible for infidelity? Surely, there are (e.g., the jilted party had a previous affair and now punishes him/herself for the partner’s affair).  People blame themselves for all kinds of things other people do, and sometimes they even punish themselves for those things. The difficulty might be to distinguish such cases of self-liability from those in which the jilted partner seeks to punish the partner (and perhaps the rival) for the infidelity (suicide-as-punishment is something the author has addressed elsewhere). That difficult is probably why the author has shied away from the issue. But I do think it should be raised.

Related to the above point is another logical possibility: no liability. Here, the jilted partner has a grievance – the infidelity is wrong – but chooses not to do anything about it (violent or otherwise).  That too must surely occur and should be mentioned.

On the explanatory side, I was surprised not to see more discussion of social distance between the parties (apart from how it affects opportunity).  Does liability vary with, for example, the intimacy of the partners (e.g., how long they have been a couple)?  Does it vary with the intimacy or lack thereof between the unfaithful partner and the rival (e.g., is a partner more likely to be attacked for a fling with a stranger or someone he or she knows well)? Or between the jilted partner and the rival (e.g., is a man more likely to attack a rival he knows or does not know)? I suspect the author does not have much information on this issue, so it can probably be dealt with quickly (e.g., a footnote)

A quibble: the paper needs to be proofed more carefully. And at least one source cited in the text – Websdale (1999) – is not listed in the Reference section.

In short, with a little more elaboration, this paper will make a nice addition to the literatures on conflict and on homicide and could open up some original and fruitful avenues of research.

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