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Synderskan och lagen: Barnamord i tre Norrlandslän 1830-1870
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Sociology.
2006 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]


Many studies have been conducted on infanticide and child homicide. Researchers have approached the subject with different theoretical frameworks and explored it from different dimensions, geographical areas, and time periods. As much as the questions have varied so have the answers. This study contributes to greater clarity on the causes of infanticide. Despite numerous studies on the subject, there is still no consensus its causes. My aim has been to combine different strategies for understanding the subject. I have used material both from an aggregated level and from an individual level. The main question I sought to answer was whether social causes rather than individual factors force or trigger women to kill their newborn child? Court material also provides for an in-depth understanding of our history. The social sciences have frequently drawn sketches of the social world with big lines. These lines have been necessary and useful to point at large-scale transformations of civilisation and modernisation but, in terms of understanding real life, they can provide us with a foggy and even mistaken picture. When social scientists enter the historical archives and similar sources, we often blunder in its richness and variation. Society may, in any case, have always been complicated and the every day life for each person as well.

My findings show that infanticide signals low tolerance. In general, the women did not want to kill their own children. Moreover, my findings, like the results of other studies before mine, demonstrate that women who carry out infanticide represent normal women. To my knowledge, there isn’t one study on infanticide that claims the women were not normal. Women who committed infanticide did so out of fear: fear of losing their social bonds. They killed their children if the existence of the bonds was endangered or threatened. Often social bonds were related to their work situation as maids in farming households. If they couldn’t stay in the household after having the baby, many women had no where else to go. Their parents – poor, elderly or deceased – were unable to help. Sometimes the social bonds were threatened by other factors, often related to the child’s father. If he was already married or had a close relation with the woman’s family, their relationship could in fact, break her bonds to her own family and other relatives. Some women already had an illegitimate child. With a child out of wedlock, they had a difficult time getting work and housing. If they got pregnant again and the father to the new child refused to marry her or to support the child, she could in fact lack any resources for handling the situation.

Finally: the findings talk about honour and infanticide. It was always shameful to get a child out of wedlock. But demographic research from North of Sweden has shown that these children had almost the same chances of survival during their first year as legitimate children. Sexuality outside marriage was not respected but much discussion around honour was more related to how the women would manage with the child. In my findings, shame seems to be related to having no support. Extramarital relations were not accepted but people probably didn’t care to much about it as far as they managed on their own. Being rejected, helpless, not able to work and not able to take care of the child that was what shame was about.

Keywords: Infanticide, child homicide, illegitimacy, social bonds, shame

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Sociologi , 2006. , 345 p.
Akademiska avhandlingar vid Sociologiska institutionen, Umeå universitet, ISSN 1104-2508 ; A 46
Keyword [en]
Infanticide, child homicide, illegitimacy, social bonds, shame
National Category
Law and Society
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-786ISBN: 91-7264-093-6OAI: diva2:144528
Public defence
2006-05-24, Hörsal G, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, 901 87 Umeå, 13:00
Available from: 2006-05-04 Created: 2006-05-04Bibliographically approved

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