Social Work Intervention with Bedouin- Arab Children in the Context of Blood Vengeance Academic Article uri icon


  • Blood vengeance is a culturally specific phenomenon that can place Bedouin-Arab children at high risk of neglect. This case study examines the psychological and social implications of vengeance on children, the children's coping strategies, and the role of social work. The social work function includes nonauthoritarianism, strategies for forming a positive helping alliance, and various forms of culturally sensitive assessment and intervention. The study therefore yields insight into bridging the emic-etic gap in conceptualizing and responding to child neglect in a non-Western society The literature has long recognized that such social conditions as poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, poor health care, and low educational opportunities increase the incidence of child abuse and neglect [Doyle 1996]. Considerable progress has also been made in discerning some of the culturally specific parameters of what may be perceived to be abuse or neglect [Hogan & Siu 1988; Krajewski-Jaime 1991; Saunders et al. 1993]. Authors have distinguished an emic perspective, the viewpoint of members of the cultural group in question, from an etic perspective, that is, one that is interpreted from an outside viewpoint [Korbin 1980, 1981; Korr 1986; Lum 1995]. Some studies have looked into childbearing and child-rearing practices in instances where emic and etic conceptions are in conflict and where they are in agreement [Beavers 1986; Siegel 1994]. But few crosscultural studies have as yet moved beyond the immediate family to consider the emic and etic perspectives in relation to broad societal factors that may be associated with abuse or neglect. The present article examines how the widespread BedouinArab practice of blood vengeance is a serious factor in child neglect. For purposes of this article, neglect occurs "when the basic needs of children are not met, regardless of cause" [Dubowitz et al. 1993: 10]. It includes such criteria as a lack of parental/guardian supervision, nutrition, clothing and hygiene, physical health care, mental health care, and developmental/educational care [Trocme 1996]. The practice of blood vengeance-the obligation to kill in retribution for the death of a member of one's family or tribe-is illegal in most of the world [Jabbur 1995]. To many in the West, the practice appears frightening, violent, and mysterious, occurring in societies that are foreign and unfamiliar. To other cultures, however, among them the Bedouin-Arab, blood vengeance is an accepted fact of life: a longstanding tradition that ensures the maintenance of familial and tribal honor, a collective guarantee provided by an extended family or tribe to all of its members [AlKrenawi & Graham 1997a; Ginat 1987]. Not only can vengeance reduce families to the most destitute of economic situations, but under some circumstances, it also significantly impairs children's psychosocial development by limiting their interaction networks, access to education, and instrumental, emotional, and affective forms of social support. Ameliorating the effects of vengeance, therefore, requires that the worker have not just knowledge of cultural sensitivity, but also culturally specific intervention techniques [Al-Krenawi 1996; AlKrenawi & Graham 1996; Landsman 1988; Sue & Zane 1987]. This article is a beginning point for conceptualizing micro and macro aspects of intervention in the context of blood vengeance. It provides an opportunity for the emic (Bedouin-Arab) and etic (social work) perspectives to enter into a dialogue, and thus a basis upon which to improve social work practice among societies such as the Bedouin. Data are based on a case study analysis of a family selected by one of the authors, himself a Bedouin social worker, who visited the family once a week over a period of three months. Part of the text is therefore written in the first person. The discussion briefly outlines Bedouin society, the significance of blood vengeance, and the context in which a blood vengeance family found itself. …

publication date

  • January 1, 1999