Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 6, 2007

Divide and rule: The power of adversarial subjectivities in the discourse of divorce

Sue Wharton
From the journal


In this paper I analyze some of the texts used in the legal procedures of divorce in England and Wales. I examine the texts as instruments of institutional power and as potentially identity constructing for the divorcing spouses who use them. My analysis focuses on the representation in text of each divorcing spouse and of the relevant legal institutions; it also focuses on the actions taken by the legal institutions through the texts. I argue that the texts construct an adversarial relationship between the divorcing spouses, treat them unequally in terms of social entitlement, and give one spouse power over the other. One of the consequences may be the bolstering of a sense of institutional power in individual lives: another consequence may be an impact on the developing psychology, both individual and relational, of the spouses. I conclude the paper with some reflections on the potential of this type of research for contributing to social change.

*Address for correspondence: Centre for English Language Teacher Education, University of Warwick, CV4 7AL, UK

Published Online: 2007-03-06
Published in Print: 2006-12-19

© Walter de Gruyter