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The communication of trauma in media culture: A poststructural analysis of women's experience of gender -based violence and healing

Heather Marie Karjane, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Violence toward women and girls is a complex, pervasive and ubiquitous social problem. The material problem of epidemic levels of gender-based violence in the U.S.—incest, rape, dating and intimate partner abuse—exists within a cultural environment in which thousands of images of girls and women being harmed circulate daily. Much of this representation presents such experience as being pleasurable—if not for the victim then for the viewer. Competing with these images are representations that problematize violence toward women and girls, and, occasionally, connect violence with its traumatic consequences. How interpersonal violence and its reverberations are figured popularly and within the scholarly literature has material consequences in women's lives. The three primary goals of this research were: (1) to demonstrate how the ways women make sense of interpersonal violence are constitutively related to the ways violence against women is represented in popular culture and scholarly discourses; (2) to explicate the relationship between the postmodern media subject and the trauma subject; and (3) to develop and apply a communication of trauma approach to investigate the relationship between interpersonal and representational violence as contextualized within contemporary, postmodern media culture. This dissertation, based upon two studies, comprehensively examines the relationship between the ways violence is publicly figured and privately lived by 53 ethnically-, sexually- and class-diverse survivors of gender-based violence. Situated within the U.S. cultural terrain of the early 1990s, how victims of gender-based traumatic violence made sense of violence in the media, and, more basically, how they make sense of and heal from the interpersonal violence in their lives are examined. Data sources include: 6 months of participant observation in violence support groups, extended-length viewing focus groups (which screened made-for-television movies), and follow-up individual interviews. Analysis centered upon the communication strategies women employ to survive cultural violence, and how these strategies are constrained, enabled by, and embedded within the contemporary society dominated by popular culture and the mass media. Strategies participants were found to use to resist the implicit alienation of their experience and to voice themselves and their perspectives into the cultural symbolic and the discourses of history are discussed.

Subject Area

Mass media|Womens studies|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Karjane, Heather Marie, "The communication of trauma in media culture: A poststructural analysis of women's experience of gender -based violence and healing" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068571.