Remaking the Traumatized Body

Paige Sweet, University of Michigan

Much of the scientific data on domestic violence focuses on discrete incidents of physical violence. Indeed, the paradigmatic image of the battered woman with a black eye dominates both scholarly and popular imaginaries of intimate violence. Despite this, invisible forms of psychological abuse – such as gaslighting – are consistently reported by victims to be more consistent and more devastating than physical abuse. Given this bias toward physical violence, how do domestic violence victims make their experiences of invisible violence “real” and legible to institutions? In this paper, I show how women draw on, critique, and mobilize expert theories of psychological trauma in order to make psychological violence visible. They do so by drawing from and re-interpreting expert scientific theories of trauma – making psychological violence legitimate by locating it inside their bodies, as sources of ongoing pathology. They do this in order to make their experiences visible to institutional authorities who variously ignore and stigmatize them. In this way, women explain their experiences of psychological harm as a type of physical harm by re-interpreting expert theories of post-traumatic stress disorder. In so doing, they reimagine and rearticulate what it means to “have” an abused body, over and against dominant imaginaries of abused women with black eyes.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 134. Mobilizing Scientific Knowledge in Epistemic Communities