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Title: Resistance and identity in a voluntary sector sexual violence support service
Author: Healicon, Alison
ISNI:       0000 0004 2739 2008
Awarding Body: Manchester Metropolitan University
Current Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University
Date of Award: 2012
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This research took place over a three-year period, in a small feminist, women-only, voluntary sector, sexual violence support service. The organisation resides at the intersection between policy, therapy, and feminism and the overall aim was to investigate the construction of meaning pertaining to sexual violence in a contemporary cultural, social, and economic context, which simultaneously fears and obsessively consumes stories of sexual violence. The thesis attempts to show what this meant for women who had experienced sexual violence, as well as for the service fighting for survival in a time of austerity and the denigration of feminism. In doing so, identified are moments of ~~tance at an individual, '. , .. organisational, and political level and the notion of identity explored. Research methods included an ethnographic immersion in the organisation and subsequent reflection on field-notes and the researcher's own practice, which included face-to-face, and telephone, helpline support, and participation in regular project work, meetings, training, informal conversations and agency outreach visits. Supplementing this ethnographic data were transcripts from in-depth semi- structured interviews with ten women who had experienced sexual violence, and who were involved in the organisation as either a client or volunteer. Interviews with five members of staff as well as a focus group with the management committee were also undertaken. Simultaneously explored were theoretical analyses and specific examples of local and national policy, and both feminist and mainstream media interpretation of on-going feminist praxis such as Slutwalk, alongside autobiographies, novels and other writing from survivors of sexual violence. Such an approach necessitated an ethical research practice and due consideration was given to the representation of personal and organisational experiences. That is, given these diverse methods, research practice, which maintained confidentiality, avoided sensationalising certain experience and prioritised debates with respondents in the service, enabled the identification of key themes. Findings suggested that national sexual violence policy appropriated feminist language instrumentally to further categorise deserving and undeserving victims based on notions of innocence and risk. The pathologised victim found in policy was contested by respondents through the avoidance of specific terminology, and by the service through the maintenance of a political identity asserting its specialness in response to external and internal pressures. Feminism's reluctance to consider female perpetrated violence was explored in narrative accounts, which suggested an ambivalence that has not been adequately theorised. These findings have both theoretical and practical implications. The gendered subjectivity of some feminist theory is troubled as delimiting and partial. Foucault's anti-essentialist ethical critique was employed to reconsider possibilities for social transformation. Feminist praxis has become further divorced from its political history but this has not necessarily lead to negative consequences. Current .,;A feminist reformulations were considered and the main contribution to knowledge is the particular focus on a service, which defines itself as feminist even within this alienating cultural context. Practice and theory are mutually productive but an anti- essentialist position may mean they remain irreconcilable. Although this area .of study requires further consideration, the research is potentially useful to practitioners in the field of sexual violence, academics engaged with theoretical debates relating to power, feminism, and women, particularly those women who have experienced sexual violence.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available