Paradoxes of Survivorhood: Becoming Legible after Domestic Violence
This talk explores women’s gendered, racialized, and classed experiences of navigating therapeutic state bureaucracies after surviving intimate violence. Specifically, I show how domestic violence victims make themselves legible as “good” survivors in the increasingly medicalized institutions surrounding domestic violence. First, I reveal that domestic violence victims face pressure to attend therapy – and demonstrate psychological recovery – in order to access state resources like child custody and visas. Second, I highlight the strategies that women develop to become legible as “survivors” in powerful institutions, such as performing survivorhood through “respectable” motherhood and sexuality. “Survivorhood” is contradictory such that domestic violence victims face pressure to tell narratives of psychological overcoming even when the material conditions of their lives have worsened after leaving their abusers. This work points to key transformations in state governance, such that demonstrating deservingness as a victim of gender-based violence involves proving that you can use professional therapy to overcome trauma.
Paige Sweet is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Inequality in America Initiative at Harvard University. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality, the politics of health, expertise, gender-based violence, and social theory. Paige uses archival, interview, and ethnographic methods. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the ACLS/Mellon Foundation. Her research has appeared in American Sociological Review, Social Problems, Sociological Theory, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, among others.