Seeking a Research Method to Study Women Who Have Recovered from Trauma and Addiction That Combines Feminist Theory, Somatic Theory, Alternative Forms of Representation, and Social Justice

By Stopforth, Sharon N. | The Qualitative Report, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Seeking a Research Method to Study Women Who Have Recovered from Trauma and Addiction That Combines Feminist Theory, Somatic Theory, Alternative Forms of Representation, and Social Justice


Stopforth, Sharon N., The Qualitative Report


With my background as a social worker and as a body psychotherapy practitioner, it is important to find a methodology that allows the expression of the body in combination with a social justice imperative. For my Ph.D. research, I will be looking at the significance of embodiment in the healing and resilience of women who have recovered from addictions and trauma. Those who would be interested in reading this paper would include: researchers and scholars interested in women's issues and oppression; somatic theorists and practitioners seeking a research method that allows for capturing non-verbal data; and social justice activists seeking a method that incites people to take action which gets at the root of their oppression. In writing this paper, I hope to demonstrate the connection of women's oppression to the body and the need to conduct research with women that allows for the combination of embodiment and social justice.

In the following paper, I will explore the intersection of postmodern feminist theory and somatic theory and what they both have to say about how we embody social conditions of gender through non-verbal interactions. Next, I will look at how research is being done to capture the non-verbal aspects of being in the world and how this intersects with the postmodern turn. Finally, combining postmodernism, embodiment, and alternative forms of representation, I will look to cutting edge research that takes embodiment to the next level: social action.

Post-Modern Feminist Theory and the Body

The status of the body in Western intellectual tradition has mostly been one of absence or dismissal (Price & Shildrick, 1999). Theory has gone forward as though the body does not matter and that the thinking subject is disembodied. At the end of the twentieth century, feminism has seen its own project as connected to the body and has produced theory that attempts to take the body into account. How did the body become omitted in Western theory? The body has been regarded with suspicion as the place of uncontrollable passions that might disrupt the search of truth and knowledge (Grosz, 1994). Plato imagined the body as the deceiver, its unreliable senses and wild passions continually tricking us into mistaking the temporary and imagined for the permanent and real (Spelman, 1999). The Enlightenment saw the splitting of the mind and body with Descartes' famous expression "I think therefore I am." The body was seen as a barrier to pure rational thought. Therefore, the body resides in a place of the excluded other, and can be set aside altogether.

The area of greatest use of postmodern study of the body is in the work of feminists stimulated by Michel Foucault (1980). Feminists have added to Foucault's task as one to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history's destruction of the body (p. 148) to one that includes patriarchy (Bartky, 2003). Foucault looks at discursive operations that create a body that can be manipulated, in what he calls the docile body. This has given feminists ideas that link the everyday body as it is lived and the system of corrective and rigid practices that shape and form its behaviour. Theorists such as Bordo (1993) and Bartky (2003) have analysed how the process of surveillance is involved in creating a set of normativities for the female body. According to Butler (1993), femininity is a creation, a way of performing gender standards. Bartky (2003) looks at those corrective practices that produce a body, which in gesture and appearance is seen as feminine. Such practices, she suggests, look to create a body of a certain size and general shape, a specific set of gestures, postures, and movements.

There are big differences in gesture, posture, movement and bodily styles: women are far more limited than men in the way they move and in how much space they take up. Young (1980) sees that women are cautious to move beyond a certain space which shows up as a hesitance to reach, stretch, and extend the body and is typically limited in posture and general style of movement. …

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