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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Essentialized Representations: Empowering Marginalized Identities

Katherine S. Miles.

My qualitative study wrestles with issues of textual representations of the other or 'subaltern': those whose fragmented voices often get silenced in the dominant culture of scientific and economic rationalisms. Specifically, I discuss the problematics and identity politics inherent in the representation of one particular subaltern group: domestic abuse victims currently in shelter. The study focuses on the legal and social paradoxes inherent in the textual representations of ‘victims’ within documents produced for both ‘victims’ and the advocates who train to assist them. More specifically, the study investigates how postmodern theories of representation are enacted in real time. My study shows that social movement organizations, specifically organizations focused on sheltering victims of domestic abuse, struggle against a dominant culture that disempowers marginalized members of society. As a result, workers within social movement organizations enact the theoretical quagmire that has confounded ethnographic researchers since the dawn of postmodernism: how can documents ethically re-present without essentializing individual experiences? Furthermore, given the immediacy of an abusive situation, how can the documents effectively empower abused individuals without essentializing? Such issues of representation are daily enacted within the field site of my qualitative study.


Katherine S. Miles
Instructor of Advanced Writing
Oksana Hlyva Department of English

  • Victim Re-identification
  • Postmodern crisis of representation
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Qualitative Workplace Study
  • Paradox of Dominant Culture

(Virtual Presentation, English)