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Collective trauma: isolating and commoning gender-based violence

Authors: Rachel Pain*, Newcastle University
Topics: Gender, Social Geography
Keywords: Gender-based violence, trauma, commons
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper focuses on key tensions between individual and collective experiences, responses and concepts in gender-based violence (GBV). The isolation of survivors is not just ‘how it is’, but a condition created and exploited by perpetrators, and buttressed by social perceptions and practices. The generation of solidarity amongst survivors and consciousness among wider publics so that GBV can be made known as a collective experience of structural oppression has been a core part of feminist movements. Here I consider whether and how GBV can be conceptualised as collective trauma, as recent social movements suggest; a concept more widely used in Black and postcolonial literatures to describe the social and communal nature of the long afterwards/ongoing present of structural trauma. I draw on participatory action research with a group of domestic abuse survivors using discussion, drawing and song to identify both how isolating functions and the many levels of communal experience that counter it: from the role of others in the processes of trauma and survival, to the growing sense of collective identity that interventions (including our research) may enable. However, there are also discontinuities and dangers in analysis of collective trauma, especially clear through engaging a spatial lens. The paper ends with reflecting on the utility of commoning to connect resistances to violence across time and space, a concept better able to contain diverse and uneven experiences. In our research, commoning offers not just an alternative promise of rebuilding, reclaiming and repossessing space for survivors, but maps what already happens.

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