why I fight

And when I say fight, I mean research and write. For me, fighting (in the sense of working to accomplish something) is particular to who I am–a scholar, a writer, a teacher. As many of you know (or will discover from reading my blog), my research deals with psychological trauma. I research trauma because I believe that the people who have experienced trauma matter. That they deserve to have their voices heard. That their experiences have not been in vain.

While watching a rerun of one of my favorite television shows, Criminal Minds, something important occurred to me. My research focuses on those who experience what I call “personal” traumas. All trauma is personal, so when I say “personal trauma” I mean people who have experienced trauma as a result of individual acts of violence like sexual assault, childhood abuse, and domestic violence. One of the reasons that I focus on them is because of the stigma that is still associated with these traumas. For a long time all traumas and their aftermath, PTSD, were stigmatizing. Soldiers returning from war were seen as malingerers rather than as victims of the trauma of war. Since Vietnam PTSD has become a recognized psychological disorder and since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is greater public awareness of psychological trauma and with that awareness comes less stigma. However, it is important to note that the lessening of stigma does not alleviate the pain of trauma. The pain is real; it remains a living memory that haunts the individual who has experienced it. People who experience trauma during “public” acts of violence, like war and terrorist events such as 9/11, are more accepted as “real” sufferers. Their stories are less taboo, and their experiences tend to be validated more. Validation certainly helps. In fact, validation and awareness help to alleviate some of the sense of alienation felt by those who have experienced trauma. In spite of that, the reality of the trauma and the suffering that it engenders does not go away.

The fact that I focus on personal traumas and thus do not focus on the trauma of war compels me to write this post. While I am not researching and writing about soldiers and veterans who blog about trauma, their experiences are not unimportant to me. In fact, one of the reasons that my dissertation deals with blogging about trauma is due to reading the blogs of soldiers and talking to them. My original dissertation idea actually focused on veterans. I wanted to study narrative ability in people who’ve experienced trauma, and I hoped to conduct my study through the VA. Unfortunately, my qualifications do not include a PhD in Psychology, and the IRB isn’t keen on letting rhetoricians study protected populations. As a result, I returned to an earlier research idea conceived when I began stumbling on trauma blogs. I was researching blogging and continuing my research on trauma when the two somehow converged. I became interested in this counterpublic (to use Michael Warner‘s term) who were loosely connected through their strategic use of blogging. The subgenre of the trauma blog became the research topic for my dissertation, yet I chose to exclude the blogs of those traumatized as a result of war or terrorist attacks. Partly this was practical, I needed to limit the number of blogs that I used in my analysis. The other reason for this choice was more ideological in nature. Drawing attention to those who speak out about traumas that are still highly stigmatized will hopefully lessen the stigma or, at the very least, draw attention to these survivors brave enough to speak out.

In the future I hope to apply the same research strategies to the blogs written by veterans.

2 Thoughts on “why I fight

  1. lbriggs271 on March 5, 2010 at 2:12 pm said:

    Your dissertation topic sounds very interesting. How did you select the blogs to include in your study?

  2. Since I’m not sure if by “select” you mean the process of choosing sample blogs or locating them, I’ll answer them both. Locating personal blogs about trauma that fit my criteria was a little challenging. Using Google to search for a combination of the following terms “ptsd, “trauma,” “sexual assault,” “abuse,” “rape,” “violence,” and similar combined with blog and then using the same search terms in the Google blog search was actually the most effective in the first step of the research. Because personal blogs aren’t as widely viewed as other types of blogs, they rarely rank highly on blog-centric sites such as Technorati. Using searches within WordPress and Blogger were useful because a large number of personal bloggers use their free services. However, for collecting relevant blogs the most effective method was utilizing the blogs themselves, relying upon that beautiful generic convention–the blogroll. Finding blogs that focused on personal trauma took countless long hours of reading, sorting, following links, and coming up with a digital workflow that effectively tracked and archived the relevant blogs. I found that using a feed reader like Google Reader and now feedly was useful during the initial process, as was bookmarking and creating Google Alerts for certain search terms. The entire process is a bit lengthy to get into here, but you’ve given me great inspiration for a future blog post!

    The selection of blogs for my research was based on several criteria that evolved as I read through the relevant blogs I collected. My basic criteria for including blogs in my study were the following: the blogs must be single-authored; the blogger must self-identify as a trauma survivor and the majority (approximately 60%) of the posts must concern the healing process, traumatic experiences, or related information; the blogger should not be a trained medical or counseling professional; and the blog should be updated with relative frequency, which is defined as an average of two posts per week. Additional criteria applied concerned the type of trauma experienced, specifically it must fall under my category of “interpersonal violence” and thus would not include must blogs posted by veterans or survivors of terrorism, genocide, or war crimes.

    Hope this is helpful! Are you researching blogs as well or were you just interested in my research process?

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