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.