Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Carolyn Ellis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Arthur P. Bochner, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jane Jorgenson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathleen de la Peña McCook, Ph.D.


Engaged scholarship, CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse), Action research, Feminist research, Poetic activism, Life stories, Narratives


This dissertation is an experiment in thinking with the story, not about the story in order to erase the boundaries between analysis and narrative. CASA, Community Action Stops Abuse, is the context for this research on the lived realities and meaning of working with an empowerment philosophy. A University-Community Initiative (UCI) grant with CASA and the University of South Florida is the occasion to study the communicative aspects of individual and collective perceptions of empowerment. The dissertation focuses broadly on two UCI project goals: developing a collaborative relationship and producing a booklet of stories about the work of paid staff and volunteers. The heart of the dissertation is my relationship with the CASA workers and how scholarship and advocacy intersect with a philosophy of reciprocal and compassionate empowerment. This layered account of my CASA experiences is framed by my observations at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference.

The narrative methodology supports a feminist philosophy that extends the personal and the political to the personal as the theoretical. The CASA workers and I engage in what Kenneth Gergen calls poetic activism, writing or speaking about something in order to cause change, a form of communication activism. My dissertation is based on feminist research principles in the form of engaged scholarship and participatory action research accomplished through participant observation and interactive interviews, written as ethnographic narratives, life stories, and autoethnographic stories.

I coined the term research novel because my research data is reported in a creative, narrative format that integrates the literature review, methodology, and analysis throughout the story. The boundary between analysis and narrative is dissolved with an emphasis on connected knowing, the language of possibilities, appreciative inquiry, strengths-based service, and positive reframing. Rather than oppositional approaches of either/or thinking, my work embraces the ambiguities, contradictions, multiple identities and blurred boundaries of our lived experiences.

The concept of empowerment can be ambiguous, particularly for women who are seeking ways to redefine power and empowerment. An area for further study is the connection between empowerment and the framing of vulnerability, including individuals’ perceptions of the paradoxical nature of compassion for self and others.