Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Psychological and Social Foundations
Jennifer Wolgemuth, Ph.D.
Tony Tan, Ed.D.
Darlene DeMarie, Ph.D.
Keith Berry, Ph.D.
#metoo, evocative autoethnography, interview problems, jiu-jitsu, physical feminism, power dynamics, sexual violence
This dissertation is an autoethnography about the socialization of people in various cultural contexts, in particular, women in the embodied role of the academic researcher. Being a researcher and enduring an experience of sexual assault right in the middle of my first research interview left me in a state of shock and survival. One out of every six American women will survive attempted or completed rape during her lifetime, with college-aged women being three to four times at increased risk compared to all women, yet the odds that this would take place during a project which had major implications for my academic career, not to mention my personal wellness, seemed negligible. When I was actually assaulted, not just processing a statistic or abstractly discussed scenario in a violence prevention program, I completely froze, unable to react. I later learned this bodily response was common or even “normal” in the threat of danger. While the university offered its traditional victim advocacy and crisis-response resources ad hoc, these modalities seemed incomplete and ‘too late’. I felt compelled to independently seek out a continuous practice separate of the academy to equip myself defensively, physically, to be more practically readied for the future, as a stronger person, scholar, and woman.
Alongside my educational psychology graduate studies, I began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, discovering a new facet of physical feminism through embodied martial art. I engaged the training site to reconstruct a different ‘story’ for my body to live in, rather than remain stuck, psychically immobilized, and physically disempowered, as it was in the interview. Jiu-jitsu being an art allows room for unique interpretations. In my case, the open training site provided a safe space to reconstruct trusting relationships with men, and far more importantly, to forge a confident relationship with myself, where I could trust in me to protect myself. Through the physical collaborative work with my training partners, I continually re-constructed new meanings about research interviews, relationship structures, power, gender, femininity, masculinity, sexual violence, aggression, and vulnerability.
This dissertation tells the story of that research interview turned assault, and my journey of survival thereafter. What began as a personal coping skill with jiu-jitsu soon practice became an embodied component of my living methodology. Using autoethnographic approach, I share my experience drawing upon current literature on feminist research, sexual assault survival, and qualitative interviewing. I situate my experience at the politicized intersection of two congruent but contradictory bodies of literature informing sexual violence and the ways women’s bodies are engaged in qualitative research.
My dilemma was especially problematic, as by institutional guidelines, there are practical ‘grey areas’ around what is intended to simply be a methods exercise for a class project, but instead could manifest as an actual research study by data production, as it did in my case. My erroneously interpreting and approaching the project as a study could have been shaped by the perceived pressure I felt to produce strong research very early, even as a new graduate student, as several of my peers were already pursuing publications, even some which I was assisting them with in data analysis, therefore I mistakenly believed similar research procedures and structures would apply to the project. Further solidifying the strong inquiry-led culture, faculty were constantly conducting and publishing studies, thus I believed this ‘started’ as early as possible. At the time, I had a very unclear interpretation about the blurred line between voluntary exchanges intended for class projects, and how these are structured and handled much differently from true studies. A major implication of this work is for every new graduate student to clearly understand and have room to discuss the nuanced differences that are expected for class projects that are intended to provide educational experience about the research or methods process, compared to ‘true’ studies.
Despite this cryptic factor, it is yet the case that women in research undergo similar problems in the field, even with the structural support of institutional review boards (IRBs). As IRBs are pragmatically unable to extend protections to shield researchers from the threat of sexual harassment or assault in their inquiry practices, and as literature on (feminist) qualitative interviewing currently situates power largely with the researcher, it is quite critical for the field to reconsider new approaches to inquiry practices and inquiry relationships that, rather than undermine, instead empower feminist scholars.
The field of qualitative interviewing—particularly as sexual assault in research is increasingly discussed during the current political climate—must evolve to embrace new conceptualizations of a discerning, decisive, empowered researcher who navigates the many shifting gendered power relations while conducting research and interviews. In light of my experience of the assault, survival, and mind-body transformation through jiu-jitsu, I introduce the warrior-scholar paradigm as ‘theoretical permission’ for academics to practice being empowered researchers who can claim power over their own bodies, their research, and how their bodies are engaged in research.
Scholar Commons Citation
Mahoney, E. Emily, "The Gentle Artist: Empowering Warrior-Scholars through the Physical Feminism of Jiu-Jitsu" (2020). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.