POSTGRADUATE SEMINAR SERIES | Confronting blood and tears: self-harm, trauma, and embodied expressions of pain



Start Date

18th Mar 2016 3:00pm

End Date

18th Mar 2016 4:00pm

Room 322, Social Sciences Building

Presentation by Kesherie Gurung

Self-harm, or self-mutilation, is generally viewed in academic literature and in popular culture as a pathological act, usually born out of trauma and/or a psychological and personality defect. Individuals who engage in self-harm are usually seen as young, middle-class, white, female, and damaged. This paper explores the problematic aspects of this apparently straight-forward narrative, noting how psychiatric and cultural representations of self-harm presuppose and perpetuate a particular construction of self-harm, trauma, and suffering.

While self-harm is not a desirable act, this paper argues through both personal reflection and the narratives of those who engage in such acts that self-harm may be better understood as a meaningful, embodied emotional practice, bound up in social (mis)understanding of psychological pain and how best to attend to such pain. In particular, this paper suggests that those who engage in self-harm practices are performing embodied, socially situated acts of healing, survival, and self-creation in a physical attempt to retell complex, fragmented stories of abuse, existential angst, trauma, and the loss of self.

While these individuals may be more or less successful in such attempts, this paper concludes that rather than seeing such self-harm acts as irrational and pathological, psychiatric and social understandings of self-harm would benefit from more nuanced approaches to individuals' embodied expressions of pain that take into account the difficult nature of psychological suffering and the effects of trauma.

For more information about this seminar series please contact Ruby Grant or Michael Andre Guerzoni.