Woodiwiss, Jo (2013) Performing the Self: Women, Child Sexual Abuse and Multiple Personalities. In: BSA Annual Conference 2013 - Engaging Sociology, 3-5 April 2013, London, UK. (Unpublished)

The late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen a turn to the self and a 'frantic search for identity' (Bauman 2001:152). This 21st century self is located within a therapeutic culture that is encroaching more and more into our everyday lives. We are encouraged to both work on and improve our selves and to search for, uncover and make contact with our authentic, true, 'innerselves', that will result in a self that is both happy and successful. Those unable or unwilling to do so are encouraged to identify the cause within their own personal histories, often seen to be childhood trauma/sexual abuse. This paper draws on an ESRC funded research project looking at women who identified such a cause and their engagement with narratives of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Much of the CSA recovery literature engages with both a 'static' and a 'makeable' self but also relies on a form of multiple-selves. Readers are encouraged to identify an inner personality or 'inner-child', but it is a relatively short step from identifying one inner-child to identifying a multiplicity of inner-children or personalities. In this paper I argue that contemporary narrative frameworks of childhood trauma such as CSA allow for, and might even encourage, the creation of one or more inner-personalities (sometimes hundreds) who are thought to share a traumatic past. Whilst these personalities might offer women new ways to 'perform the self', it not only risks constructing them as psychologically unstable and/or damaged, but ultimately delimits their possibilities.

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