Telling Stories about Sexual Violence, Victimization, and Agency in Militarized Settings

Jill A Steans

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    In this article, I contribute to a debate among feminist scholars on whether survivors of sexual violence should be seen as passive victims or as agents who possess the capacity to resist or actively fight back against their assailants. I probe this question in the context of militarized settings, following those scholars who have challenged the constructions of victimhood and agency as a binary and who have instead conceptualized survivors as both victimized and agential. My aim is to bring into conversation feminist analyses with key concepts drawn from Pierre Bourdieu's social theory. I argue that Bourdieu's work not only elucidates structural dimensions of lived experience, but also casts light on how survivors might infuse their actions with meaning in times of crisis. In so doing, I further confront objections that personal testimonies and stories fail to capture the structural, often invisible, forces that shape lived experience. I illustrate my argument through a reading of the wartime journal, A Woman in Berlin. By way of conclusion, I reflect on what Bourdieusian insights into power relations, agency, and narrative bring to feminist discussions on the constraints faced by those recounting survivor stories in public forums in pursuit of recognition and justice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)522-538
    JournalInternational Political Sociology
    Issue number4
    Early online date8 Jun 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2021


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