The construction of shame in feminist reflexive practice and its manifestations in a research relationship

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Despite the psychically toxic nature of shame, and the way in which it manifests so acutely within intersubjective spaces, it has historically been under-researched and under-theorised. However, a burgeoning of literature in recent years has brought an increasing awareness of shame as a pathogenic force. An investigation of this noxious affect is especially pertinent in the context of qualitative feminist research in South Africa, marked by a myriad of class, gender and race differentials between researcher and researched. I therefore consider the significant effect of shame on a specific dialogue which unfolded between myself and a research participant in the course of interviewing rape survivors in Cape Town. The interview is examined through the dual analytic resources of psychodynamic theory and reflexive research practice, with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of the implications of this noxious affect for feminist reflexive research. The analysis reveals the ubiquitous manifestations of shame within the intersubjective space, traceable through the three markers of the affect; namely the content of the narrative, the form or structure of the interaction as well as my own emotional memory of the event. The analysis tracks the shame which arose in such a research context, demonstrating how shame neither belongs exclusively to the self or the other, but is unavoidably generated, exacerbated and maintained within the relational, intersubjective field. A particular exploration of its manifestations on the micro-level of the research relationship through the analytic resource of psychodynamic understanding, highlights the necessity of feminist reflexive practice considering shame. What is highlighted is a need to reflexively locate the emotion within our racialised, gendered and institutionalised research relationships, and to wrestle with the implications this has for meaning-making and embodied subjectivity. Such a consideration would arguably provide invaluable insights for feminist reflexive research and practise as it pays critical attention to positionality, reflexivity, the production of knowledge and the power relations that are inherent in research processes.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 68-77).