I am undone by these women: Identity and change in a feminist domestic violence organisation
The six words of the title, ‘I am undone by these women’, embody the interconnected dimensions of this thesis. Simultaneously, this thesis is a personal transformational project (the ‘I am’); a series of theorisations of the relationship between identity and change in the context of the community sector (the ‘undoing’); and a textual space through which I share the working lives of my participants and victims of violence (the ‘these women’). My experiences as a volunteer ethnographer sit at the heart of this thesis. The ethnographic project was undertaken in the community sector, with a feminist domestic violence organisation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Through this project, I became committed to the social justice cause of my colleagues and participants: ending violence against women. My thesis aims to (re)create the textures of the working lives of my colleagues and participants. To represent these textures, I suffuse emotions and contradictions into this thesis through writing personally and subjectively and through adopting a rhizomatic (non-linear) structure in order to foster affective connections between the reader, the writer, my colleagues, and victims of violence. The ‘undoing’ in this thesis relates to how my theorisations developed over this project through a mixture of my own emerging understandings of identity, reflections on my ethnographic experience, and on issues salient to the working lives of my colleagues. My thesis traces the lines of my thinking about the relationships between identity and change in the context of the community sector, showing how they shifted before, during, and after my ethnographic experience. My thesis is structured into five parts. Each part acts as a semi-independent node of thought; following similar lines about identity and change but flourishing in different intellectual territory. This rhizomatic structure emphasises how feeling identity during my fieldwork changed how I thought about identity for my thesis. Or in other words this structure maps how my thinking became ‘undone’ and the relevance of this undoing for understanding identity and change. Initially, I map my thinking about the concept of identity as situated in the Critical Management Studies literature, particularly in relation to the work of Judith Butler and narrative theory. In the further parts of the thesis, I follow some of these initial lines of thought, but circle away from others. One part contributes to the literature about alternative organisations. In this part, I argue that strong emotions are important for fostering collective responsibility in alternative organising – here for victims of violence. Another part contributes to the literature on the gendered body. Here, I argue that gender identity becomes unsettled through the body in domestic violence work because of repetitive exposure to gender violence. Accordingly, both celebrating and reconsidering gender identity in domestic violence work can help to achieve change for all women subjected to violence. In a further part, I contribute to literature on the micro-politics of identity. I argue that storytelling about feminist identity can help to foster solidarity in the context of the community sector. Ultimately, this thesis puts the emphasis on the different ways identity and change are interlinked; there is no centre point to the argument. In the vein of autoethnography, the ‘undoing’ and ‘these women’ are also understood through an exploration of who ‘I am’ as a scholar. I understand the thesis to be a formative process through which the doctoral student learns what it means to be a researcher in their field. I map how my identity as a researcher was unsettled as I came into contact with domestic violence work and workers. In this way, I also explore what is learnt about identity and change on a personal level.