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Unnatural born killers: An examination of the narratives of subjectivity and agency of women who kill

Wilson, Belinda (1997) Unnatural born killers: An examination of the narratives of subjectivity and agency of women who kill. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University This thesis investigates the construction of violent female subjects in mainstream and feminist, legal and media discourses. It relies on an understanding of subjectivity as narration and performance, which is founded on a combination of Seyla Benhabib’s concept of narrated selves with Judith Butler’s theory of performative subjects. This thesis argues that the constructs of violent female subjects found in the discourses under study lack agency. Violent women are usually presented either as unaware of the consequences of their actions or as not responsible for them. These non-agentic portrayals are shown to provide only limited accounts of female violence and to deny the radical possibility of an intentional and fully responsible violent woman.

The first two chapters of the thesis develop theoretical issues while the last three are devoted to case study analysis. The first chapter discusses the importance of narrative in legal practice and media representation. The second chapter considers formulations of agency in mainstream and feminist, legal and media constructs of violent female subjectivity. The next three chapters use five case studies of women who have killed to detail the denial of female agency inherent in these constructs. Concomitantly, these cases also portray the recuperative possibilities for representations of violent women within these discourses. In particular, recuperation is shown as most likely to ensue when female killers are represented as non-agentic victims.

The contours of mainstream and feminist legal and media discourses’ formulations of violent female subjectivities are mapped through consideration of these discourses’ incorporation of some violent women and rejection of others. Women who are represented as non-agentic victims are recuperated and incorporated as acceptable in these discourses, while mainstream vilification and feminist silence grow progressively more intense as violent women display greater agency and perform increasingly heinous crimes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Bowden, Peta and Sofoulis, Zoë
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/51360
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