Transmedial Negotiations of Sexual Violence in Contemporary US-American Literature and Culture

Dissertation Project by Mascha Helene Lange

This ongoing PhD-project aims to critically investigate the transmedial spread of representations of gender-based violence through an analysis of selected cultural artifacts across various media. It is based on the conviction that the meaning of sexual violence for the collective is negotiated, not solely but decisively, in fictional representations mediated through both more ‘traditional arts’ such as literature, and more recent media such as film, TV, photography, and a multiplicity of digital media. In other words: understandings of sexual violence are socially and culturally constructed through various media, and hence constantly undergo shifts in meaning. This constant re-construction is centrally determined by conceptions of a number of identity markers, including but not limited to gender, race, and class.

The aim of this project is to critically evaluate the intersections between current transmedial articulations of gendered violence and negotiations of different subject positions in contemporary US-American society. In particular, this project investigates the framing of victims/survivors and perpetrators of gender-based violence and conceptualizations of agency and vulnerability, as well as associated constructions of femininity and masculinity. The project is furthermore interested in how current transmedial narratives invest in social norms, such as justice, truth, and shame, along the matrices of named categories of gender, race, and class. Following from that, the question at the core of this dissertation project reads: How are transmedial representations of sexual violence used in contemporary US-American literature and culture in order to establish, question or re-evaluate societal norms and regulate individual subject positions?

Texts that thus far have been analyzed in the project include Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix mini-series When They See Us, as well as the 2016 memoir/TED-talk “South of Forgiveness/Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation” by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger.

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti for The New Yorker.