Accepted Paper:

Engendering suffering in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: an anthropological investigation of the construction of categories of gender and suffering in psychosocial practice in the West Bank  


Lotte Segal (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The objective of this paper is to examine the double construction of gender, and of the gendered category of suffering that takes place in practices of psychosocial assistance offered to female relatives of torture survivors, political prisoners and widows of martyrs.

Paper long abstract:

Since the Occupied Palestinian Territories oscillate between being a pre-, post-, or simply a regular war zone it hosts a vast number of institutions, local and international organizations that work to ameliorate the suffering brought about by the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The number and relative size of these institutions have expanded significantly since the 1990es. The so-called psychosocial services of counseling, individual and group therapy have become integral to the approaches of a vast array of such institutions. The majority of these institutions are either funded or co-funded by international donor agencies within the area of humanitarian aid.

These institutionalized attempts of amelioration provide an interesting site for the anthropological inquiry into cultural constructions of suffering since they are produced and negotiated in a dynamic interaction between local practice and global discourses of healing, suffering and victimhood.

Conceptualising psychosocial services as social practice, the paper argues that this form of social practice constructs suffering as a gendered category/phenomenon. The paper suggests that gender as a social category is constructed in the particular therapeutic encounters. This, the paper proposes, is due to the dynamic relation between a national narrative around the suffering of wives of the national heroes and on the other hand a therapeutic discourse that conceptualise the very same women as only secondary victims of torture or as secondary victims of the traumatisation perceived to occur after the imprisonment or event of torture of their husbands has taken place.

The questions this paper seeks to address are:

Which categories of gender and of suffering are constructed in the therapeutic encounter, and,

How do the afflicted women themselves experience, negotiate and ameliorate their suffering in a complex context consisting of a meta-narrative of collective, Palestinian affliction and local and internationally constructed narratives of psychological suffering or traumatisation?

Panel W032
Processing trauma in (post-)conflict societies