Tracing monsters : the textual constitution of woman-mother-childkiller, or, A reading of the non-origin of the monstrous feminine in the specific instance of a case of child murder : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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This project begins with a story of my encounter with a sense of the similarities and differences between my own experience of motherhood and that of another woman charged, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for child murder, and a question about how it is possible for our experience to be so similar and different. My understanding of this encounter is informed by theories of 'écriture féminine' and the assumption that the diversity of women's lived experiences is delimited by discourses through which 'woman' is constituted culturally and historically. In relation to poststructuralist assumptions about the constitution of subjectivity, my initial question is transformed into a problematic. This transformation is performed through a theoretical engagement with work by Foucault, Lyotard, White and Lacan. In reading these theories the problematic of woman-mother-childkiller becomes a question of how specific women are positioned within a phallocentric system of signification through narratives legitimated by a phallocentric moral order and told through discourses of legitimated knowledge of subjectivity: the 'psy' discourses. The complicity of women's positioning within moral order and social power relations demands attention to the ethics of the problematic and its mode of address. To address the possibility of an ethical response, I make use of Derrida's work on deconstruction as ethics. After reading Derrida the general question of women's positioning becomes a specific deconstructive reading of a narrative told at the site of coarticulation of legal practice and psychological discourse: a reading of the judge's summation in the trial of R v Lisé Turner. The deconstruction is practised through reading for the traces of sexual difference in the constitution of the subject in Law and psychological discourse, the legitimation of knowledge practised as a delimitation of psychological discourse in relation to Law, the constitution of crime, disease, mental disorder, disease of the mind, insanity, defect of reason, criminal responsibility and diminished responsibility. Of particular concern are the traces of sexual difference in the iterations of psychological discourse incorporated into the body of the judge's summation. This reading is prefaced by an historical account of the relationship between psychological discourse and legal practice. This is followed by readings of the judge's summation for its instruction on legal doctrine, practices of exclusion and inclusion, constitution of legal subjects, and its narrative endpoint. Since the trial was defended through a plea of insanity, expert testimony on the accused's 'mental condition' was iterated in the judge's summation. Readings of the judge's summation on the plea of insanity are prefaced by a reading of relevant definitions and caveats from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV): the legitimate text of psychological knowledge privileged by Law here. The testimony of psychological expert witnesses is also read as prefacing the particular iterations of psychological discourse in the Judge's summation. From these readings I then return to the problematic constitution of woman-mother-childkiller as a problematic of justice.
Filicide, Mothers, Murderers, Psychology