Everyday ethics and storytelling after terrorism: Collaborative ethnographies exploring intersubjective identities through anthropology, victim/survivor studies and communication and cultural studies

Author Identifier

Carmen Jacques


Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Professor Lelia Green

Second Supervisor

Professor Paul Arthur

Third Supervisor

Dr Jamal Barnes


This thesis explores the effects of an experience of terrorism on the everyday lives of five ordinary people from different walks of life. I use storytelling, everyday ethics, and collaborative ethnography to enable the co-creation of emergent knowledge on the struggle to live ethical, hopeful lives after experiencing trauma. My work adds to the growing body of collaborative and ethical anthropological literature and brings an ethnographic approach into the area of terrorism/victim studies. The experimental nature of the thesis lies in its invitation to people with an experience of terror to participate in the knowledge making process.

I found each participant has a relationship with trauma that is in constant flux. There is an oscillation between the identity of a victim and that of survivor. Trauma operates like a tightrope in people's everyday lives; it must be traversed delicately, less life become unbalanced. My participants walk this tightrope of trauma; they have had to negotiate a sense of self that oscillates between who they were and who they can become.

The stories my conversationalists tell also communicate tales of self-transformation. Storytelling creates a space in which they can reimagine their experience of terror. Participants use stories to help negotiate a complex relationship with trauma, as well as to reclaim a fragile sense of agency. I argue that these stories reveal responses to violence that are necessarily social and ethical. While storytelling may not always be an effective method for reclaiming agency, the questions around storytelling after a terrorist attack (e.g. ‘Should I tell my story? to whom? and how?’) are themselves ethical ones. For my co-constructors of knowledge, the process of storytelling has allowed a re-interpretation of events and an opportunity for them to assert their renewed sense of self, often in terms of a traumatic yet transformed intersubjective identity.

The terror attacks have generated as much as they have destroyed. Despite placing constraints on aspects of participants’ everyday lives, an experience of terrorism has not determined all that each person is and who they can become. This thesis highlights the ways in which my conversationalists celebrate their humanity. Their celebration is often a struggle. There are moments that draw people with an experience of terror back into the trauma of the attack, and such moments may seem lifelong at times. These stories of shared humanity are often juxtaposed against those of continued suffering.

The struggle for humanity, and my participants’ struggle for hope, is keenly felt against the context of the violence they have experienced.

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