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Demonic Possession: Narratives of Domestic Abuse and Trauma in Malaysia

Sahdan, Z. and Pain, R. and McEwan, C. (2021) 'Demonic Possession: Narratives of Domestic Abuse and Trauma in Malaysia.', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers .


Every society deploys narratives concerning the phenomenon of domestic abuse which serve to downplay and normalise it. Drawing on qualitative research with survivors in Malaysia, and working from a feminist postcolonial framework, this paper explores how the notion of demonic possession is used by survivors and perpetrators as a metaphor for domestic abuse, and a narrative to make sense of and excuse it. The idea of demonic possession has utility because of its close fit both with perpetrators’ behaviour and the symptoms experienced by survivors with trauma. The research focuses on the intimate dynamics of abuse, including coercive control and intimate captivity, and the pivotal role of possession and trauma in the successful exertion of control and in extending the damaging effects of abuse. We argue that demonic possession reflects another way in which globally endemic practices of domestic abuse are justified and explained; it provides a means for perpetrators to evade responsibility for abuse, and a way in which the pernicious effects of both abuse and trauma on survivors, their families, and wider society are sometimes dismissed. The paper highlights the significance of culturally-sensitive approaches to domestic violence and trauma as a counterpoint to western-centric understandings. It also stresses the need for locally generated approaches to awareness raising and support services in Malaysia and elsewhere.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 05 August 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Date accepted:16 July 2021
Date deposited:18 August 2021
Date of first online publication:05 August 2021
Date first made open access:05 August 2023

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