Leah Boisen

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2015


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Suzanne Barnard

Committee Member

Leswin Laubscher

Committee Member

Laura Engel


Creative Activism, Critical psychology, Culture Jamming, Discourse, Foucault, Sexual Assault


Using a discursive framework informed by critical theory and post-structural philosophy (particularly via the works of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler), this dissertation proposes the existence of pathology at both individual and cultural levels. Shifting away from the language of social problems, I propose that the pervasive and harmful ideology of patriarchy promulgated through discourse constitutes not just a problem, but a cultural sickness. Calling for a revised understanding of the relationship between culture and individual, and a new respect for the powerfully constitutive role of discourse, I argue that many of the common symptom patterns and problems we treat women for – in particular, eating disorders, and certain kinds of depression, and anxiety – are not really individual, but social in etiology, and may require social treatment in order to truly shift. In order to affect lasting change in the lives of our patients, as well as stem the creation of patients, I argue that we must work not only at the individual level – which may risk colluding with damaging social forces, or reinforcing via the structural format of individual therapy that the patient is solely responsible for her problems – but deliver therapeutics to the culture as well.

In this dissertation, I offer up feminist culture jamming – an activist practice of taking over mainstream media outlets such as magazines, billboards, or websites, and using them to promote atypical, feminist messages – as an example of a potential cultural therapeutic. Analyzing the work of six feminist culture jammers (and a selection of online response data) via a method of deconstructive hermeneutics, I demonstrate how systemic sexism, silencing, and a sense of inevitability continue to pervade many women's experiences living in the contemporary United States. I also show how culture jamming offers a way for women to take action against a damaging culture, effect changes in the discourse, see alternative possibilities, and connect with each other, and argue that these elements are not only culturally, but also individually healing.

I assert that culture jamming may be a particularly effective cultural therapeutic, not only because of its capacity to help women act, connect, and impact discourse, but because it functions in a number of unique ways. Likening culture jamming to a virus, I illustrate how culture jamming subverts damaging normative social discourses from within by appearing in the everyday space, disguising itself in everyday packaging, reaching massive audiences, and empowering audience members to further action. Finally, I conclude with suggestions for how clinicians might be informed by the practice of culture jamming, including a renewed respect for the microtraumatic effect living in a patriarchal culture may have on female patients, and a recognition of cultural pathology and the need for cultural therapeutics. I offer specific insights from cultural psychologists such as Cushman, Hillman, and Sipiora as to how might clinicians make room for the socio-cultural world in their practice as healers, and emphasize the common goals – though different means – of culture jammers and psychotherapists.