Student Services Overview

DATE: Friday, August 3, 2012
TIME: 1:30 p.m.
PLACE: Room A, Ladera Lane campus
CANDIDATE: Shelley Elizabeth Wright
DISSERTATION TITLE: "Toward the Mouth of the Abyss: The Indigenous Nature of Cleft Lip and Palate"
COORDINATOR: Dr. Jennifer Selig
ADVISOR: Dr. Mike Denney

Wright, S. (2012). Toward the Mouth of the Abyss: The Indigenous Nature of Cleft Lip and Palate (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2012)


This dissertation approaches the experience of cleft lip and palate, a specific variation of the dis-abled body, from two complementary lenses within a depth psychological perspective. First, it is essential to give voice to the lived experience of cleft lip and palate, especially within a culture that values “the normal” and immediately corrects presentations that reveal the lie, the impossibility, of conformity. Secondly, while it is well and good to be re-formed in order to more easily move within the dominant culture which values socially acceptable habits of speech and facial expression, what is lost in this project of normalization?

The organizing framework for this project resides in the heuristic research methodology developed by Clark Moustakas. The inquiry engages the researcher’s own lived experience both of being born with a cleft lip and palate and of giving birth to and raising a daughter with the same presentation. Grounded in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the body as the primary organ of perception, the project also relies on Robert Romanyshyn’s articulation of the body as metaphor and the metaphorical quality of psychological life. An autoethnographic perspective informed by arts-based and imaginal hermeneutics further shapes this heuristic inquiry.

Central to this inquiry is the understanding that the researcher who is grounded in depth psychology is a border figure, standing in the gap between the conscious and the unconscious. The depth psychological aspect of the researcher as border figure is amplified by Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory of the borderland (both material and metaphorical), Chela Sandoval’s self-conscious practice of the middle voice of reflexivity, and Linda Smith’s work toward the decolonization of the mind. The creative synthesis of this heuristic research is expressed in the form of essays and works of art which serve both to re-imagine the lived experience of facial difference and to provide bridges to a new level of understanding. Re-engagement—often re-enchantment—comes through tending the in-between aspect of the imaginal within the liminal space of the silenced/disappeared and inviting the wisdom woven in the margins of the dominant paradigm—normalcy—that inscribes so many faces in our culture as Other.