Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity Jeffrey C. Alexander Presented by Christina Vollbrecht FSS MUNI April 28, 2011
What is Cultural Trauma?• “Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks on their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways.”• An empirical, scientific concept• Within the domain of social responsibility and political action
I. Theoretical Roots• “Trauma” is rooted in reality and has a language, therefore social and collective.• Common-sense or “Lay Trauma Theory” identifies traumas as naturally occurring events which undermine well-being.• Enlightenment thinking adds that trauma is a rational response to a naturally occurring abrupt change, which leads towards progress.• The psychoanalytic lens distorts the rational internal response though emotional displacement of trauma in the imagination.
I. The Naturalistic Fallacy: trauma is socially constructed• “Events do not, in and of themselves, create collective trauma. Events are not inherently traumatic. Trauma is a socially mediated attribution.”• Imagination informs trauma construction by representing experience, whether actually occurred or not.• Traumatic status is attributed to phenomena which affect the collective identity. The destabilization of structures of meaning depends on the imposition of new cultural classification and the skills of powerful agents.
II. the “trauma process”: between the event and representation1. Claim making: symbolic representations2. Carrier groups: actors in the public sphere3. Audience and situation: public and context•Social actors decide to represent social pain asa fundamental threat to who they are, wherethey come from, and where they want to go
II. Trauma becomes the new cultural narrative.• A successful story answers the following questions, both for particular groups and the wider “people”: – The nature of the pain: what happened? – The nature of the victim: to who? – The relation of the victim to the audience: what does it have to do with me? – Attribution of responsibility: who did it?
II. Mediating the language of the narrative: Institutions and Stratification Hierarchies• Realms of religion (theodicy), aesthetics (imagination and emotion), law (binding responsibilities, punishments, reparations), science (documentation, methodology), mass media (dramatics, distortion), state bureaucracy (channel and tilt the process)• Resources and networks of the institutions mediate their influence.• The government at all levels has significant power over the trauma process.
II. “Calming down”: identityrevision, memory, and routinization• The trauma process revises collective identity• “lessons” become objectified• Routinization detaches affect from meaning• New collective identity is a source for resolving future problems
III. The Rape of Nanking• Wide participation in pain broadens social understanding and incorporation when the process is successful• Claims of trauma have been made• For social-structural and cultural reasons, carrier groups have not emerged• Persuasive narratives have no been created, or have not been successfully broadcast• Perpetrators have not been compelled to accept moral responsibility• Lessons have not been memorialized or ritualized• New scope of moral and social responsibility has not been generated• More particular collective identities have not been created