Denmark, Aarhus

The Politics of Trauma: The Uses and Abuses of Traumatic Events

when 16 July 2014 - 13 August 2014
duration 4 weeks

Different states deal with their traumatic past differently. The same traumatic event may get different reactions in each affected state. How can we understand the ways states respond to their historical or recent traumatic events? To what extent are these responses driven by the consequences of the traumatic event itself, internal and external factors of the state (history, domestic politics, or foreign policies), or skillful actors in charge of overcoming the consequences? How does memory politics operate and why do conflicts over memory arise? How do victims, perpetrators and heroes get (mis)represented and for what purposes? Rather than focusing on individual experiences of trauma by victims on the basis of psychological, psycho-analytical, and clinical literature, this course looks at political, historical, sociological and cultural trauma literature, giving a special attention to the political elites (politicians, historians, media, experts, artists, etc.) and their role in creating a public discourse of a traumatic event. It will discuss how political elites use and abuse the facts about the past, present only selective stories and experiences of victims, asign blame to particular actors. It will look at the reasons the elites do so and the effects these public discourses produce. The first part of the course will focus on different theoretical aspects of collective trauma literature, including how this phenomenon is studied in politics and international relations (Duncan Bell, Jenny Edkins, Karin M. Fierke), history (Wulf Kansteiner, Dominick LaCapra), cultural sociology (Jeffrey Alexander, Ron Eyerman, Piotr Sztompka), etc. It will discuss the main concepts of collective trauma, such as memory, experience, identity, victims, perpetrators, and heroes. The second part of the course will look at the empirical cases of traumatic events, compare and contrast the ways they are dealt with. The course will discuss whether intentionality or non-intentionality of the event matters in creating collective narratives about it, whether it is possible to have a cosmopolitan trauma and to what extent, etc. The case studies will include the events related to wars, genocides, terrorist attacks, natural and technological disasters (e.g., Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 9/11, Chernobyl/Fukushima, hurricane Katrina, etc.).

Course leader

Ekatherina Zhukova, Aarhus University

Target group

Master's students

Course aim

The module offers an introduction to collective trauma understood as a social phenomenon rather than individual experience. This theoretical framework as an approach to the empirical study of politics helps to better understand why we know what we know today about our past. The introduction is based on an overview of different collective trauma theories from social science disciplines, such as sociology, history, political science, and international relations. Therefore, the course offers an interdisciplinary insight of how to study traumatic events and the role politics play in their interpretations. Furthermore, the various theoretical approaches to collective trauma are discussed and compared in close connection with empirical case studies like wars, genocides, terrorist attacks, natural and technological disasters. The general aim of the course is to enable students to:

1) Understand the difference between individual and collective trauma. 2) Reflect on the challenges of representation of traumatic memories and experiences for those trying to represent them. 3) Describe and compare the relevant theoretical approaches to collective trauma including the core concepts and assumptions underlying each tradition. 4) Understand the strengths and weaknesses of each theoretical approach and concepts. 5) Apply the theories and core concepts of the module to a specific traumatic event. 6) Reflect critically on the application of collective trauma theories and concepts to particular case studies in the module.

Fee info

EUR 0: Students on a bilateral exchange programme do not have to pay. Freemovers are obliged to pay participation fees while tuition fees only apply to freemovers from countries outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland.