Critical Trauma Studies: Understanding Violence, Conflict, and Memory in Everyday Life

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I’ve been thinking a lot about individual and collective trauma recently. Given the extremity of our experiences - the pandemic, historic and ongoing U.S. racism and racial violence, the displacements and escalating disasters of the climate crisis, and so on, how can we begin to approach the ways that trauma has and will continue to impact our experiences, our politics and our self expression? For designers and those like civil servants who shape the systems people have to interact with to live, what does it mean to be trauma aware, and to build more just and empathetic services, systems, and language? For activists and artists, how can trauma become a source of inspiration and change-making?

This book is useful as one entry point into that set of questions. It is resolutely interdisciplinary and includes fiction and non-fiction, writing about trauma, writing about writing about trauma, writing about trauma and teaching, and so on. It tries to address the individual experience of trauma and the possibilities it can close and open for those who are surviving it, and to talk about what trauma can mean as part of collective and community experiences.

I found it a bit uneven - maybe as a result of these various directions it pulls in. But more than anything it helped me think about the power of the word and the label of “trauma” itself, as a disciplinary tool. What does it mean to label ones experience, or someone else’s, as traumatic? How does that empower and dis-empower them, especially within the context of patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, and bureaucratic systems that have been constructed in the context of the matrix of oppression? As ever there aren’t easy answers, but reading this helped me personally explore those complexities.

Particularly in the context of participatory action research and similar methodologies, it left me thinking: what would it mean to move beyond “trauma informed” approaches to something like “trauma-centered?” It seems more than likely that folks are already out there working on this sort of thing, so I guess I better go find it.