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Trauma, Communities, and the Politics of Suffering

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number ELEC-GG2705
Section 001
Instructor Diana Anders
Days R
Time 3:30 PM - 6:10 PM
Units 4
Level G


Open to advanced undergraduates with permission of the instructor (


Although diagnoses and discussions of individual trauma have become commonplace, even ubiquitous, collective trauma has not enjoyed the same level of public attention or disciplinary development. One can, however, track the rise of diagnoses of collective trauma over the last several decades, wherein a given community is understood as having been “traumatized” by a catastrophic event such as genocide or an enduring form of oppression such as extreme poverty. Collective trauma is alternatively referred to as communal, historical, or cultural trauma. This form of trauma is thought to emanate from cultural upheaval and formidable challenges to the social and moral order. This course turns to a variety of theoretical and empirical sources—ranging from case studies of Holocaust survivors, to critical theories of trauma, to documentary films about First Nation communities and the Rwandan genocide, to 911 Memorial exhibitions, for example—in order to help map the contours of this emergent discourse and explore some of its social, psychological, and political implications. We will attempt to critically engage this growing tendency to place various modes of communal suffering in the psychological rubric of trauma. What are the differences and points of overlap between individual and collective trauma? To what extent is collective trauma an adequate framework for understanding or responding to communal suffering? And finally, although trauma is often thought to be an “affliction of the powerless,” how might claiming traumatized status afford certain forms of political power and leverage for the communities in question? We will explore these questions by way of texts such as Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman’s  The Empire of Trauma,  Carol A. Kidron’s “Surviving a Distant Past: A Case Study of the Cultural Construction of Trauma and Descendant Identity,” and Robben and Suarez-Orozco’s (eds)  Cultures Under Siege: Collective Violence and Trauma,  to name a few.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Graduate Electives (ELEC-GG)