The concept of trauma has migrated over time. A term first employed to describe a form of bodily or physical harm became a description of an overwhelming psychological experience suffered by an individual. Trauma now can also describe events of a nation's past where prior experiences jeopardize current social solidarity and interfere with members' ability to function freely in the collectivity. The identification of social trauma often serves as a prelude to development of policies of healing, forgiveness, or reconciliation. The following is the first part of a two-part essay that critically reviews the concept of social trauma. I argue that the concept of social trauma fails to distinguish between various types of collectively shared traumatic experiences, where each type yields a distinctive form of socially induced harm. The argument builds upon D.W. Winnicott's and Axel Honneth's intersubjective description of the features of a non-traumatized self that is characterized by the individual's capacity through illusionary experience to feel recognized. This essay posits, in contrast, distinct social settings for trauma when individual recognition is denied and illusion is shattered. Part II will detail a typology of social traumas distinguished by their varied impact upon individuals and that should produce different strategies for social repair depending on the type of trauma experienced.


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pp. 425-448
Launched on MUSE
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