Social science is parasitical on the world it studies, reconfiguring familiar terms for analytical purposes. This is clear in the history of trauma, which began as a label for physical injury and evolved into a description of psychological suffering. How does social scientists’ embrace of the trauma framework—which bears the marks of its origins in medicine—influence assumptions about the social world we purport to understand and explain? We compare the cultural trauma framework with one of its predecessors, tragedy, which informed an earlier generation of social theorists as they reckoned with the seemingly irrational suffering born of modernity.