Thesis Eleven 132 (1):3-16 (2016)

Abstract
Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways. While this new scientific concept clarifies causal relationships between previously unrelated events, structures, perceptions, and actions, it also illuminates a neglected domain of social responsibility and political action. By constructing cultural traumas, social groups, national societies, and sometimes even entire civilizations, not only cognitively identify the existence and source of human suffering, but may also take on board some significant moral responsibility for it. Insofar as they identify the cause of trauma in a manner that assumes such moral responsibility, members of collectivities define their solidary relationships that allow them to share the suffering of others. Is the suffering of others also our own? In thinking that it might in fact be, societies expand the circle of the ‘we’ and create the possibility for repairing societies to prevent the trauma from happening again. By the same token, social groups can, and often do, refuse to recognize the existence of others’ suffering, or place the responsibility for it on people other than themselves. Empirically, this article extensively considers trauma construction in the case of the Holocaust – the mass murder of Jews by the German Nazis – but also examines trauma processes in relation to African-Americans, indigenous peoples, colonial victims of Western and Japanese imperialism, the Nanjing Massacre, and victims of the early communist regimes in Soviet Russia and Maoist China.
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DOI 10.1177/0725513615625239
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