Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity

Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity

JEFFREY C. ALEXANDER
RON EYERMAN
BERNHARD GIESEN
NEIL J. SMELSER
PIOTR SZTOMPKA
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp9nb
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity
    Book Description:

    In this collaboratively authored work, five distinguished sociologists develop an ambitious theoretical model of "cultural trauma"—and on this basis build a new understanding of how social groups interact with emotion to create new and binding understandings of social responsibility. Looking at the "meaning making process" as an open-ended social dialogue in which strikingly different social narratives vie for influence, they outline a strongly constructivist approach to trauma and apply this theoretical model in a series of extensive case studies, including the Nazi Holocaust, slavery in the United States, and September 11, 2001.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93676-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Jeffrey C. Alexander
  4. CHAPTER 1 Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma
    (pp. 1-30)
    JEFFREY C. ALEXANDER

    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.

    As we develop it here, cultural trauma is first of all an empirical, scientific concept, suggesting new meaningful and causal relationships between previously unrelated events, structures, perceptions, and actions. But this new scientific concept also illuminates an emerging domain of social responsibility and political action. It is by constructing cultural traumas that social groups, national societies, and sometimes even entire civilizations...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Psychological Trauma and Cultural Trauma
    (pp. 31-59)
    NEIL J. SMELSER

    The objective of this chapter can be appreciated only by keeping in mind the context in which it appears—in a book on cultural trauma. I will focus on psychological trauma (and to a lesser extent on its sister idea, psychological stress) not so much as a phenomenon in itself, but as one that has relevance for and generates insights about cultural traumas.

    My treatment of psychological trauma will be selective, not exhaustive. Part of this strategy is out of self-defense on my part, because the study of trauma is by now an industry and its literature is mountainous. In...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity
    (pp. 60-111)
    RON EYERMAN

    In this chapter I explore the notion of cultural trauma in the formation of African American identity from the end of the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. The trauma in question is slavery, not as institution or even experience, but as collective memory, a form of remembrance that grounded the identity-formation of a people. As has been discussed elsewhere in this volume and as will be further developed here, there is a difference between trauma as it affects individuals and as a cultural process. As cultural process, trauma is linked to the formation of collective identity and the...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Trauma of Perpetrators: The Holocaust as the Traumatic Reference of German National Identity
    (pp. 112-154)
    BERNHARD GIESEN

    No construction of collective identity can entirely dispense with memory. Memory supports or even creates the assumption of stability, permanence, and continuity in distinction to the incessant change of the phenomenal world and, thereby, sets up a horizon, a frame, a space of possible pasts. This space is constituted by the reference to past traumas or triumphs. There is no way to imagine a land beyond the liminal horizon of triumph and trauma. The constitutive reference to triumph or trauma can be spoken out or silenced; it is always there, enabling us to represent and present the past as our...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Trauma of Social Change: A Case of Postcommunist Societies
    (pp. 155-195)
    PIOTR SZTOMPKA

    Change is a universal and pervasive factor of social life. There is no society without change. Seemingly stable, unchanging phenomena are just cognitively frozen phases in the constant flow of social events, snapshots of the world, which, as such, never stops in its tracks. Ontologically, society is nothing else but change, movement and transformation, action and interaction, construction and reconstruction, constantbecomingrather than stablebeing.The very metaphor of social life carries this message quite cogently. Life is there as long as it is lived. Society is there as long as it is changing. The dynamic perspective is the...

  9. CHAPTER 6 On the Social Construction of Moral Universals: The “Holocaust” from War Crime to Trauma Drama
    (pp. 196-263)
    JEFFREY C. ALEXANDER

    How did a specific and situated historical event, an event marked by ethnic and racial hatred, violence, and war, become transformed into a generalized symbol of human suffering and moral evil, a universalized symbol whose very existence has created historically unprecedented opportunities for ethnic, racial, and religious justice, for mutual recognition, and for global conflicts to become regulated in a more civil way? This cultural transformation has been achieved because the originating historical event, traumatic in the extreme for a delimited particular group, has come over the last fifty years to be redefined as a traumatic event for all of...

  10. EPILOGUE: September 11, 2001, as Cultural Trauma
    (pp. 264-282)
    NEIL J. SMELSER

    If the screen industry’s most talented scriptwriter had been asked to draft a scenario for a quintessential cultural trauma, that script could not have surpassed the actual drama that occurred on September 11, 2001. Nineteen terrorists—none detected, none apprehended—boarded four commercial airliners at different airports, hijacked them, and turned them toward a mission of destruction and death. They crashed two aircraft into the towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, causing the collapse of both and the loss of several thousand lives. Another smashed into the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., destroying one portion of it...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-298)
  12. Index
    (pp. 299-315)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 316-316)