Trauma and memory

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The chapter explores the way traumatic events such as wars, conflicts and famines are followed by periods of contestation: the nation state often wishes to impose heroic narratives and forms of commemoration that reinforce national identity, whereas publics who have encountered a traumatic disruption of their assumed social order demand something different. The chapter reflect on how certain forms of memorialisation can contest state narratives and hold open instead the memory of an encounter with the real—examples such as the Vietnam memorial and the London Cenotaph can be read as an encircling of the trauma at the root of the social order. The work of Cathy Caruth on trauma and Slavoj Zizek’s examination of Lacanian notions of subjectivity and the symbolic provide the basis for these reflections. Jacques Ranciere’s work on the aesthetic politics of dissensus and disruption are also important in the consideration of how certain forms of political action after events such as state terror and disappearances can contest the return to an order that pretends nothing has happened. An investigation of how systems of tracing the missing and displaced after war or disaster are similarly a contested terrain gives further insight into what forms of personhood and politics are at stake in contemporary forms of memory and memorialisation. Finally, the chapter will examine how forms of accounting for the past that rely on linear temporality—a smooth progress from past through present to future, and a simple notion of cause and effect—are challenged by the disruptive betrayals of trauma time, and how certain forms of memory and story telling can reinstate politics and remain faithful to the traumatic event.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Companion to Public History
Subtitle of host publicationAn authoritative overview of the developing field of public history reflecting theory and practice around the globe
EditorsDavid Dean
ISBN (Print)978-1-118-50894-7, 1118508947
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameWiley Blackwell Companions to World History


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