"Beyond Victimhood and Stigmatization"
Beyond Victimization and Stigmatization – Concluding Commentary
I had the great privilege of sitting in on the critical and generative conversations between the participants of this international workshop on trauma in the context of global migration, moving beyond victimization and stigmatization. As a social psychologist, I was heartened by the power and the richness of these transdisciplinary conversations and reminded of the urgency of wrestling concepts such as trauma out of the unique domain of psychologists. Westernized psychology, as a discipline, begins with a particularly impoverished and disembodied vision of human subjectivity and community and offers a relatively desiccated vocabulary with which to make meaning out of human experience (Clegg 2010; Freeman, 2011; Quigua & Clegg, 2014). Cutting across these workshop presentations was a creative struggle to capture and convey complex, dynamic, diffuse, and often contradictory intricacies of pain, suffering, and violation as participants troubled conceptualizations of trauma as individual, pathological, a-temporal, depoliticized, ahistorical, disembodied, and immaterial.
These conversations raised critical questions of what do we want and need our concepts, categories, and vocabularies to do and, importantly, to not do? What do they do anyway, despite our best intentions? And what is at stake for whom? How do we generate concepts that are sturdy enough to make meaning of human experience without becoming so invested in their contours that the intricate and undetermined aspects are not permitted to overflow our frameworks for capturing and conveying that experience (James, 1909). How to devise modes of inquiry and expression that carry the full weight of human realities (Freeman, 2011)?
Participants brought together a set of ethical concerns in research at the nexus of crisis-helping- empowerment-solidarity, concerned with the damage research can do. These conversations raised questions around the risks of research being picked up and deployed in violent ways, of extractive research practices buttressing the conjoined mechanisms of hypervisibility and invisibility (Gordon, 2008), and the risks of blanket assumptions like ‘revealing is healing’ (Hamber, 2009), lifting tensions between listening/telling, exposure, and surveillance. At the heart of these exchanges, how to engage in research practices that invite and centre complex narratives and confront injustice while remaining open to refusal, respecting the right to opacity (Tuck & Yang, 2014).
Fundamentally, this workshop raised a number of key tensions with practical, conceptual, and ethical implications:
- How to move away from an individualizing notion of trauma without erasing realities of subjective suffering?
- How to move away from a pathologizing conceptualization of trauma, opening toward the richness, generativity, and creativity amidst suffering without enoble-izing or productiv-izing trauma.
- How to move away from notions of healing constrained to individual brains without losing the power of trauma as a category for making claims to recognition/acknowledgement and care?
- How to take seriously the importance of survival strategies and healing (individual and collective) without obscuring the systemic and structural violence that produces harm?
These questions emphasize the urgent need to challenge basic, pervasive psychological concepts like coping, resilience, post traumatic growth and ask whose interests are met by such concepts in the face of ongoing structural, state, political violence.
The workshop was jointly hosted by the Centre for Global Migration Studies at the University of Göttingen and the Stiftung Adam von Trott, Imshausen e.V. The event is part of the project “Resistance – Democracy – Internationality”, a cooperation between the University of Göttingen and the Stiftung Adam von Trott, Imshausen e.V. It is sponsored by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.
- Clegg, J. W. (2010). Uncertainty as a fundamental scientific value. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 44(3), 245-251.
- Freeman, M. (2011). Toward poetic science. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 45(4), 389-396.
- Hamber, B. (2009). Transforming societies after political violence: Truth, reconciliation, and mental health. Springer Science & Business Media.
- James, W. (1909). A Pluralistic Universe, from (1988) William James: Writings 1902 1910. New York: Library of America.
- Quigua, F., & Clegg, J. W. (2015). Imagine the feeling: An aesthetic science of psychology. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 49(3), 459-477.
- Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2014). R-words: Refusing research. Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities, 223, 248.