Deconstructing the redemptive power of 'bearing witness'

Nov 21, 2012

A new comparative study finds genocidal legacies are not experienced as trauma across cultures.

The experience of genocide as transmitted trauma may not be universal, according to new published in .

In the fields of human rights and , giving testimony about one's personal experience of genocide is believed to be both a and a psychological imperative for the wellbeing of the individual and the persecuted group to which she belongs. Accordingly, the proposed to of genocide tend to be rather uniform: tell your story and do not let the violence you suffered be forgotten.

The author of this study offers two persuasive case studies that suggest that this universalizing approach to genocide is misguided. In her interviews with Jewish-Israeli children of Holocaust survivors and Cambodian-Canadians whose parents were persecuted at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Carol Kidron found that virtually all subjects rejected the pathologizing construct of transmitted PTSD.

The author's research reveals key differences in the genocidal legacies of Cambodian-Canadian and Jewish-Israeli trauma descendants. While the Jewish-Israeli subjects felt that they bore some emotional scars that were passed on by their parents, they opposed the idea that they have been afflicted by these inherited traces of the Holocaust. In fact, in the Jewish-Israeli cultural context, these markers of emotional difference may serve instead as an empowering way to carry on their parents' memory. In great contrast, Cambodian-Canadians not only resist the stigma of trauma, but also insist that the genocide has not left them psycho-socially impaired in any way. Instead of remembering tragedy, the Cambodian-Canadian subjects appealed to Karma and subscribed to Buddhist forward-looking attitudes.

Despite their differences, both accounts defy the tropes of victimization and trauma that pervade scholarship on genocide and humanitarian practice. The author argues that religious worldviews and cultural values frame responses to trauma. Cultural paradigms may valorize or marginalize the importance of remembrance, and the author calls for scholars and humanitarian workers to take into account the diversity of cultural frameworks for remembrance when dealing with descendants of victims.

Explore further: Computer games give a boost to English

More information: Kidron, Carol A. "Alterity and the Particular Limits of Universalism: Comparing Jewish-Israeli Holocaust and Canadian-Cambodian Genocide Legacies." Current Anthropology 53:5.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Health-based approach may help ID groups at risk of genocide

Sep 19, 2011

Researchers from North Carolina State University are proposing a health-based approach to identifying groups at high risk of genocide, in a first-of-its-kind attempt to target international efforts to stop these mass killings ...

Program improves health of orphans of Rwandan genocide

Aug 08, 2011

Rwandan children who lived through the horrors of the 1994 genocide may suffer from psychological trauma that makes them more vulnerable to health problems, such as HIV infection. But a medical school study ...

The Holocaust was not experienced in the same way by everyone

Mar 31, 2008

Jewish experiences of the Holocaust are complex. Swedish researcher Laura Palosuo from Uppsala University has studied the testimony of Hungarian survivors, and in her dissertation she shows that the way different people experienced ...

Psychological pain of Holocaust still haunts survivors

Sep 20, 2010

Holocaust survivors show remarkable resilience in their day-to-day lives, but they still manifest the pain of their traumatic past in the form of various psychiatric symptoms, according to an analysis of 44 years of global ...

Recommended for you

Computer games give a boost to English

7 hours ago

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

12 hours ago

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

Healthy working environment is a salvation

14 hours ago

Contract workers in Norway often face the worst and most unpredictable working conditions. But good management and support from colleagues makes these workers more robust.

Why marvellous isn't awesome any more

14 hours ago

Using the Spoken British National Corpus 2014, a very large collection of recordings of real-life, informal, spoken interactions between speakers of British English from across the United Kingdom, Cambridge ...

User comments : 0