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: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

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

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.