Theorizing Collective Trauma in International Political Economy

Adam Lerner

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While existing literature on collective trauma in international relations represents a vital (albeit inchoate) contribution to the field, to date, it has largely analyzed collective trauma’s impact as primarily psychological and sociocultural. This essay argues that a complete vision of collective trauma in IR must incorporate not only these more intangible dimensions but also how its legacy is reified materially over time in economic conditions—distinguishing the trauma of those with the resources to “work through” and those without. I begin this essay with a novel conception of collective trauma that draws upon existing traditions’ insights but also facilitates mediation between collective trauma’s material and sociocultural dimensions. Employing this definition, I then outline three analytical frameworks via which future scholarship can address collective trauma in international economic relations. First, scholarship can incorporate a notion of the trauma of poverty. Second, scholars can analyze the loss of economic opportunity that trauma entails as akin to Dominick LaCapra’s concept of structural trauma of absence. Finally, scholarship can examine collective trauma’s ability to break down trust in institutions and the impact this breakdown has on international economic relations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberviy044
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Studies Review
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2018

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