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  • Orkideh Behrouzan

Teaching Resources on the Social Construction of Trauma

This is a sample reading list I have used for introducing students to the history of the concept and discourses of trauma in psychoanalysis and psychiatry, and to engage them in a critical reading of its social construction:

Social Construction and Globalisation: The Case of Trauma Discourses and Critical Anthropology

Rather than considering each subject/object/entity/condition as given, we now think more in terms of the network of interests and cultural forms that define and thus create it. This week, we will be looking specifically at the problem of social construction and of illness, gender, culture, and science as privileged types of social construction - indeed as the very perspectives from whicha discussion of social construction became possible. These pieces demonstrate the political history of assumed categories and urge us to unpack their trajectories. Each argues that its object is created as “other” (and as secondary, inauthentic or grotesque) by the surrounding discursive system. This scholarship on biopolitics and social construction has had a significant influence on anthropology, and has inspired a generation of medical anthropologists to explore health and illness in the context of political economy and in relation to networks of knowledge, ideology, and power that shaped their reality; hence the legacy of Critical Medical Anthropology. Significant to our agenda is a critical approach to how certain local social constructions are rendered universal (we focus on the case of traumaand the globalisation of its discourses): what are the stakes of such globalisation?

On Social Construction

  • Hacking, Ian. The Social Construction of What? (Chapter 4. pp. 100-124). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Hacking, Ian. 1986 “Making Up People” in Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality and the Self in Western Thought, edited by T.C. Heller et al., Stanford, Stanford University Press.

  • Said, Edward. 1978 Orientalism. New York, Pantheon (Random House).

  • 1993 “From Orientalism” (excerpts reprinted) in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader

  • Butler, J. Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler. Radical Philosophy, 67, 1994, pp. 32-39.

On Biopolitics

  • The Birth of Biopolitics. In Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth (Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, Vol. 1). Edited by Paul Rabinow. New Press, 1998.

  • Rabinow, Paul and Nikolas Rose. 2003 “Thoughts on the Concept of Biopower Today” available online at

  • * Rose, Nikolas. 2001.“The Politics of Life Itself” in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol 18, 6: 1-30

  • Michel Foucault. 1982. "The Subject and Power", Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 777-795.

  • Michel Foucault. (1997) “Technologies of the Self.” Pp. 221-251 in Paul Rabinow (ed.), Michel Foucault: Ethics, Subjectivity, and Truth. New York: The New York Press.

  • Foucault, Michel. 1994[1966]. The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. New York: Vintage. Pp. 3-17, 21-39.

  • Foucault, M. 1994. The Birth of the Clinic. An Archeology of Medical Perception. New York: Vintage Books.

  • Agamben, Giorgio. 2005 States of Exception. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. (See particularly Chapters one and two: “The State of Exception as a Paradigm of Government” and “Force-of-Law”)

  • 1998 Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, University of Stanford Press. (See particularly Part Three: “The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the Modern” and in this Part especially sections 1 and 2, “The Politicization of Life” and “Biopolitics and the Rights of Man”.)

  • Jennings, Ronald C. 2011 “Sovereignty and Political Modernity: A genealogy of Agamben’s critique of sovereignty” in Anthropological Theory, 11(1)23-61

  • Vinh-kim Nguyen. 2005 Antiretroviral Globalism, Biopolitics, and Therapeutic Citizenship. In Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. A. Ong and S. J. Collier, eds. Pp. 124–144. Malden, MA: Blackwell

  • Foucault, Michel. 2003. “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the College de France, 1975-76(Chapter 11 - on the biopolitical).

  • Butler, Judith. 1997. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

  • De Beauvoir, Simone. 1993. The Second Sex. London, Everyman’s Library. (First published in 1949.)

  • Foucault, Michel. 1979 The Order of Things. New York; Pantheon.

On The Social Construction of Pathology

  • Nguyen, Vinh-Kim and Karine Peschard. 2003“Anthropology, Inequality and Disease: a Review” in Annual Review of Anthropology, 32: 447-74

  • DelVecchio, M-J., Good, M., Hyde, S., Pinto, S. and Good, B. 2008. Postcolonial Disorders. University of California Press: Introduction

  • Martin, Emily. 1988. “Premenstrual Syndrome, Work Discipline and Anger.” The Woman in the Body. Boston: Beacon Press, pp.113-138.

  • Farmer, P. 2003. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and The New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press

  • Davis, E. A. 2012. Bad Souls. Duke University Press.

  • Horwitz, A. 2002.The Biological Foundations of Diagnostic Psychiatry. In Creating Mental Illness. University of Chicago Press. Sadowsky, J. 1999. Imperial Bedlam: Institutions of Madness in Colonial Southwest Nigeria. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Garcia, Angela. 2008 The Elegiac Addict: History, Chronicity, and the Melancholic Subject. Cultural Anthropology. 23(4):718-746.

On Globalisation and/of Trauma discourses

This section focuses on a cross-cultural critique of dominant trauma discourses and the concept of trauma as situated in its own historical and political contexts.

Historical Context: Freud, Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry

  • Caruth, Cathy. 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press: Introduction and Chapter 1

  • Young, Alan. 1997. Harmony of Illusions: the Origins of Traumatic Memory, Part I(pp.13-88).

  • Caruth, Cathy, ed. 1995. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • * Radstone, Susannah. 2007. ‘Trauma Theory: Contexts, Politics, Ethics’. Paragraph 30, no. 1: 9–29. http://dx.doi/org/10.3366/prg.2007.0015.

  • Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917). The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. James Strachey et al., eds. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-1974. pp. 243-258.

  • The Repression of War Experience. W.H.R. Rivers, M.D.(Lond.), F.R.C.P.(Lond.),

  • F.R.S., Late Medical Officer, Craiglockhart War Hospital: 
Allan Young Interview: science-an-interview-with-allan-young.html

  • Shephard, B. (2001). A war of nerves: Soldiers and psychiatrists in the twentieth century. Harvard University Press.

  • Summerfield, Derek. 1999. ‘A Critique of Seven Assumptions behind Psychological Trauma Programmes in War-Affected Areas’. Social Science & Medicine 48, no. 10: 1449–62.

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth and Fifth Editions (APA 1994 2013). Appendix i. Glossary of culture-bound syndromes. European-Inuit Relations? Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 32,2: pp.1-42.

Critical Approaches:

  • Young, Allan. 1993 “A Description of How Ideology Shapes Knowledge of a Mental Disorder (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder)” in Lindenbaum, Shirley and Margaret Lock (eds.), Knowledge, Power and Practices: The Anthropology of Medicine and Everyday Life. Berkeley and London, University of California Press.

  • Young, Alan. 1997. Harmony of Illusions: Introduction(Pp.3-12)

  • Retchman, Richard. The rebirth of PTSD: the rise of a new paradigm in psychiatrySocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2004, Volume 39, Issue 11,p 913-915

  • * Fassin, D. and R. Rechtman. 2009. The Empire of Trauma. An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Introduction

  • Summerfield, D. (2001). The invention of post-traumatic stress disorder and the social usefulness of a psychiatric category. British Medical Journal, 322(7278), 95-98.

  • Hacking, Ian. 2013. Lost in the Forest (review of DSM-5: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). London Review of Books, vol. 35, no. 15: 7-8. 

  • Ian Hacking, “Making up people.” London Review of Books, Vol. 28 No. 16 · 17 August 2006.

  • Kirk, S. A., & Kutchins, H. (1992). The selling of the DSM: The rhetoric of science in psychiatry. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

  • Lakoff, Andrew. 2012. Ian Hacking: Interviewed by Andrew Lakoff. Public Culture, vol. 24, no. 1: 217-232. 

  • Kirmayer, L., Lemelson, R. and Barad, M. 2008. Understanding Trauma. Integrating Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lester, R. 2013. Back from the edge of existence: A critical anthropology of trauma. Transcultural Psychiatry 50(5):753-762.

  • Das, V. 2007. Commentary: trauma and testimony, between law and discipline. Ethos 35(3):330- 335.

  • Fassin, Didier. 2007 “Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life” in Public Culture, 19 (3):499-520 Lambek, M. (eds). Tense past: cultural essays in trauma and memory. NY: Routledge, pp:173-198. Kirmayer, L. 1993 Healing and the invention of metaphor: the effectiveness of symbols revisited. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 17(2):161-195.

On The Postcolonial Subject and Condition

  • Fanon F. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin.

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2012. Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change. New Literary History, 43: 1-18.

  • Geschiere, Peter. 2009. Is There ‘A’ Postcolonial Condition? The Johannesburg Salon, Volume 1: 23-25.

  • Gilroy, Paul. 2011. Fanon and the Value of the Human. The Johannesburg Salon, Volume 1: 7-14.

  • Martinez-San Miguel, Yolanda. 2009. Postcolonialism. Social Text 100, 27(3): 188-193.

  • Mbembe, Achille. 2009. Postcolonial Thought Explained to the French: An Interview with Achille Mbembe. The Johannesburg Salon, Volume 1: 33-38.

  • Signer, Rachel. 2009. On Postcolonialism. The Johannesburg Salon, Volume 1: 32-33.

  • Stam, Robert & Shohat, Ella. 2012. Whence and Whither Postcolonial Theory?New Literary History, 43: 371-390.

  • Young, Robert JC. 2012. Postcolonial Remains. New Literary History, 43: 19-42.

  • Latour, Bruno. 2004. Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry, vol. 30: 225-248. 

  • Latour, Bruno. 2011. Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-network Theorist. International Journal of Communication, vol. 5: 796-810. 

  • Lynch. Michael. 2001. The Contingencies of Social Construction (review article of Ian Hacking). Economy and Society, vol. 30, no. 2: 240-254. 

  • Madsen, Ole Jacob et al. 2013. 'I am a philosopher of the particular case': An interview with the 2009 Holberg prizewinner Ian Hacking. History of the Human Sciences, vol. 26, no. 3: 32-51.

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