The question of legitimacy in studying collective trauma

Document Type

Book Chapter


In this chapter, the author reflects on secondary and, to a lesser extent, vicarious trauma among descendants of people who have survived genocide and mass violence. These descendants have often been exposed to family and group narratives of trauma. The resulting psychological reactions have been referred to in the clinical literature as 'transgenerational trauma' and are also reflected in social psychological processes that the author refer to as 'victim consciousness'. The author explores how these phenomena shape both participants' and the researchers' responses to research about collective trauma and victimization. The author draws on his experience of conducting research among groups that have experienced ethnic conflict and mass violence; and on his observations of different responses to these research questions, including intense emotional reactions. The author also address these topics from the perspective of his family background, which has shaped my interests as a researcher and my theoretical perspectives on these issues. As a social psychologist, the author focus mostly on the group and intergroup level. The author studies peoples' reactions to their group's collective experience of violence and trauma, rather than the individual experience of trauma that clinical psychologists examine. However, these levels are obviously intertwined, and responses to questions about collective trauma can reflect what clinical researchers may consider secondary trauma. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Publication Title

Engaging Violence: Trauma, Memory and Representation

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legitimacy, collective trauma, genocide, mass violence, narratives, vicarious experiences, transgenerational trauma