Accepted Paper:

Intersubjectivity and the interpretation of intergenerational trauma: case studies from Cambodia  
Kenneth Finis (Macquarie University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores intergenerational trauma from the perspective of young Cambodians born after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Their alternative understandings highlight the potential influence of local interpretation and contemporary context on how following generations experience traumatic pasts.

Paper long abstract:

The concept of intergenerational trauma has become an increasingly accepted understanding of the potential for trauma experienced by parents to be transmitted to children, having a negative influence on their psychological wellbeing. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper explores alternative perspectives from young Cambodians regarding the influence of the Khmer Rouge period on themselves. It discusses the role that interpretation, narrative, and socioeconomic circumstances may play in how following generations experience the influence of parental trauma.

In Cambodia the extreme hardship and loss suffered during the Khmer Rouge period was almost ubiquitous, and the impact on survivors and the country's development has received much attention. While recognising the significance of what their parents endured, the young respondents of this study reported not thinking of themselves or their peers as suffering ongoing effects of this time. Rather, they saw their lack of direct experience as being a distinguishing factor which protected them against personal impact. Much more prominent in their minds were contemporary stressors and structural inequalities which affected their ability to improve their livelihoods and build more stable futures for themselves and their families.

In analysing the formation and implications of these perspectives, I draw from scholars such as Jackson, Kleinman, and Kidron to theorise the role of narrative and interpretation on the influence that the past may have on individuals and their communities. I discuss these findings in the context of global mental health movements, and in how they interact with psychotherapeutic approaches to trauma.

Panel P01
Trauma subjectivities - the experience and imaginaries of suffering in the 21st century