Accepted Paper:

From trauma to breakthrough: conceptualizing trauma as a learning process in anthropology  
Alex Pavlotski (La Trobe University)

Paper short abstract:

Fieldwork often confronts the ethnographer with radically different mentalities and extreme events and conditions. This paper seeks to harness trauma as an aid to learning and offers a simple model of cognition that might be used to mitigate the negative impacts of traumatic field encounters.

Paper long abstract:

In the psychological tradition, trauma is always presented in negative terms. However, anthropological understandings of ritual and non-western models of healing suggest the possibility that experiences which are considered to be traumatic can also facilitate healing, identity construction and belonging. More recent work by psychologist Martin Seligman also suggests that traumatic experience can serve to generate competence and resilience. Anthropological fieldwork can often be a difficult and confronting experience, often meeting contemporary diagnostic standards of trauma. However, these confrontations and difficulties are also key to participation, learning and the acquisition of emic experience. This paper presents a model of trauma that that relates it with deep learning and the shifting of perspectives. It also presents trauma in relation to the idea of breakthrough, empathy and the process of becoming in the context of ethnographic fieldwork. Learning, consciousness and bias are presented through the visual model of the 'congative triangle'. This model can be used as conceptual preparation for ethnographers preparing to enter the field to minimize the negative impacts of ethnographic encounters and optimize the possibility of learning from field trauma.

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