Accepted Paper:

'Slouching towards Bethlehem,' processing trauma through the site of trauma  


Fiona Murphy (Queen's University Belfast)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the spatial and emplaced nature of traumatic experience and its relationship to memory and healing, both individual and collective, through the lens of Stolen Generation’s experiences. The return to a former institution for Aboriginal children by a group of Aboriginal women provides the ethnographic backdrop for this piece.

Paper long abstract:

Returning to the site of trauma has been deemed a powerful enabler of healing for many survivors of trauma. Revisiting and confronting the site of suffering and pain allows survivors to speak to traumatic experience, carving out of the force of trauma a more coherent narrative about survival, hope, and healing. Much of the writing about trauma points to the difficulties for survivors of trauma of mediating between the extreme and the everyday, and in so doing unpacks the complexity of the temporal dimensions of traumatic experience. Very little of the literature speaks to the spatial and emplaced nature of traumatic experience. Trauma is often inscribed in the physical place, and survivors of trauma frequently see a particular site as embodying their traumatic experiences. This paper begins with the recognition of how spatially anchored traumatic experience can be, and speaks to the potency of the 'return' to the site of former institutions, which are 'wounded spaces' (Deborah Bird Rose, 2004) for members of Australia's Stolen Generations. Accompanying a group of Aboriginal women to the site of the institution in which they lived for most of their lives after being removed from their parents and communities, allowed insight into how difficult the negotiation between the individual and collective experience of trauma is. This paper concludes that revisiting the site of trauma anchors the story of trauma to a place and materializes what is also an emotional and psychological struggle, allowing the survivor's narrative of trauma to become inscribed in a tangible space.

Panel W032
Processing trauma in (post-)conflict societies