'Trauma Play': A Care Ethic among Israeli Defense Forces Veterans
(University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores an ethnographic account of a group of Israeli Defense Forces Veterans with PTSD who go camping near the "front", and "play" with traumatic stimuli in different ways. I argue that the anthropology of play can shed light on the psychological concept of trauma reenactment.
Paper long abstract:
In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the geographical and emotional boundaries between "home" and "front" are often blurred, as do distinctions between "civilian" and "military". For Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), this means that intrusive traumatic stimuli are ubiquitous. However, while intrusive memories are a central part of PTSD pathology, mental-health professionals consider some clinically controlled forms of reenactment as essential for healing. This paper analyses a very different "healthy reenactment" in a non-clinical context based on fieldwork and interviews with a group of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) veterans with PTSD called "No Man Left Behind". The group engages in playful and dramaturgical reenactment through practices that let them "flow" from "home" to "front", such as camping trips to the Gaza envelope ("deployment to a conflict zone"), the use of military ranks and hierarchy within the group, and "emergency deployments" to help veterans in need. Using concepts from the anthropology of play, these practices will be examined as a collective "game of reenactment" with coherent and culturally-anchored rules, roles, limits, spaces, and values. By introducing the term "trauma-play" I will consider this playful reenactment as a way for players to productively engage with traumatic experiences. Trauma-play allows players to create new double-meanings for traumatic stimuli, to assume new, non-traumatized identities, and to reframe suffering as a unique moral sensibility, thereby supplying players with resources for healing from symptoms and life problems they attribute to military service.
To the "front" and back "home" again: military mobilities and the social transitions they entail