Skip to main content

Law, Testimony and Trauma Symposium, 10th of June 2022, Streatham Campus

The emerging research network Law, Testimony and Trauma held its first symposium entitled ‘Trauma’ as a Critical Research Lens, organised by Dr Natalie Ohana (Law), which took place on the 10th of June 2022 on the Streatham Campus.

The symposium created a multi-disciplinary space in which scholars whose research relates to trauma (individual or collective) could deeply reflect on the potential and limitations of the concept ‘trauma’ as a critical research lens. 

The symposium enabled a small group, in-depth discussion among people whose research is linked to trauma or who have an interest in Critical Trauma Studies.

By ‘critical research lens’, we mean a lens through which social, political and/or legal conditions that act to deepen, fixate and sustain forms of oppression can be exposed. Based on this definition of critical lens, the question the symposium will be concerned with is whether trauma is an effective concept able to generate understandings beyond the trauma itself, on social power relations and the structures that sustain them. Examining power through the lens of trauma locates this symposium within the scholarship of Critical Trauma Studies.

Trauma is an event or continuous reality that involves an immediate threat to life and bodily integrity and is experienced as a close personal encounter with violence or death (Herman, 1992). Whereas this definition focuses on the nature of the event or of the reality, the concept trauma carries upon it layers of meaning that extend beyond its event/reality essence. The added layers of meaning, medical, psychological, legal, social and political, are constructed through trauma being a locus point around which disciplinary knowledges are continuously produced and reproduced and professions are constantly created and shaped. Critical Trauma Studies examines the power-effects of these added layers. It examines the manners by which they act to construct, mark and define the ‘traumatised subject’, their social location and agency as well as society’s responses to trauma and to people who experienced trauma. The differentiation between trauma as an event/continuous reality and the added layers attached to trauma could be useful when thinking in the symposium about trauma as a critical research lens.

Two points of departure for the symposium’s discussion were proposed.

The first is trauma as a manifestation and mirror of violence-enabling conditions. It is based on the recognition that forms of oppression and traumatic events are inter-linked, a link that becomes immediately apparent when seeing the clear correlation between forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism and classism and the occurrence of trauma. Social, political and legal conditions that sustain oppression are the necessary habitat for trauma. Recognising the oppression-trauma correlation leads to the basic understanding that traumatic events are both a manifestation/symptom of oppression and a mirror through which the conditions that create and sustain oppression could be seen. In this sense, trauma can serve as a critical research lens as it can be traced back to uncover these conditions. It can visibilise violence-enabling conditions that are otherwise obscure. This is especially crucial in regimes defined as ‘democracies’ where the conditions that sustain oppression are often subtle and un-identifiable.

The second point of departure is trauma as a mechanism that sustains oppression. It recognises that people who experience oppression closely are the people who hold the most relevant knowledge that can form the basis for social change. It links between trauma, healing, agency, resistance and struggle. Whereas the first point of departure looks at trauma to uncover the social conditions that enable its occurrence, the second point of departure looks at trauma to uncover the ways by which society marginalises, restricts participation and consequently weakens the agency of the very people who could otherwise lead to change.

9.45-10.00- Arrival

10.00-10.15- Introductions

10.15- 10.45-  Sarah Lucas (Politics)
The Untold Want: Refusing Stanley Cavell’s Compromise with Justice

10.45-11.15- Catherine Cartright (Geography)
Trauma-informed Participatory Arts

11.15-11.45-  Raawyiah Rifath (Law)
Sexual Orientation, Asylum and Trauma

11.45-12.00- Break

12.00-12.30- Rami Rmeileh (IAIS)
Sumud (steadfastness) Paradigm: Exploring Palestinian Subjectivity in Conditions of Extreme Subjugation

12.30-13.00- Tenzin Yangkyi (English)
Trauma as the Collapse of Witnessing in Multatuli’s Max Havelaar

13.00-13.30- Natalie Ohana (Law)
Reflections on the relationship between oppression, trauma and law through Freud’s concept of ‘the uncanny’ and Kristeva’s concept of ‘the abject’

13.30-14.15- Lunch

14.15-14.45- Alya Zoabi (Law and IAIS)
Examining a model of anti-colonial and feminist legal representation in Israel \Palestine based on Palestinian women's experiences

14.45-15.15- Lindsey Connett (Law)
The personal injury compensation process in cases involving abuse and trauma: discussion linking experiences of legal practice and PhD research

15.15-15.45- Luna Dolezal (Philosophy and medical humanities)
Why a Trauma-Informed approach Requires Shame-Sensitive Practice

15.45-16.00- Break

16.00-16.30- Concluding thoughts

The symposium was joined by Katie Natanel (IAIS), Ranita Chatterjee (Film) and Suzanne Azer (Clinical Psychology)