Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity

Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity

Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity

Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity

Synopsis

In this collaboratively authored work, five distinguished sociologists develop an ambitious theoretical model of "cultural trauma"--and on this basis build a new understanding of how social groups interact with emotion to create new and binding understandings of social responsibility. Looking at the "meaning making process" as an open-ended social dialogue in which strikingly different social narratives vie for influence, they outline a strongly constructivist approach to trauma and apply this theoretical model in a series of extensive case studies, including the Nazi Holocaust, slavery in the United States, and September 11, 2001.

Excerpt

The idea of “cultural trauma” developed over the course of an intensive year-long dialogue among the coauthors.

The opportunity to engage in such a dialogue was provided by a generous grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences under the title of “Values and Social Process.” Neil J. Smelser, the CASBS Center Director, and I took joint responsibility for directing the earlier phases of this project. The results of our two earlier initiatives were published in Neil J. Smelser and Jeffrey C. Alexander, eds., Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) and in a special edition devoted to “The Public Representation of Culture and History” of the American Behavioral Scientist 42 (6), March 1999. It was my special privilege to direct the third phase of this funded research as a “Special Project” during the 1998–99 academic year at the center, to which I invited the contributors to this volume as collaborators. It was our great fortune that Neil Smelser chose to participate fully in our discussions despite his administrative responsibilities. Smelser exercised a powerful influence on the proceedings. We would like to record our gratitude not only to the Hewlett Foundation and the library and administrative staff of CASBS but to Neil Smelser as well. We would also like to publicly acknowledge the contributions to this project of Bjorn Wittrock, the sixth member of our special project at the center and a full-time partici-

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