Working Paper 115

Between the Lines of Socio-Cultures of Trauma: Republicanism, dissenters and the politics of meta-trauma in the Northern Irish conflict

Olaf Zenker

Abteilung ‚Integration und Konflikt’

Jahr der Veröffentlichung


Working Paper 115

Longstanding political violence often leads to specific socio-cultures of trauma characterised socially by mass traumatisation and culturally by specific ways of representing and handling these traumatic experiences. While there is variation within such socio-cultures, certain ways of processing trauma become more hegemonic than others as powerful political actors back them. This creates context-specific configurations in which locals must find their way through empowered narratives of 'chosen trauma' and enforced silences of 'chosen amnesia'. In this article, based on in-depth life story interviews contextualised by fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2003–2004, I follow an exemplary informant from Catholic West Belfast, Northern Ireland, through his difficulties in locating himself within his local socio-culture of trauma. Characterising the ambivalence and problems he experienced when identifying himself as 'Irish', I suggest that these difficulties should be interpreted as resulting from his position 'between the lines': his ways of handling traumatic experiences did not square up with the hegemonic Republican trauma narrative but rather read 'between the lines' by filling in the blanks in Republican representations. Thereby de facto establishing a counter-narrative, this individual also positioned himself 'between the (front-)lines' of power, producing local encounters that were characterised, at best, by incomprehension and, at worst, by threatening silence and repudiation. The article concludes that this 'meta-trauma' – that is the traumatic experience of repeatedly failing to socio-culturally integrate one's own traumatic experiences – needs to be conceptualised and thereby processed against the politicised background of such socio-cultures of trauma rather than misinterpreted as an individualised failure to cope with a personal experience of suffering.

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