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GIC Research Seminar: Collective Trauma and the Making of International Politics - Monday 6th December, 1-2pm.

GIC seminar speaker Adam Learner

Dr Adam Lerner

22 November 2021

This is the second event in the GIC research seminar series for 2021-2022. The speaker is Dr Adam Lerner from Royal Holloway, who will be presenting on his forthcoming book with Oxford University Press, entitled From the Ashes of History: Collective Trauma and the Making of International Politics.

Abstract: Mass violence, in its varied forms, has long been a primary concern in International Relations (IR)—indeed, most of the discipline’s origin stories of the international system emphasize order emerging from brutal wars or colonial violence. Yet, despite this centrality, too often scholars neglect its indirect longer-term impacts, particularly as they manifest as collective trauma. This paper theorizes collective trauma as an emergent phenomenon and demonstrates its foundational role in the international system. It begins with a political genealogy of trauma and distils from it a central paradox in trauma’s collectivization—traumatic events suppress memory and isolate victims, and yet bearing witness can have enormous political consequences. To avoid a problematic partial understanding, the paper defines collective trauma explicitly via the multilevel crisis in representation inherent to trauma’s politicization. Further, it outlines how this crisis interacts with economic and institutional conditions, differentiating collective trauma in communities with resources for psychosocial processing from those without. This addition helps combat the Western bias of much existing literature and build a lens transportable across contexts. Ultimately, the paper argues that narrative is vital for translating trauma into political imaginaries. It outlines how social scientists can adapt hermeneutic tools from literary theory and historiography to read collective trauma’s paradoxes in analysis.

Biography: Dr. Adam B. Lerner is a permanent Lecturer (Assistant Professor) of International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the Deputy Director of Royal Holloway's Centre for International Security (RHISC). His first book From the Ashes of History: Collective Trauma and the Making of International Politics will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2022. His refereed articles have appeared in European Journal of International RelationsPerspectives on PoliticsInternational Studies ReviewInternational Theory, the Journal of Contemporary Asia and the Cambridge Review of International Affairs, among other outlets. He can be found on Twitter @adamblerner.

Further information

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