Violence and Subjectivity: Anthropological Explorations on Trauma and History
General Catalog Course Title:
Special Topics in Cultural Anthropology/Area Anthropology
Terms Offered:
Fall 2013
Spring 2012

We entered the twenty-first century inhabiting a world of wars, occupations, destruction, insurgency and survival that affect collective existence as well as the most intimate dimensions of personal life. Traumatic experience is at once ever present as a contemporary dimension of life and death, and it is normalized as a strategy of global power and an instrumental economy of claims–an "empire of trauma", as some have recently dubbed it. On the one hand the individualized, biographical and visual representation of violent and traumatic events have become central pieces in the construction of evidence and of cultural and political reality, at the intersection of medical and juridical rationalities, human rights practices, truth commissions, psychiatric diagnoses and ever growing media markets. On the other hand the coming of death to the fore in our historical time, in the lives of subjects and collectivities, shatters a linear reckoning of history, and forces us to think otherwise. It requires us to reflect, once again, and as S. Freud and W. Benjamin had done half a century ago, on the enigmatic nature of traumatic loss for subjects and collectivities, beyond the logic of clinical and juridical operations. Indeed during this current year of upheavals and uprisings, as we witness and are addressed by historical transformations in the making in the Middle East and other parts of the world, we are called to reflect again, in renewed form, on the questions of trauma in its relation to subjugation and emancipation––questions that had been thought obsolete in the “subjective economies” of neoliberal globalization. As it has become clear from the first days of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, the dimension of what in Morocco some refer to as "soul choking", as medico-ethical and psycho-political vocabularies of moral impairment and critique, is central in the motivation and the ethos of the events, which formulated themselves across the region as a reclaiming of life and the imagination: the reclaiming a life with "karama" (respect, dignity), which becomes imaginable in impossibility. Drawing on readings from critical theories of violence and memory, as well as from anthropological accounts of life, death, madness, destruction and the afterlife emerging from traditions (and religious traditions) other than the critical Euro-American, this course attempts to find a ground for the re-thinking of the relationship of catastrophic loss, subjectivity, and historical transmission.

For more detailed information about classes, please visit the UC Berkeley Online Schedule of Classes.