Social Trauma, Emotions, and Activism

During the last two decades, social movement scholars have begun to recognize something that activists have long acknowledged: the importance of emotions in motivating, sustaining, and shaping activism and activists themselves. The recent death of Nelson Mandela serves as a reminder of the ways that social, cultural, and personal trauma in particular can serve to motivate individual activism, provide both tools and constraints for activism, and construct narratives and frames of injustice or reconciliation that can sustain and shape activism on a large scale. For the upcoming essay dialogue, we invited contributors to reflect on how trauma and activism are related, focusing on questions such as: How do shared traumas like war, genocide, or natural disasters provide fuel for or obstacles to mobilization around those or other societal problems? Under what conditions are social traumas likely to result in mobilization, and are those mobilizations more likely to be focused on reconciliation or retaliation? When are narratives and frames that incorporate experiences of trauma likely to resonate and motivate, and when are they likely to further traumatize activists? Essays in this first round of posts on this topic focus on various empirical cases, including the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and South African Apartheid.  We are grateful to our distinguished contributors:

Nicolas Argenti, Brunel University (essay)
Julia Chaitin, Sapir College, Other Voice and FAB (essay)
Michaela Soyer, Penn State (essay)
Ernesto Verdeja, Notre Dame (essay)

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Social Trauma and Activism

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