chapter  2
13 Pages

Trauma, discourse and communicative limits

WithMichael Pickering, Emily Keightley

Over the past quarter-century, memory studies has emerged as a vibrant interdisciplinary field of

study with a distinctive set of preoccupations and concerns. In many ways it has developed by

proceeding outwards from individual memory and concentrating on broad dimensions of social

memory and the politics of commemorative or other forms of remembering, especially those

channelled through modern communications media. The explanatory focus has generally been

on how these forms of remembering operate as public representations of the past, how they

constitute a range of cultural resources for social and historical identities or how they privilege

particular readings of the past and subordinate others. Despite these advances, a major stumbling

block remains. This is the question of how individual and collective modes of memory are

realised via quite distinct processes, even if they inform and interact with each other. In some

ways this is not surprising, given the complex issues that are involved, not least of which are

those involving conceptualisations of the individual and of various forms of collectivity, such

as the social group, community or nation. In other ways it is surprising that little consensus

has emerged as to the relative position and status of the individual and the collective within

memory studies. It is, after all, the relation between the two that is at stake in so much of

what memory studies attends to. This involves large and difficult questions, and in this article

we seek only to make a modest contribution to the question of their relative position and

status within the dynamics of their interrelationship by attending to what is for us an avoidable

problem. The problem is the overblown conception and at times indiscriminate use of the term

‘trauma’ in memory studies. Our argument is that the use of this term requires greater care and

consideration than it is usually given.