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Cash and Cash noted that in U. They stated that, "Although this practice would seem to be a fascinating aspect of human be havior on the basis of its generality and resilience, social-behavioral scientists have largely ignored the phenomenon so plainly or pleasingly in front of their eyes. Many psychologists have argued e. Maruyama and Miller stated that "appearance is often the first dimension upon which a stranger can be evaluated. Since people tend to see others as integrated and consistent units, rather than as collections of situation-specific behaviors, a potent and immediately evident basis for an evaluation, such as physical appearance, should intrude into and affect any overall and subsequent evalua tion.
Product details Format Hardback pages Dimensions Illustrations note IX, pages. Other books in this series. Attention and Self-Regulation C. Add to basket. Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge K. Gender and Nonverbal Behavior C. It suggests that the tragedy is represented in the collective memory of the group, and like all forms of memory it comprises not only a reproduction of the events, but also an ongoing reconstruction of the trauma in an attempt to make sense of it.
Collective memory of trauma is different from individual memory because collective memory persists beyond the lives of the direct survivors of the events, and is remembered by group members that may be far removed from the traumatic events in time and space. These subsequent generations of trauma survivors, that never witnessed the actual events, may remember the events differently than the direct survivors, and then the construction of these past events may take different shape and form from generation to generation.
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In this paper I illustrate how the collective memory of traumatic events is a dynamic social psychological process that is primarily dedicated to the construction of meaning. The creation and maintenance of meaning comprises a sense of self-continuity, a connection between the self, others and the environment Baumeister and Vohs, ; Heine et al.
It is a processes of identity construction that comprises the sense of self-esteem, continuity, distinctiveness, belonging, efficacy, and ultimately a sense of meaning Vignoles et al. Accordingly, the current article relies on these principles to trace the process of meaning-making following historical trauma at the collective level and among both victim and perpetrator groups. Much of the theory and research presented in this paper focuses on the Holocaust because it is considered to be the prototypical 20th century genocide, and has attracted more attention and scholarship than other collective traumas Mazur and Vollhardt, Can the Holocaust be compared to other cases of genocide and mass murder and should it?
According to eminent Holocaust historian, Yehuda Bauer, the Holocaust, in spite of its unique attributes, can and must be compared to other events of a similar nature, otherwise why should a public school system in Philadelphia, New York, or Timbuktu teach it Bauer, ? Based on the notion that every specific trauma is unique, but the lessons derived can be universal, this paper discusses the common long-term consequences of different forms of collective victimization.
For victims of collective trauma meaning is established by: a passing down culturally-derived teachings and traditions about threat that promote group preservation; b these traditions of threat amplify existential concerns and increase the motivation to embed the trauma into a symbolic system of meaning; c trauma fosters the sense of a collective self that is transgenerational thereby promoting a sense of meaning and mitigating existential threat; d the sense of an historic collective self also increases group cohesion and group identification that function to create meaning and alleviate existential concerns; e the profound sense of meaning that is borne out of collective trauma perpetuates the memory of the trauma and the reluctance to close the door on the past; f Over time collective trauma becomes the epicenter of group identity, and the lens through which group members understand their social environment.
For members of perpetrator groups, collective trauma represents an identity threat Branscombe et al.
The inability to reconcile the character of the group in the present with its character in the past may motivate group members, primarily high identifiers, to perceive an historical discontinuity of the group that serves to distance present group members from past offenders Roth et al. Sometimes this discontinuity is reflected in the motivation to close the door on history and never look back Imhoff et al. Members of perpetrator groups may deal with the dark chapter in their history by thoroughly denying the events, disowning them and refusing to take any responsibility for them.
But, more often than not, reactions to an uncomfortable history will take on a more nuanced form with group members reconstructing the trauma in a manner that is more palatable, and representing the trauma in a manner that reduces collective responsibility. Understanding the impact of trauma on collective meaning becomes even more complex when considering what Primo Levi defined as the gray zone Levi, — a nebulous area wherein the distinction between victims and perpetrators is not always clear cut, and victims may behave as perpetrators and perpetrators are victims.
Members of groups that exist in this region of collective memory are often motivated to defensively represent their history in a manner that highlights their sacrifice and downplays their crimes Bilewicz et al.
- Collective Trauma and the Social Construction of Meaning?
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These groups may also engage in competitive victimhood dynamics with other groups demanding to be recognized as the veritable victim Noor et al. The current paper offers a perspective suggesting that the intra- and inter-group tribulations over a dark chapter in history represent more than an attempt to abdicate responsibility for past crimes, or quarrel over the benefits of the victim status. The need to come to terms with a dark past represents a crisis of meaning that must be resolved for the group to deconstruct and reconstruct its sense of collective self and assume an identity that offers continuity, coherence and significance.
The memory of historical crimes threatens fundamental values, current notions of self-worth, and the sense of having a constructive collective purpose Baumeister, ; Vignoles et al. The quest for meaning must, therefore, involve the reconstruction of these basic elements. This analysis of meaning borne out of trauma for both victim and perpetrator groups offers the provocative suggestion that trauma is not merely a destructive event, but also an irreplaceable ingredient in the construction of collective meaning.
Accordingly, for victim groups there may be secondary gains to collective trauma, that are often overlooked, that function to keep the memory of trauma alive, and lead subsequent generations to incorporate the trauma into their collective self. For perpetrator groups, the trauma functions as a catalyst that stimulates the construction of a new social representation that, if successful, can support a collective self that acknowledges past transgressions in a manner that is neither defensive nor crippling; one that promotes positive social identity e.
On this basis, the present article considers alternative ways to remember collective trauma that can break out of compulsive reenactments of the past, or defensive dynamics; ways that may reconcile the meaning wars between groups with a convoluted history and reduce intergroup tension and hostility. Collective trauma is devastating for individuals and for groups; it constitutes a cataclysmic event that affects not only direct victims, but society as a whole.
Establishing meaning, therefore, is particularly important when individuals or groups encounter traumatic life experiences Park, Sociologist Kai Erikson eloquently describes the similarities and differences between individual and collective trauma and their impact on the self:. At the personal level, these individuals display significantly higher rates of psychological distress Yehuda et al. The catastrophic image of the long-lasting effects of collective trauma portrayed by Erikson, albeit valid, represents only one side of the coin on how traumatic historical events impact individuals and groups.
The current paper places the spotlight on another important aspect of collective trauma that has received less attention — the relationship between collective trauma and the construction of meaning. Trauma may contribute to the creation of a national narrative Alexander et al. Collective trauma may, therefore, facilitate the construction of the various elements of meaning and social identity: purpose, values, efficacy, and collective worth Vignoles et al.
These effects of trauma on the construction of collective meaning may, ironically, increase as time elapses from the traumatic event Klar et al. The effects of collective trauma on the construction of meaning is not limited to the victim group that needs to reinvent itself and reconstruct all that was lost, but also to the perpetrator group that must redefine itself and construct a positive moral image of the group in light of the atrocities it committed Shnabel and Nadler, ; Hirschberger et al.
The current paper traces the process of meaning-making for historical victims and perpetrators and suggests that although there are some pathological aspects to meaning borne out of trauma, these meaning structures ultimately contribute to group identification and cohesion, provide a sense of history and destiny, and propel groups to turn the calamity into a springboard for growth. Individuals and nations possess a collective memory Halbwachs, of historical events, even those that took place long before they were born Licata and Mercy, Collective memory not only promotes the construction of identity, but also the preservation of a positive collective identity Tajfel and Turner, and a sense of worth Vignoles et al.
This can be achieved through social comparisons and devaluations of other groups, and also through the reconstruction of reality and memory as to uphold a positive image of the group. Collective trauma may threaten collective identity; it may raise questions about the significance of the group, and about core belief systems for both victims e.
It may also threaten affiliation with perpetrator groups as members inevitably contend with a burden of guilt. These processes may compromise group cohesion and lead to the disintegration of the group. For instance, massacres and military defeats, as terrible as they may be, provide fertile ground for the production of cultural narratives and shared belief systems that infuse meaning and support social identity in the aftermath of calamity Weber, ; Olick et al.
Thus, historical trauma may be integrated into the social representation of both victim and perpetrator groups i. The historical memory for collective trauma may span millennia, with groups commemorating traumatic events that can be traced back to antiquity, and even to biblical times. Muslims remember their battle with the crusaders at the Horns of Hattin; Jews are commanded to never forget Amalek — the biblical people who threatened the Israelites.
More recently, the Irish commemorate the rebellions against the British; Koreans carry with them the scars of Japanese oppressive rule; Bosnians can never erase the atrocities of Srebrenica; and the legacy of the Holocaust is to never forget. These memories of victimization that may convey an unflattering image of group weakness and powerlessness Shnabel et al. Why do they not want to move on and let bygones be bygones? In the following sections the manner by which the painful memory of trauma is adaptive to individuals and groups is presented layer by layer.
In the first layer, the basic evolutionary level, the memory of trauma is shown to promote vigilance that may enhance actual group survival and restore a sense of efficacy. The memory of trauma, however, serves the needs of individuals and groups far beyond its contribution to survival; the memory of trauma and the existential threat that is inherent to it motivate a desire to construct meaning around the experience of extreme adversity.
In this process of meaning-making, a transgenerational collective self is pieced together — a self-transcendent historical identity that provides a sense of continuity between past, present and future members of the group Kahn et al. This transgenerational collective self promotes group cohesion, a sense of group importance and common destiny, and a strong commitment to group identity.
To let go of the trauma, is therefore, highly aversive and costly; it is akin to abdicating collective meaning; and against this threat to meaning societies mobilize to keep the trauma alive as a lesson from the past to the future. According to a study on cultural responses to tsunamis Mercer et al. These traditions passed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years included, in the case of Papuan culture, the unequivocal instruction to run for the hills when the sea draws down.
Indeed, Papuans who did not question this tradition, successfully escaped an almost certain death. An analysis of the communities that were most hard-hit in the tsunami reveal that these were mostly recent immigrants to coastal regions that had no collective memory about tsunamis, and no tradition on how to identify this threat and defend against it Mercer et al. This comparison of two tsunamis provides a glimpse into how the memory of collective trauma or the lack thereof may directly influence group survival by promoting life-saving efficacy.
The collective memory of natural disasters and the collective memory of traumas intentionally caused by humans have much in common — they serve as guides for future generations on how to identify threat and how to respond to it effectively. However, whereas tsunamis will always be tsunamis with the lessons of the past forever applying to future generations, human societies change and evolve such that the villains of the past may have transformed and changed their relationship with the victim group.
In this case, should the lessons of the past still inform future generations? From an evolutionary standpoint, exercising extra vigilance is warranted when it is not certain that the leopard has indeed changed its spots, or when this ostensible change is circumspect and may seem disingenuous. It makes good sense for victimized groups to keep their guard up, approach their past tormentors with some trepidation and hesitance, and ensure that future generations understand and remember the potential for danger. Korean-Japanese relations, for instance, are still marked by Korean trepidation of their neighbor on the other side of the Tsushima Strait Holmes, Although Japan has become a peaceful, even pacifist, country in the past 70 years since WWII, with one of the smallest military expenditures per GDP in the world, its record of aggression against Korea stretches back to the 16th century.
Koreans are, therefore, still weary of their former occupier, and keep their guard up to the possibility that Tokyo may someday revert back to its aggressive imperial past. This diffidence may not only reflect Korean frustration over the recent Japanese apology for sex slavery that many feel was disingenuous; it may reflect a gut instinct to steer clear of a group that caused them much harm in the past. This lack of historical closure that many Koreans feel with regards to Japan is often perceived as maladaptive because it stands in the way of intergroup harmony.
But if the safety of the group is the ultimate goal, and intergroup relations are but a means toward this end, it makes clear sense to distrust and remain vigilant toward a former adversary. Similarly, Germany has undergone significant transformation and a conscious effort to sever any continuity between Germany today and the Third Reich Hein and Selden, Israeli Jews, however, show a more ambivalent reaction, and a greater reluctance to close the book on the Holocaust and achieve closure; they are also more likely to conflate the past with the present, such that their attitudes toward contemporary Germany are contingent on their attributions for the past Imhoff et al.
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Because the Holocaust is but the tragic climax of centuries of German and European anti-Semitism, many Jews are reluctant to let go of the past, and when engaging with contemporary Germans even on issues unrelated to the past, the Holocaust is often implicitly present Imhoff, The motivation to perceive continuity between the historical perpetrator group and current group members reflects ongoing caution toward a group that is still perceived as potentially dangerous. For instance Lebanese Maronite Christians who identify with their group perceived greater continuity among current and past members of their former enemies, Lebanese Muslims Licata et al.
These collective reactions to a history of trauma are similar in many respects to individual post-traumatic reactions. The experience of trauma at the individual level may lead to a post-traumatic reaction characterized by hypervigilance, re-experiencing the event, and avoidance of stimuli that are reminiscent of the event Solomon and Mikulincer, Although such reactions may be debilitating, there are also adaptive elements to this extreme response that should not be ignored.
A near-death experience often teaches people that greater vigilance and attention to threat are warranted to avoid the recurrence of such a life-threatening situation.
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This dynamic of once bitten twice shy can be explained at the very basic evolutionary level as fear conditioning — an adaptive response to a threatening stimulus that is easily acquired, but is highly resistant to change LeDoux, This relatively straightforward evolutionary explanation, however, does not suffice to explain the adaptive function of keeping the memory of trauma alive, because in some cases the historical perpetrator is no longer present. In these cases, an evolutionary explanation of vigilance in the face of a potentially dangerous adversary does not hold. One other way to explain the cultivation of an historical memory, that still remains within an evolutionary framework, is that vigilance born of trauma does not have to be directed toward a specific perpetrator group and can be generalized into a chronic and diffuse vigilance toward all other groups.
Just as little Albert learned to generalize his fear to all furry objects in s Watson and Rayner cruel experiment, groups may learn that members of other groups harbor animosity toward them, and that the perpetrator only changes face, not harmful intent. This generalization of fear may reflect a harsh recognition that the group is, in fact, a target of hate by many other groups, and then an expectation for mistreatment by other group members seems reasonable. For instance, the long history of persecution against the Jewish people has fostered a form of rejection sensitivity among Jews who often view the rest of the world as inherently hostile to them Hirschberger et al.
One telltale sign of when virulent hatred underlies seemingly legitimate criticism is the tenor of that criticism — in a study of representative samples in 50 European countries, the use of extreme hyperbolic language against Israel was predictive of anti-Semitic motivation Kaplan and Small, In signal detection terms Macmillan et al. This seemingly adaptive caution, however, may develop into a post-traumatic worldview that is characterized by extreme vigilance, compulsive attention to threat that may be accompanied with inattentional blindness to positive signals from other groups, and the sense that the group is alone in this world and must fend for itself Hirschberger et al.
At the individual level, this perception of the world may cultivate anxiety and compromise achievement Mendoza-Denton et al. If existence is capricious and the group stands alone against the entire world then any threat must be considered an existential threat as there is no margin for error and no tolerance for incorrect rejections of a threat that may turn out to be real; responses must be swift and powerful, and because life itself is at stake, the moral justification for action is incontrovertible Hirschberger et al.
The Social Construction of the Person
This post-traumatic worldview may no longer serve the evolutionary adaptive function of protecting the survival of the group and may, ironically, compromise the safety of group members by favoring aggressive policies that may not always be required, and that may propel the group into unnecessary conflict. Why then do group members cling to seemingly detrimental worldviews that may not serve their best interests? It is prudent, therefore, to understand the role of death in collective trauma and its relationship to the construction of meaning if we are to disambiguate the motivations underlying the resolve to perpetuate the memory of collective trauma, in spite of the detrimental effects this memory may have.
Becker , further asserts that humans are a social animal, not just because of their evolutionary nature, but because of their fundamental need to seek meaning and significance. At the core of this quest for meaning resides death as a fundamental human problem. Unlike other mortal beings that live in a perpetual present, oblivious to their ultimate fate, humans are bestowed with a complex cognitive system that generates self-awareness; it enables us to remember our past, imagine our future, and project our self in our mind over time and space to wherever we may desire to be.
This remarkable ability comes with a somewhat disconcerting side effect — the poignant awareness of the limited, transient nature of existence. According to terror management theory TMT: e. To deal with this irresolvable anxiety, humans have developed cultural worldviews — existential illusions Greenberg, that give life meaning, significance and purpose. These worldviews cannot solve the problem of death, but they provide the comforting illusion that part of the self will persevere and survive physical death through cultural rites, symbols, and belief systems.
This sense of symbolic immortality Lifton, provides a semblance of continuity that the physical self fails to provide, and by doing so not only alleviates individual existential concerns, but embeds the individual into a symbolic collective entity that existed before the individual was born and will likely continue to exist long after she or he expire.
From an existentialist perspective, therefore, the same forces that threaten to break a group may, ironically be elemental in making a group. Specifically, the memory of collective trauma that amplifies a sense of individual and collective existential threat prompts the search for collective meaning through adherence and identification with the group Hirschberger et al. In this process, the history of the group, and its traumatic past in particular become an indispensable vehicle for injecting meaning into the present struggles and confrontations of the group.
The attempt to insert meaning into tragedy, and turn an otherwise pointless death into an act of heroism that corresponds with the collective memory of violence against the group, culminates at the point where the death of group members is, ironically, transformed into a symbol of group continuity and group immortality. Suicidal terrorism, for example, is a form of wanton violence against innocent civilians wherein the terrorist sacrifices his or her own life in the process of killing random others.
Some of the explanations for this seemingly irrational and senseless act suggest that a quest for meaning underlies the motivation of the suicide bomber Kruglanski et al. By self-sacrificing for the group, the terrorist is seen as a martyr, and is transformed in the eyes of others from another unremarkable individual, part of an indistinguishable mass, into an immortal hero placed on a pedestal. This ultimate sacrifice for the group against the supposed enemies of the group not only elevates the status of the suicide bomber and grants him or her symbolic immortality at the expense of physical mortality; it connects the act to historical confrontations between the group and other groups and renders one comparable to legendary historical figures Acosta, Wars, massacres and genocide confront people with the painful realization that individual lives are extremely fragile and vulnerable, and that during violent times the value of human life is often reduced to nothing.
It is at these times, in particular, that the collective self becomes invaluable; it substitutes the frustrated need for individual life with the promise that the collective will endure and survive over time. When people are confronted with massive death and with their inability to do much about it, they search for meaning and find comfort in the group — a collective symbolic structure that is greater and more enduring than the physical self Becker, , a structure that satisfies the basic elements of meaning and identity — values, efficacy, purpose and worth Vignoles et al.
Existential threat prompts a motivation for self-continuity and symbolic immortality through social identity e. In recent years, social psychological theory and research have recognized the importance of the temporal dimension in social identification, and there is growing interest in the role history plays in formulating group identity e. Social representations theory Moscovici, ; Liu and Hilton, , for instance, suggests that the way people construe and explain historical events may have a marked impact on how they relate to the present, and what they expect from the future.
A related conceptualization of group continuity over time makes the distinction between perceiving the group as an intra-generational entity which includes only living group members, and a trans -generational entity that includes all members of the group: past, present, and future Kahn et al.
Collective meaning, in this case, trumps the value of individual lives Kahn et al. This research on trans -generational conceptualizations of the group, highlights the distinction between the physical lives of group members and the existence of the symbolic collective in a manner that is complimentary of the existential explanations presented earlier.
Namely, individuals who include past and future group members in their definition of the group are more likely to find the lives of present group members dispensable if this sacrifice is believed to promote group continuity. Collective trauma, therefore, may not only increase the desire to uphold a symbolic continuous collective self; it may shift concern from the effects of the trauma on individual group members to the implications the trauma may have on the future of the group.
The research on historical continuity and trans -generational identification add another layer of understanding to the role of trauma in the construction of collective meaning. If the existential anxiety emanating from trauma is a driving force behind the construction of a symbolic continuous collective self, to the extent that individual life is dispensable for the sake of group immortality Pyszczynski et al. At this point of the analysis of collective trauma and meaning, we have seen how trauma creates meaning for victim groups; it alleviates existential threat, induces a search for collective meaning, operates to embed the individual in a social group that transcends physical existence, promotes a continuous historical self spanning centuries and millennia that is valued above individual life, and increases group identification and group cohesion.
Societies with a history of trauma are in a constant process of constructing and reconstructing the meaning of the trauma, not so much in an attempt to understand the past, but because of a pressing need to make sense of the present. Browse titles authors subjects uniform titles series callnumbers dewey numbers starting from optional. See what's been added to the collection in the current 1 2 3 4 5 6 weeks months years.
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