Trauma and the Politics of Emotions: Constituting Identity, Security and Community after the Bali Bombing
The bombing of the Sari bar in Kuta, Bali resulted in the death of 202 people, 88 of whom were Australian. This is why Australia has generally been seen as the nation in which the impact of the bombing was most sharply felt. Indeed, in the days that followed the 12 October bombing it was suggested that Australia, as a nation, must now ‘prepare itself for the worst’. As the extent of the atrocity unfolded it almost seemed – if one were to use the media as a gauge – that so too did any differences that can keep a society apart. Discourses of commemoration and national mourning took over the space the violence opened, ascribing meaning to the potential meaninglessness of victims’ pain. Front-page articles documented, through both words and pictures, the distress of survivors – emotions crumbling the composure of their faces, the plight of those left still fi ghting for their lives, and more generally the blinding destruction that the bombs had wreaked. The pain of victims was swiftly referred to as that of a nation.2 And an ensuing sense of trauma – the shock and the gravity of loss – was invoked as damaging Australia’s ‘collective soul’.
Portrayals of the Bali bombing are among many examples that demonstrate the collectivising potential of representing trauma. They show how singular events of trauma can be represented in ways that shift them from the realm of the individual to that of a collective.
The central objective of this essay is to examine the relationship between trauma and the constitution of political community. I argue that – and I demonstrate how – representations of trauma can generate widely shared meanings, which in turn underpin political identity and community. The paper therefore opposes common conceptualisations of trauma as a solitary and deeply internal experience. Instead, I show that popular representations can mediate and attribute trauma with emotional meanings that are instrumental to the construction or consolidation of wider political communities. To do so I use the Bali bombing as an empirical backdrop against which I examine a range of key conceptual issues. Focusing on the role of emotions in particular, I scrutinise how traumatic events can be represented in ways that make them meaningful to a wider community: to those who do not experience trauma directly but only bear witness, from a distance. Representations of trauma often draw attention to the harrowing nature of traumatic events: they signify shock, vulnerability and confusion. Witnesses strive to make sense of what they are seeing, being affected by emotional responses and drawing upon prevailing discourses and symbols to makes sense of what they see and feel. In this way, traumatic, catastrophic events can acquire shared meaning and become perceived as a collective experience.
In developing this argument I seek to contribute to three distinct debates in the study of trauma and international relations. The fi rst way is by engaging critically with contemporary trauma theory. A signifi cant part of this literature has emerged from Holocaust-based understandings of trauma. With a few notable exceptions, these studies tend to emphasise the solitude and deep sense of anxiety that accompany traumatic encounters. They stress that the diffi culties involved with representing trauma obviate the possibility of understanding it in a social and thus collective manner. This essay both draws upon and questions the limits of this approach, ultimately suggesting that while trauma theory may hold true for conceptualising trauma’s impact at the level of the individual it stops short in helping to appreciate how particular traumatic events can resonate and gain wider social and political infl uence. The second key contribution of this essay lies in conceptualising and empirically illustrating the centrality of emotion for understanding the politics of identity and community in international relations. Doing so is important, in part because emotions play a crucial political role during times of crisis and trauma, and in part because conventional social scientifi c modes of analysis tend to dismiss emotions as purely private and personal phenomena. Finally, my investigation provides insight that helps to better comprehend the often parallel politics of community and security in international relations. Key here is that popular representations of trauma tend to pave the way for political responses that defi ne security narrowly and create contexts in which antagonistic or belligerent security policies prevail. In this way, I suggest that the type of solidarity constructed after trauma often serves not merely to reinstate a conservative and ultimately exclusionary vision of political community, but moreover it can become a source of perceived cultural (or national) injury that risks fuelling new confl ict
The paper is structured as follows: to begin, I discuss the nature of trauma. I show that even though trauma is experienced in internal, solitary, and indeed often incommunicable ways, traumatic events can play an important role in constituting identity and community. Second, I demonstrate that representations play a central role in this process: they provide individual experiences of trauma with larger, collective signifi cance. The third section examines the emotional dimensions involved. The fourth section then illustrates the issues at stake in one concrete setting: the 12 October 2002 Bali bombing. In conclusion I aim to show what international relations scholars can learn from this specifi c traumatic event and from the manner in which it was politically represented. Before I begin a couple of clarifi cations are necessary. Trauma studies span diverse and largely disparate bodies of interdisciplinary literature. Within these literatures there are many competing claims concerning the precise nature and impact of trauma. This essay does not attempt to engage all of these differences. Instead, I consciously brush over some of the more intricate disciplinary debates and search for commonalities and inroads into the social implications of trauma in order to engage linkages between trauma and politics. I would also like to stress that the case of the Bali bombing serves not as an in-depth case study but as an empirical illustration of the linkages that individually experienced trauma – here, it is that of the direct victims – can manifest in a wider community. The bombing has been taken as a ‘trauma’ because at the time of the crisis it was perceived as exactly as that: as a catastrophe that shattered Australia’s collective consciousness and set apart the fate and shape of the Australian national community.
Tugasan ini sebenarnya kami pernah buat sebelum ini cuma mungkin soalannya diubah-ubah setiap semester. Namun kehendak soalan sebenarnya adalah hampir sama setiap semester.