Collective Trauma as a Personal/Social Concern for Persons within Marginalized Communities

By Ken Moffatt, Mirna E. Carranza, Bill Lee, Susan McGrath and Usha George.

Published by The International Journal of Community Diversity

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Much of the literature about trauma has conceptualized trauma only as a personal and psychological issue (Herman, 1992). This paper is a departure from this as it attempts to shed light on trauma as a community process such as the complex community responses to the experience of pervasive and ongoing injurious acts. The authors, with assistance from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council standard research grant, interviewed participants who are involved in community practice in three marginalized communities within two Canadian urban centers: 1) gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and queer people; 2) Aboriginal people; and 3) Salvadorian refugees to understand social disruption that results from marginalization based on identity. In this paper, we argue that such a disruption, trauma, is shared across communities even if experienced differentially. We found that the participants’ experiences of trauma were expressed as both a personal and as a shared experience. Because of shared community identity, one did not have to experience the traumatic event personally to share in it. The participants of the research understood trauma to be deleterious and harmful but also allowed for an openness and affinity to others within their communities. Thus, trauma, while having serious negative impacts from its origins in social prejudice and mistreatment from outside the community, can also be seen as a basis for organization and resistance within marginalized diverse communities.

Keywords: Collective, Community, Trauma, Marginalization, Identity

The International Journal of Community Diversity, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp.61-80. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 586.322KB).

Dr. Ken Moffatt

Graduate Programme Director, School of Social Work, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ken Moffatt is the Graduate Programme Director of the School of Social Work, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. He is also a postdoctoral student mentor with the Health Care, Place, and Technology Initiative in the University of Toronto. His research interests include community practice with marginalized communities, post-structural theory and social work practice, critical pedagogy and curriculum development, diversity and identity, international community work, critical approaches to community mental health, and arts-based social criticism. He has lived and worked in gay communities for over 15 years and has written extensively on the processes of regulation, marginalization, and exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual citizens and communities in Canada.

Dr. Mirna E. Carranza

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, McMaster Univerisity, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Mirna E. Carranza was recently appointed as a full-time faculty at the School of Social Work, McMaster University. As a community organizer and developer, she has initiated many projects aiming to enhance the inclusion of immigrants and refugees in their settlement communities. Her research program includes the acculturation process of immigrants and refugees as family units moving through time and across socio-cultural contexts. She recently completed a study that examined the acculturation process of Salvadorian mothers and their daughters. She has conducted community projects such as the settlement experiences of survivors of torture and their struggles with mental health providers.

Dr. Bill Lee

Associate Professor, Retired, School Of Social Work, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Lee, presently retired, taught community-based policy and practice at the School of Social Work in McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. His research and activism in Canada focuses on social justice, as well as crosscultural issues, and he has worked with a number of Aboriginal communities throughout Canada. He has also undertaken community organization practice, research and training in Australia, Japan, Uganda, Nigeria, Romania, and Nicaragua. He is the author and co-author of four books and numerous articles on issues of community practice. His book, Pragmatics of Community Organization, is used in colleges and universities throughout Canada and has recently been translated and published in Japan.

Dr. Susan McGrath

Director, Refugee Studies and School of Social Work, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dr. McGrath has taught and done research in the areas of social justice and community practice for many years. She has written and co-written a wide range of articles that have been published in national and international journals. She is the past president of the International Organization for Refugee Studies.

Dr. Usha George

Dean, Faculty of Community Services, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Usha George is a professor and dean, Faculty of Community Services, Ryerson University. The focus of her work is social work with diverse communities. She is well published in the areas of newcomer settlement and community practice.