Ivana Maček, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Communicating the Unthinkable - A Psychodynamic Perspective

Ivana Maček
Ivana Maček

As several anthropologists of mass political violence have put it, the experience of extreme adversity shatters the ontological and epistemological grounds, not only for individuals, but also for the whole societies. The world as it was known ceases to exist. In psychological sense, the experiences of extreme adversity can be overwhelming for the psyche and cause trauma. This means that the psyche cannot grasp the inner affective and bodily states, it cannot contain them, and the experiences cannot be symbolized and communicated. But, not all adverse experiences are traumatic, and there is also an individual difference.

This presentation explores the question whether it is possible to understand and communicate adverse experiences of mass political violence, or are they “unthinkable”? It looks at the blurred field between psychological trauma and experiences of atrocities that are shattering but can still be psychologically contained, symbolized and communicated. Drawing on the psychological understanding of trauma and trauma theory, it shows how we in academic work on mass political violence, can communicate both the “unthinkable” and the “thinkable”. Two central concepts are used: “isolation” and “containment”. The presentation is based on examples from two decades of research and teaching on mass political violence, from fieldwork during the siege of Sarajevo, to teaching of comparative genocide studies.

Ivana Maček is associate professor of Anthropology at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, a licensed psychotherapist, and was until 2014 senior lecturer of Genocide Studies and director of the MA Programme in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Uppsala University. Her major publication is Sarajevo Under Siege: Anthropology in Wartime (PENN 2009). Her writing addresses also Swedes’ engagements in global war-zones, intergenerational transmission of experiences of war among Bosnians in Sweden, and anthropological methods. Her latest edited volume, Engaging Violence: Trauma, Memory, and Representation (Routledge 2014), is about the ramifications and possibilities of research and teaching of mass political violence.

All seminars in the series.