Victims, Trauma and institutional processes: beyond the ethics of the victim
Project founded by the National Agency for Sciences and Tecnology (FCT)

Activity: March 1, 2011 to August 31, 2014

The main objective of this project is to analyse which societal changes has occurred so that the discourses about victims and their support dispositives became legitimated ways of accessing the public sphere and for victims’ rights claiming and acquisition. This question, that tackles the visible aspects of an expanding phenomenon, also implies the analysis of how persons who, although members of trauma communities, place themselves or are put off at the margins of the conventional support dispositives, how they deal with their victim’s condition and claim for their rights. The research analyses the tension between trauma communities (the ensemble of persons affected by a traumatic event or experience), atomized victims (persons outside victims support associations) and organized victims (persons that do participate in victims support associations created after a specific event or that share traumatic experiences). Specifically, the project focuses on the tension between the individual experience of the victim condition and collective experiencing of victim status.

The premise of the research is that the comprehension of the reasons underlying the participation in conventional mechanisms of association, including what makes their appearance sociologically possible and individually necessary, is as important as its reverse. That is: the reasons that underlie the possibility of resorting to alternative forms of trauma management existent in communities. Beyond the discourses and dispositives constructed by the victims’ associations and consolidated in a specific “victim ethics”, what others subjectivation logics and processes emerge and what are their material, symbolic and political presuppositions? The analysis implies a genealogy of the concepts such as victim, trauma, post-traumatic stress and their progressive institutionalisation in reference manuals, intervention methodologies, national and international agencies, victims’ support associations documents, etc. In sum, it proposes a genealogy of the intellectual, political, and moral consolidation of the trauma paradigm. Subsequently, the research will deal with the overflow of those concepts, discourses and dispositives to such disparate fields as justice, civic mobilisation, risk governance and, mainly, the economy of the victims. The objective is to study the long term temporality that frames and legitimizes the consolidation of those concepts and the dispositives and practices of victims’ support. Empirically, the project will study victims’ associations in three European countries: Portugal, France and the Netherlands.

In Portugal, the associations to be included are the Portuguese Association of Victim Support; the Association of Victims’ Families of the Entre-os-Rios Tragedy; and the Handicapped of the Armed Forces Association. In France: the National Federation of Collective Accidents Victims; and the General Association of the War Wounded. Finally, in the Netherlands, we will study The Support Association to Dutch Victims; the Volendam Information and Counselling Centre; and the Dutch Military Victims of War Association. Complementarily, there will be a thorough analysis of the ways persons manage their victim’ condition beyond conventional dispositives and associations of victims’ support. We propose a sociology of trauma that, beyond the culturalist approach of Jeffrey Alexander, focuses on the intersection of discourses, dispositives, materialities and subjectivation forms that are built on the victimisation paradigm and on its legitimisation and consecration forms. The project also proposes to test a typology of the complex relation between trauma communities, atomized victims and support associations. The hypothesis is that specific traumatic events possess different rhythms and temporalities, that can originate three relation logics between trauma communities and support associations: intersection – in which both trauma communities and support associations do find some common points of convergence; overlapping – in which trauma communities and support associations fuse themselves, with the prevalence and hegemony of one of them; and, finally, separation – trauma communities and support associations maintaining themselves discursively and practically separated. These different temporalities and the logics of relation between trauma communities are marked by negotiation processes to frame events and to legitimize specific discourses, practices and interlocutors. The role of the State and of the international agencies is crucial in this legitimisation process, as they take for privileged interlocutors victims and their representatives that are anchored on a normalized victim ethics.



Aida Dias
Alain Lantoine
Ângela Rosa Pinho da Costa Maia
José Manuel Mendes (coord)
Luisa Sales
Pedro Araújo
Rafaela Lopes

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