On “Doing Justice” in a “Trauma-Informed” Discourse

Dr. Allan Wade

     The “culture of trauma” (Shepard, 2009) emerged as a potent social force in 1980 with the invention of PTSD to provide a disability category for U.S. military veterans.  The study of “trauma” is deeply rooted in psychiatry but the inclusion of PTSD in the DSM-III encouraged much wider application of the concept and spawned a diverse “trauma-informed” discourse that draws on neurology, biology (e.g., epigenetics), psychology, criminology, and psychiatry. 

     On one hand, “trauma-informed” discourse reflects the efforts of professionals to foreground “trauma” as the origin of suffering – not biomedical illness or mental disorder - and provide supportive services.  On the other, I suggest, “trauma-informed” discourse conserves the status quo by privileging “molecules” over “meanings” (Harre, 2013) and attributing an exaggerated agency to the primitive brain.

     In this presentation I ask: To what extent does trauma-informed discourse engage social justice ethics and practice?  (Reynolds, 2010).  How is the study of trauma related to the study of violence?  Do the questions being asked of neurology reflect the insatiable desire for dignity and the reality of ever-present resistance?  To what extent do guiding metaphors such as “fight-flight-freeze”, “flooding”, “dissociation” and “dysregulation” account for the situated complexity of victim responses? 

     Working from a response-based perspective, my goal is to contextualize “trauma-informed” discourse as a social project that aims to liberate victims and professionals while it shifts the focus from the social world to the mind-body and conserves the stereotype of the passive-affected victim.