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Uniwersytet Śląski w Katowicach

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Wydział Nauk Społecznych

Research topic: Cultural trauma of World War II. The case of Upper Silesia

 In recent years, research on the trauma of war can be seen.  This applies to both the trauma of the Second World War and the wars that followed. These studies are most often conducted using a psychoanalytic approach to  trauma. This approach treats the coffin as “naturally occurring events devastating an individual, or the collective sense of well-being of the actors.” The trauma flows directly and unreflectively from the events themselves. (Alexander 2010)  However, less frequently, the theory of cultural trauma formulated by Alexander and his collaboretors is used. (Alexander 2007; Eyerman, Madigan, Ring, 2017). In this concept, trauma is not an individual mental disorder, but a problem for the entire group.  It occurs when an event such as a war “contradicts the most central assumptions of culture or / …/ is interpreted as fundamentally inconsistent with the most important values, foundations of identity, the foundations of collective pride”, i.e. it is “inconsistent with the basic assumptions of culture” (Sztompka 2000) The discomfort caused by the event enters the “trauma process” at the core of the collective identity. For collective actors, suffering becomes a threat to “who they are, where they come from and where they want to go” (Alexander 2004: 10) Cultural trauma then changes the identity of the group, but only when it comes to “building a convincing framework for cultural classification”. A new story must be told that convinces the group that it has experienced the trauma (Alexander 2004: 12) Ron Eyerman even talks about the struggle to define the situation and impose it on the group (2011). Earlier research by the project leader in one of the Silesian villages showed that the service of men in the Wehrmacht was a cultural trauma that changed the identity of Silesians (Bierwiaczonek, Nawrocki 2019). However, the trauma did not create in the case of experiencing the immediate vicinity of the Auschiwtz-Birkenau camp and the Upper Silesian tragedy (this term is used to describe the events that occurred after the front had passed in 1945).  Further research would verify these observations and determine to what extent the events of the war and the events that followed immediately were a cultural trauma for Silesians and changed the identity of this community. The collective memory of that period, the mechanisms of its transmission and the mechanisms of creating a “new story” convincing the group that it has experienced trauma, would be analyzed.

Keywords: cultural trauma, collective memory, group identity, Upper Silesia

Team: Agnieszka Turoń-Kowalska, Tomasz Nawrocki,  Anna Pyszkowska


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