Adam B. Lerner

Sep 9, 2022

From the Ashes of History

Collective Trauma and the Making of International Politics

Oxford University Press 2022

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In recent years, calls for reparations and restorative justice, alongside the rise of populist grievance politics, have demonstrated the stubborn resilience of traumatic memory. From the transnational Black Lives Matter movement's calls for reckoning with the legacy of slavery and racial oppression, to continued efforts to secure recognition of the Armenian genocide or Imperial Japan's human rights abuses, international politics is replete with examples of past violence reasserting itself in the present. But how should scholars understand trauma's long-term impacts? Why do some traumas lie dormant for generations, only to surface anew in pivotal moments? And how does trauma scale from individuals to larger political groupings like nations and states, shaping political identities, grievances, and policymaking?

In From the Ashes of History: Collective Trauma and the Making of International Politics (Oxford University Press, 2022), Dr. Adam B. Lerner looks at collective trauma as a foundational force in international politics—a "shock" to political cultures that can constitute new actors and shape decision-making over the long-term. As Dr. Lerner shows, uncovering collective trauma's role in international politics is vital for two key reasons. First, it can help explain longstanding tensions between groups—an especially relevant topic as scholars examine the transnational resurgence of nationalism and populism. Second, it pushes the discipline of International Relations to more completely account for mass violence's true long-term costs, particularly as they become embedded in longstanding structural inequalities and injustices.

While IR scholarship has largely dismissed non-systematic, latent phenomena like trauma, Dr. Lerner argues that collective trauma can help draw the lines between international political groups and frame the logics of international political action. Drawing on three historical cases that uncover the impact of collective trauma in Indian, Israeli, and American foreign policymaking, From the Ashes of History demonstrates the broad utility of collective trauma as a theoretical lens for investigating how mass violence's legacy can resurge and dissipate over time.

This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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Miranda Melcher

Miranda Melcher (Ph.D., Defense Studies, Kings College, London) studies post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with deep analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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