From the Ashes of History: Collective Trauma and the Making of International Politics
Mass violence, in its varied forms, has long been a primary concern in International Relations (IR)—indeed, most of the discipline’s origin stories of the international system emphasize order emerging from brutal wars or colonial violence. But though scholars frequently analyse the immediate changes mass violence causes in the balance of power or security calculations, far less attention has been paid to its indirect longer-term impacts, particularly as they manifest as collective trauma. This gap is unsurprising, given the difficulties such a complex, historically contingent and non-systematic phenomenon poses for rationalist social science. Yet, 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 to more completely account for mass violence’s true long-term costs, particularly as they become embedded in longstanding structural inequalities and injustices. This reckoning is all the more vital as scholars endeavour to decolonize their disciplines and tackle structural racism in the academy.
This book theorizes collective trauma as a foundational force in international politics—a ‘shock’ to political culture that can constitute new actors and shape decision-making over the long-term. Collective trauma, I argue, not only helps determine the lines between international political groups, but also frames the logics of international political action, leading to meaningful changes that cannot be dismissed as epiphenomenal. The first half of the book theorizes collective trauma and its role in constituting and motivating international political action, while the second turns to three historical cases that uncover the impact of collective trauma in Indian, Israeli and American foreign policymaking. Each contributes to these states’ historiographies, while also demonstrating the broad utility of collective trauma as a theoretical lens for investigating how mass violence’s legacy can resurge and dissipate over time. Recognizing collective trauma’s fundamental role in international political life, I argue, can help usher a ‘trauma turn’ into IR that will make the discipline more sensitive to the substantive long-term impacts of mass violence and suffering.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
1. "Blurring the Boundaries of War: PTSD in American Foreign Policy Discourse" Perspectives on Politics (December 2020)
2. "Theorizing Unpredictability in International Politics: A New Approach to Trump and the Trump Doctrine" Cambridge Review of International Affairs (December 2020)
3. "Social Science and the Problem of Interpretation: A Pragmatic Dual(ist) Approach" Critical Review (December 2020)
4. “What is it Like to Be a State? An Argument for State Consciousness” International Theory (January 2020)
5. “The Uses and Abuses of Victimhood Nationalism in International Politics” European Journal of International Relations (May 2019)
6. “Theorizing Collective Trauma’s in International Political Economy.” International Studies Review (May 2018)
7. “Collective Trauma and the Evolution of Nehruvian Non-Alignment (1927-1947)” International History Review (May 2018)
8. “Political Neo-Malthusianism and the Progression of India’s Green Revolution.” Journal of Contemporary Asia (January 2018)
9. “Manufactured Silence: Political Economy and Management of the Bhopal Disaster.” Economic and Political Weekly (July 29, 2017)