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The international workshop explores the impact of armed conflict on psychosocial wellbeing in an interdisciplinary and transregionally comparative perspective. The objective is to look beyond the presently popular concept of »war traumatisation« and to conceptualise the social character of the dynamics in question.
Since the end of World War II, the impact of armed conflicts on psycho-social wellbeing has become an increasingly important topic in research, among mental health practitioners as well as on national and global public health agendas. Within conflict-affected areas, the capacity of people to cope with war experiences directly affects their capacity for agency as well as the political and social dynamics in the aftermath of a conflict. Also outside the theatres of war, psychosocial effects of armed conflicts have become a hot topic, due to the growing importance of military and humanitarian interventions sending soldiers, policemen/-women and aid workers to war-affected regions, as well as due to the growing number of refugees from conflict-affected places.
In this discursive field, »trauma«, including »Post Traumatic Stress Disorder« (PTSD), has emerged as the dominant concept to refer to the negative impact of war experiences and to describe the condition of people who cannot cope with these experiences easily.
Although both notions are rather narrowly defined in clinical psychology, they are omnipresent in political as well as in academic discourses and are employed to refer to a range of negative effects of war on people around the world. This extensive use, however, obfuscates the complexity and social embeddedness of the phenomena described: what is expressed and recognised as a »mental illness«, i.e. PTSD, in the context of a modern Western(-ised) public health system, might appear as »spirit possession« elsewhere. What is expressed in words and unusual behaviour in one place might be expressed through bodily symptoms in another.
Against this background, the universal validity of Western concepts of mental health have been fiercely discussed in recent years. Yet, at stake, here is more than cultural hegemony: the medical language of traumatisation systematically narrows the analytical focus by concentrating on the individual as well as on extraordinary cases. To understand the social dynamics and societal significance of war-related psychosocial suffering, moving beyond this individualizing perspective seems imperative.
The aim of this international workshop is to discuss and develop conceptualisations of the psychosocial impact of war violence, which are sensitive to the socialness of the phenomena in question. In doing so, »idioms of distress«, a concept proposed by the social anthropologist Mark Nichter1 more than 30 years ago to describe the socially and culturally contingent forms of experiencing and expressing distress, serves as an analytical starting point.
The workshop wants to open up perspectives for systematic comparative analyses, asking in particular (a) how experiences of distress in war situations are produced by and for different sets of agents; (b) in which »idioms« these experiences come to be expressed and are socially dealt with; (c) which institutions or organisations are involved in these processes; and (d) what are the implications on the level of public policies.
The event operates at the intersection of different disciplines (especially sociology, psychology, social anthropology and philosophy) and different cultures of knowledge. It brings together a group of scholars with expertise in different world regions, including colleagues from war-affected countries.
Convener: Prof. Dr. Teresa Koloma Beck, Professor for the Sociology of Globalisation, Department of Social Sciences, Bundeswehr University Munich, firstname.lastname@example.org
Venue: Tutzing Academy (Akademie für Politische Bildung Tutzing) is located approximately 40 km southwest of Munich, Germany on Lake Starnberg
1. Nichter, Mark. 1981. Idioms of distress. Alternatives in the expression of psychosocial distress. A case study from South India, in: Culture, medicine and psychiatry 5. 4, S. 379-408