Abstract: Locating Collective Trauma within Historic Systems of Oppression: An Interdisciplinary Conceptual Model (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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251P Locating Collective Trauma within Historic Systems of Oppression: An Interdisciplinary Conceptual Model

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Chelsea Allen, MSW, PhD. Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background: While the impacts of individual and interpersonal trauma on health have been well-documented in the literature, collective trauma holds particular significance as it is an appropriate framework to elaborate on the multidimensional consequences of systemic social oppression. Collective trauma, as a conceptual tool, not only allows researchers to better elaborate on the lived experiences of socially, culturally and racially marginalized populations, but provides full account of systemic oppression’s pervasive impact on health and well-being. While key frameworks have been modeled across disciplinary literatures, there remains a need to integrate these models in order to provide a truly holistic perspective of the multidimensional impacts of historic systems of oppression. As scholars seek conceptual and empirical models to describe processes contributing to racial and social disparities, extending present frameworks of collective trauma is a fundamental step in bolstering this line of research. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, this paper offers an integrative conceptualization of collective trauma and seeks to demonstrate its efficacy as a theoretical model to elaborate on the scope and depth of manufactured social oppression.

Methods: Collective trauma is utilized as an umbrella term that integrates key definitions, concepts, and processes (ie. exposure, transmission, and response) from trauma frameworks, as it has been theorized across disciplinary literatures (ie. psychology, sociology, biology). Illuminating key aspects of these frameworks, that are either concretely elaborated upon or eluded to, this model seeks to highlight distinctions between these concepts and processes, while also demonstrating their significance and differential impact when studied in relation to one another. This analysis explicitly examines collective trauma in relation to historical and contemporary sociopolitical contexts to elaborate upon the impacts of systemic oppression.

Results: Collective trauma is a chronic, complex (multidimensional and intersectional), and temporal (intergenerational and cumulative) form of trauma that originates from a mass trauma experience that directly targets groups of people who share a common identity, affiliation, experience, and/or circumstance. This framework is undergirded by three main constructs: 1) collective trauma exposure, 2) collective trauma transmission and accumulation, and 3) collective trauma response. Each of these distinct processes espouses key assumptions and displays important characteristics that allow researchers to appropriately elaborate on the experience of systemic oppression and its relationship to health and wellbeing.

Conclusions and Implications: Framing collective trauma in this manner has the potential to directly inform future measurement and empirical approaches regarding the study of systemic oppression. Not only does this model allow researchers to examine collective trauma’s holistic impact on health and well-being, but illuminates the lived experiences of those who suffer the brunt of social oppression. This analysis suggests several potential directions for future research. Further extensions of this model should seek to differentiate its applicability depending on the source of trauma and population of interest. For example, future iterations might seek to describe its application in examining the experiences of African American communities in relation to the legacy of slavery and anti-black racism.