Dealing with the Unspeakable – Some Challenges of Biographical Research in War Contexts

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Phil C. LANGER, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt, Germany
Phil LANGER, International Psychoanalytic University Berlin, Germany
Doing biographical research in war contexts often confronts the researcher with embodied traumatic experiences of extreme violence and suffering that cannot be expressed in interviews narratively. Traumatic experiences damage or destroy the very ability of an individual to symbolize, i.e. to meaningful represent his or her experiences in biographical narratives. Additionally, cultural – always gendered – limitations to articulate these experiences may be at play. Only traces of these experiences sometimes remain, giving witness of the underlying social trauma: stumbling, narrative gaps, or even pure silence. Participatory biographical research aims at creating spaces for articulating what otherwise would remain silent and unheard, at being partner in a process of re-gaining biographical agency – an ambivalent task. Referring to biographically informed interviews with adolescents in Afghanistan, the following challenges will be addressed in the presentation: How do you deal with silent accounts in the interview encounter – without either risking re-traumatization or fueling the silencing dynamics? How do you make sense of it in the analysis – without over-interpreting these accounts in terms of a “deep story” of what has not been told. And how do you represent the silence in your writing – without colonizing it?