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Trauma Studies in the Digital Age: The Impact of Social Media on Trauma Processing in Life Narratives and in Trauma Literature: the Case of Hungary

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRAPRODIG (Trauma Studies in the Digital Age: The Impact of Social Media on Trauma Processing in Life Narratives and in Trauma Literature: the Case of Hungary)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

Anna Menyhért

Trauma Studies in the Digital Age:
The Impact of Social Media on Trauma Processing in Life Narratives and in Trauma Literature: the Case of Hungary

The TRAPRODIG project analyzed cultural and literary trauma processing in the framework of digital memory studies, particularly in relation to the similarities and differences of collective trauma processing and trauma literature in modern democracies and dictatorships; with a special trans-cultural focus on the case of Hungary as a post-socialist country with unresolved twentieth century collective traumas and on life narratives of Hungarian migrants in Western Europe.
Fulfilling its interdisciplinary scientific goal the project introduced the concept of “digital (cultural and literary) trauma processing” and developed the new scientific field of “digital trauma studies” at the intersection of digital memory studies, cultural trauma studies and social/digital media research.
The two way knowledge transfer in the training-through research of Anna Menyhért, an expert on literary and cultural trauma studies, at the leading research centre of cultural and digital memory studies at the University of Amsterdam, supervised by Ellen Rutten, an expert on digital memory studies, proved to be exceptionally successful.
The TRAPRODIG project is of clear relevance to the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions programme as it contributed to a better understanding of the link of current cultural developments to the collective traumas of the past in post-socialist countries; it drew attention to the voices of contemporary migrants within the European cultural framework; and it also added significantly to the mapping of trauma literature and life narratives in Europe by analysing how the 21st century digital environment influences both personal and collective trauma processing in local, national and trans-national communities within Europe.
The project resulted in the publication of a monograph at the leading publisher Brill, 6 articles in peer-reviewed journal, a book chapter, and a co-edited special journal issue. In the framework of the project a 2-day international workshop was organized with the co-financing of the prestigious Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study (NIAS) in Amsterdam, in May 2017, with around 30 participants. The researcher, Anna Menyhért, was a selected participant of the 2017 MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme at the European Parliament. She gave 10 talks at conferences and workshops, and 4 talks at outreach events. She became the editorial board member of 2 scientific journals. She supervised 1 PhD student, 1 MA thesis, and 1 MA tutorial. She is an active contributor to the work of the Marie Curie Alumni Association Policy Working Group.
Progress beyond the state of the art: Theoretical background: out of the three phases of recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as defined in the psychological field (1. reconstituting the survivor’s feeling of security; 2. reconstructing the trauma narrative; 3. re-establishing the relationships of the survivor, integrating him/her in the community), in the pre-digital era mainly the second phase was of interest for literary and cultural trauma studies, that is, the interpretation of texts produced during trauma processing and recovery and the investigation of (adequate) reading strategies. The digital era elevated the third phase further into the public sphere, with instant response and dialogue possible in social media. Sharing traumatic experiences online (in blogs, social networking groups) and reacting to them (in comments and chat functions) eliminates the element of silence thought to be inherent in trauma: on one hand as its basic characteristic feature, meaning the victim is unable to speak about it, on the other hand silencing as the cause of secondary traumatization, when others do not or are not able to listen to the victim, or as an official oppressive practice by a totalitarian regime. As silence has been considered a crucial element in definitions of trauma, this change in focus has the potential to redefine trauma and reassess the field of trauma studies within a framework of digital memory and digital media studies. As a consequence, digitally mediated trauma processing proves to be the way to clear (ideologically) blocked avenues (to thaw “frozen currents”) to the traumatic past and induce social and cultural change, or at least to allow for the existence of parallel or multiple versions of traumatic history: official, rigid versions, determined by oppressive past and present-day ideologies, as opposed to other versions, created by communities, the arts and civil society, that are versatile and mobile, emotionally active and capable of activating trauma processing reactions.
The four interrelated subthemes of the project cover areas where digital trauma processing occurs and which can be analyzed in a humanities/cultural studies/literary studies framework.
1) Personal trauma and digital identity in relation to social media as an online community: coping with illness, loss, grief, virtual cemeteries, the role of online support groups;
2) Transcultural trauma related to migration, forced migration, cultural shock and transnational (online) writing related to literary texts, blogs and Facebook groups;
3) Social media and the painful past: analyzing collective trauma processing online as well as collective memory and national identity formation; with a special – but not exclusive – focus on Post-Soviet countries, the East-Central European region and Hungary;
4) Literary (printed, offline) texts and (digital) trauma processing, referring to online reading groups, reviews in personal blogs, literary websites interpreting trauma texts.
The project thus provided a new perspective for the ongoing literary and cultural trauma research by applying the methods of digital memory studies and digital media studies with a special focus on East-Central European countries, especially Hungary with its traumatic past.
Wider societal implications: Unprocessed traumas make a long-lasting impact on individuals and societies. They influence interpersonal, transgenerational and transcultural communication, lessening the chances of dialogue and emphatic understanding. They block channels of progression: create ‘frozen currents’, i.e. series of unprocessed collective traumas in cultural memory. In the European landscape of populist political culture unprocessed historical traumas are used by radical national-conservative elites to coax popular support. Due to the spread and strengthening of those tendencies, there is an urgent need for new ways of revisiting and reconciling traumatic legacies. The TRAPRODIG project offers relevant insights on how traumatic legacies can be revisited productively in the 21st century, in the digital age.