Trauma theory: Contexts, politics, ethics

Susannah Radstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

146 Citations (Scopus)


This article discusses the current 'popularity' of trauma research in the Humanities and examines the ethics and politics of trauma theory, as exemplified in the writings of Caruth and Felman and Laub. Written from a position informed by Laplanchian and object relations psychoanalytic theory, it begins by examining and offering a critique of trauma theory's model of subjectivity, and its relations with theories of referentiality and representation, history and testimony. Next, it proposes that although trauma theory's subject matter - the sufferings of others - makes critique difficult, the theory's politics, its exclusions and inclusions, and its unconscious drives and desires are as deserving of attention as those of any other theory. Arguing that the political and cultural contexts within which this theory has risen to prominence have remained largely unexamined, the article concludes by proposing that trauma theory needs to act as a brake against rather than as a vehicle for cultural and political Manicheanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-29
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2007


  • Culture
  • Ethics
  • History
  • Memory
  • Politics
  • Subjectivity
  • Trauma theory

Cite this