Narrating Trauma and Suffering: Towards Understanding Intersubjectively Constituted Memory

Jan K. Coetzee, Asta Rau


Remembering is a complex and notoriously fallible process. This is partly because memory is not an exclusively individual act. Not only what we remember, but the way we remember is influenced by social circumstances and co-constructed worldviews, as well as by our personal needs and perspectives. In the context of the research interview, the researcher-participant relationship also mediates how experience is re-membered and narrated. All these factors need to be taken into account when, as social researchers, we attempt to unpack the meanings and motives that underlie what research participants say. This paper aims to show how interviewees who have endured traumatic experiences for prolonged periods of time remember, reflect on and articulate their suffering. To illustrate how personal memories of lived, real experiences intertwine with socially and contextually embedded values and relationships we draw on the narratives of former political prisoners in South Africa and in erstwhile Czechoslovakia. We also present narratives of South African street children, and women living with HIV/AIDS. When interpreting the in-depth data that show how participants remember their experience of suffering, we find that the very nature of memory poses a hermeneutical challenge. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0902144


memory; meaning; trauma narratives; intersubjectivity; political prisoners; HIV/AIDS; street children

Full Text:



Copyright (c) 2009 Jan K. Coetzee, Asta Rau

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.