[T]rauma is not something naturally existing: it is something constructed by society (…) [W]e maintain that events do not, in and of themselves, create collective trauma. Events are not inherently traumatic. Trauma is a socially mediated attribution. The attribution may be made in real time, as an events unfolds; it may also be made before the events occur (…) or after the event has concluded, as a post-hoc reconstruction. Sometimes, in fact, events that are deeply traumatizing may not have occurred at all; such imagined events, however, can be as traumatizing as events that have actually occurred (…) Traumatic status is attributed to real or imagined phenomena, not because of their actual harmfulness or their objective abruptness, but because these phenomena are believed to have abruptly, and harmfully, affected collective identity (…) At the level of the social system, societies can experience massive disruptions that do not become traumatic (…) Events are one thing, representations of these events quite another. Trauma is not the result of a group experiencing pain. It is the result of this acute discomfort entering into the core of the collectivity´s sense of its own identity.
Cultural Trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways (…) It is by constructing cultural trauma that social groups, national societies, and sometimes even civilizations not only cognitively identify the existence and source of human suffering but “take on board” some significant responsibility for it. Insofar as they identify the cause of trauma, and thereby assume such moral responsibility, members of collectivities define their solidary relationships in ways that, in principle, allow them to share the sufferings of others. Is the suffering of others also our own? In thinking that it might in fact be, societies expand the circle of the we (…) By refusing to participate in what I will describe as the process of trauma creation, social groups restrict solidarity, leaving others to suffer alone.
Actors describe themselves as traumatized when the environment of an individual or a collectivity suddenly shifts in an unforeseen and unwelcome manner. We know from ordinary language (…) that we are onto something widely experienced and intuitively understood (…) The trick is to gain reflexivity, to move from the sense of something commonly experienced to the sense of strangeness that allows us to think sociologically.
Jeffrey Alexander, “Toward a Cultural Theory of Trauma”, en Jeffrey C. Alexander, Ron Eyerman, Bernard Giesen, Neil J. Smelser y Piotr Stompka (eds.), Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004, pp. 1-30 [pp. 3, 8, 1].