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Therapy of conflictual histories is one of the most critical therapeutic challenges. That is why there are different methods for addressing this problem. However, the paper at hand aims at reviewing and analyzing only four theoretical tools: mourning, hauntology, nostalgia, and narrative therapy.
Theoretical Concept of Mourning
Mourning is a mental procedure that is closely related to historical thinking, i.e. the ability to make sense of particular past events. It is one of the most common ways to draw connections between individuals and their past to identify one’s identity (Rüsen 1). According to Rüsen, mourning is helpful not only due to its value for personal re-establishment but also cope with trauma and improving one’s future (2-3). It can be explained by the fact that mourning helps understand how the past shapes one’s personality instead of ignoring it.
Speaking of mourning, there are two aspects of the concept. The first one is emotional that is directly associated with one’s mental activities and sensual involvement in the process. The second aspect is cultural (Rüsen 27). Mourning as a theoretical tool for addressing conflictual histories is commonly viewed as a nation- or communitywide specificity – an ability to cope with past trauma and regain identity (Zembylas 73). From this perspective, mourning is viewed as a collective tool for coping with conflictual histories. Its major strength is relatively high efficiency in overcoming traumas because the past is not ignored but reconsidered (Rüsen 1). On the other hand, it may be weak because, in some cases, it disappears either because there is nobody to mourn for the past events or mourning (for instance, silence marches) is prohibited or not supported by the state (Cobb 16; Zembylas 73). At the same time, it is deployed for addressing only those traumas that are related to collective self-esteem, not all significant conflictual histories (Rüsen 28).
Theoretical Concept of Hauntology
Hauntology is a peculiar theoretical tool for coping with conflictual histories. Just like mourning, it focuses on making sense of the past to improve the future. However, its specificity is in having conversations with the ghosts of this past so that there is an opportunity to craft a promising future (Zembylas 70). In this way, the idea is to create the tomorrow instead of fixing the yesterday. To obtain a better understanding of this theoretical tool, it is essential to pay special attention to the concept of ghosts. It is a broad phenomenon, incorporating different past traumas (for instance, dictatorship and victims of wars or genocides). The foundation of this concept is the collective memory and the search for social justice in the future (Zembylas 71).
Hauntology is about remembrance of the ghosts mentioned above. This remembrance may be demonstrated in the form of particular rituals (for instance, grandiose parades or silent marches) aimed at pointing to the criticality of particular past events and the necessity to avoid them in the future (Zembylas 71). The main strength of this tool is the chance of community reconciliation. On the other hand, it is associated with the challenges and weaknesses similar to those of mourning – governmental oppression and the inability to organize and complete the needed rituals due to political or ethical challenges (Zembylas 73). Moreover, the instrument is ambivalent because one can never predict the emergence of the new ghost and it is complicated to find the right balance between commemoration initiatives and adhering to social norms (Zembylas 84-85).
Theoretical Concept of Nostalgia
Nostalgia is another theoretical tool used for therapeutic aims in addressing conflictual histories. This concept was borrowed from the field of medicine and mental issues. Just like the first two instruments, nostalgia is a culture-based tool associated with collective memory. However, unlike hauntology, it is connected with the desire to return to the initial state of affairs and fix the past instead of creating a better tomorrow. Nostalgia is similar to mourning due to the powerful emotional aspect of this concept. From this perspective, it is the desire to return to happy (or any emotionally significant) times and prolong this feeling because it is associated with the sense of home. In this case, the main focus is made on personal criteria when it comes to grading particular past events (Denic-Grabic 156). Therefore, it is efficient because it may help make the influence of some events stronger while erasing the other.
Still, nostalgia is not always beneficial for overcoming the consequences of conflictual histories. For instance, it is not helpful in case when it is triggered due to political motifs. To prove this statement, think of the drive to establish the overall uniformity in the socialist society and the subsequent political references to the positive outcomes of the socialist uniformity after the collapse of the whole system. The problem is that the reality is distorted in such cases so that the community is manipulated because of the so-called installation of memory – demonstrating only positive aspects of a particular phenomenon or event and ignoring the negative ones (Denic-Grabic 159). This regulation can be conducted by different means – poems, photos, museums exhibitions, films, and other forms of art (Lesic 87).
Theoretical Concept of Narrative Therapy
Narrative therapy has become the most popular tool for addressing conflictual histories. The foundation of the instrument is sharing one’s story. The range of addressed issues is wide which helps make the tool even more popular. The focus is made on narrations because they are associated with an individual’s identity and problems, not their feelings regarding identities or problems (Carr 487). To obtain a better understanding of this concept, it is imperative to be aware of the specificities of narrations, such as viewing each individual as one in need of help, paying attention to one’s perception of a particular event, and considering each individual within a broader frame – their surrounding and position in a community (Carr 491). All of the abovementioned details were proposed by Michael White – the founder of this theoretical tool.
Even though this method centers on an individual, it can be used as a collective tool for coping with conflictual histories due to the opportunity of initiating a public dialogue – either among members of a particular community or between people and legal authorities (Cobb 4). It is the primary strength of the tool. However, at the same time, narrative therapy is commonly associated with the creation of a they-us gap in the community. It may result in social fragmentation and increased risks of public conflicts, especially in cases of extremely important conflictual histories, such as genocides or victims of wars (Cobb 5, 8).
Carr, Alan. “Michael White’s Narrative Therapy.” Contemporary Family Therapy, vol. 20, no. 4, 1998, pp. 485-503.
Cobb, Sara. “Narrative ‘Braiding’ and the Role of Public Officials in Transforming the Public’s Conflicts.” Narrative and Conflict: Explorations in Theory and Practice, vol. 1, no. 1, 2013, pp. 4-30.
Denic-Grabic, Alma. “The Narrativisation of Memories. Trauma and Nostalgia in the Novels the Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugresic and Frost and Ash by Jasna Samic.” Balkan Memories. Media Constructions of National and Transnational History, edited by Tanja Zimmerman, Bielefeld, 2012, pp. 155-162.
Lesic, Andrea. “Memory and Conceptual Tropes. Museums, Trade and Documents in Velickovic Konacari.” Balkan Memories. Media Constructions of National and Transnational History, edited by Tanja Zimmerman, Bielefeld, 2012, pp. 87-94.
Rüsen, Jörn. “Mourning by History – Ideas of a New Element in Historical Thinking.” Historiography East & West, vol. 1, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-38.
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Zembylas, Michalinos. “Pedagogies of Hauntology in History Education: Learning to Live with the Ghosts of Disappeared Victims of War and Dictatorship.” Educational Theory, vol. 63, no. 1, 2013, pp. 69-86.