Couch, Steven R.
May 2001
Humanity & Society;May2001, Vol. 25 Issue 2, p114
Academic Journal
Collective cultural response to catastrophes has not received the attention from scholars that it deserves. This paper is a modest attempt to encourage work in this area. It is supplemented by works on cultural representations of catastrophes, ranging from books like "The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning" by J.E. Young to "Beclouded Visions: Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the Art of Witness" by K. Maclear. The author offers theoretical discussions, followed by an examination of some social dynamics of collective witnessing. This paper also introduces the term "collective witness" to designate when a group of victims of a catastrophic event constructs a meaning for that event and enters into a claims-making process to try to have that meaning accepted. According to the author, collective witness, has the potential to lead to significant social change, sometimes even at the societal or global levels. In closing, understanding collective witness, then, is important not only at levels of group dynamics and individual suffering and healing, but also at the level of large-scale social change.


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