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"Don't be scared, be prepared": trauma-anxiety-resilience.


Rather than concerning ourselves with "governing trauma" we should instead be concerned with how trauma has come to govern us. Trauma talk now comes naturally, and the article explores what all this trauma talk might be doing, ideologically and politically, especially in the context of the relationship between security and anxiety. The management of trauma and anxiety has become a way of mediating the demands of an endless security war: a war of security, a war for security, a war through security. The article therefore seeks to understand the concept of trauma and the proliferation of discourses of anxiety as ideological mechanisms deployed for the security crisis of endless war; deployed, that is, as a training in resilience. Trauma is less an issue of memory or the past and more a question of building resilience for the future. The language of trauma and anxiety, and the training in resilience that is associated with these terms, weds us to a deeply conservative mode of thinking.


age of anxiety, resilience, trauma, security politics, security wars


The idea of trauma is now deeply engrained in our political, cultural, and intellectual universe. What in the seventeenth century was a surgeon's term to describe a physical wound, transformed in the nineteenth century to include psychic ailments comparable to shock, morphed into "shell shock" and "nervous trauma" by the end of World War I (WWI) and from there eventually became a psychiatric category now used to describe experience of war, genocide, and catastrophe. The history of the category could be described as moving from the idea of physical damage to the mental health system and on to the social management of major disasters. (1) This is most obviously true in the discourse surrounding war and conflict--at some point in the future, note the editors of one collection of essays on the trauma of war, historians looking back at the wars of the 1980s, 1990s, and early twentieth century will notice "trauma projects" appearing alongside food, health, and shelter interventions. (2) Yet the historians will also see a highly traumatized society in general, as trauma has become the discourse through which not only catastrophic events are articulated, but through which virtually all sufferings are expressed: "That was really traumatic!" is now thought to be an appropriate response to any event that would once have been described as "rather unpleasant" or "quite difficult."

It is this everydayness, or naturalness, of trauma talk that I want to engage here. When categories and concepts take on an increasing appearance of being the natural categories through which we are encouraged to think, critical theory needs to be on the alert. Such is the case with trauma. My main purpose is to explore what all this trauma talk might be doing, ideologically and politically.

Such a task places us on the terrain of the relationship between security and anxiety. A glance at any security text, from the most mundane government pronouncement to the most sophisticated literature within academic "security studies," reveals that through the politics of security runs a political imagination of fear and anxiety. I want to first explore this relation before connecting it with the question of trauma. In so doing I suggest that the management of trauma and anxiety has become a way of mediating the demands of an endless security war: a war of security, a war for security, a war through security; a war whose permanence and universality has been established to match the permanence and universality of our supposed desire for security. The article therefore has nothing to say about "governing traumatic events." Rather, it seeks to understand the emergence of a hypertrophied concept of trauma and the proliferation of discourses of anxiety as ideological mechanisms deployed for the security crisis of endless war; deployed, I will argue, as a training in resilience. As such, I want to suggest that the language of trauma and anxiety, and the training in resilience that is associated with these terms, weds us to a deeply conservative mode of thinking, with the superficial "humanitarianism" supposedly captured in the discourse of trauma in fact functioning as a means of cutting off political alternatives.

Anxiety: Danger

According to a major cultural trope, we live in anxious times. (3) In 1996, Sarah Dunant and Roy Porter edited a collection of essays on the "age of anxiety" and, since then, the idea of an "age of anxiety" has become part of our cultural common sense, being used to think through questions of crime (Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety, 2008); conspiracy theory (The Age of Anxiety: Conspiracy Theory and the Human Sciences, 2001); corporate management (Global Firms and Emerging Markets in an Age of Anxiety, 2004); parenting (Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, 2005; Worried all the Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It, 2003); religions of all sorts (Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of St. Francis in an Age of Anxiety, 2002; For Our Age of Anxiety: Sermons from the Sermon on the Mount, 2009; Ancient Wisdom for an Age of Anxiety, 2007); language (At War with Diversity: US Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety, 2000); drugs (The Age of Anxiety: A History of America's Turbulent Affair with Tranquilizers, 2009; A Social History of the Minor Tranquilizers: The Quest for Small Comfort in the Age of Anxiety, 1991); new age claptrap (The Road Less Travelled: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety, 1997); sex (Mindblowing Sex in the Real World: Hot Tips for Doing It in the Age of Anxiety, 1995); food and drink (Consuming Passions: Cooking and Eating in an Age of Anxiety, 1998); and just plain old hope (Hope in the Age of Anxiety, 2009). This list could go on. Symptomatically, Haynes Johnson's account of the war on terror is also called The Age of Anxiety (2005).

This huge intellectual production parallels developments in the psychiatric field. In 2013, we are due to see the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders and how to diagnose them. The first edition in 1952 ran to 129 pages and contained just 106 diagnostic "disorders." The second edition was published in 1968, with 134 pages and 182 categories. DSM-III, in 1980 was 494 pages long and contained 265 categories. DSM-IV, from 1994, had 886 pages and 297 diagnostic categories. DSM-V will be even larger and more substantial. Part of the increase in size and proliferation of categories has been because disorder has been defined according to forms of behavior and used to define clinical categories. For example, being a bit nervous or shy is a symptom of an underlying condition, which then becomes a clinical category, such as social phobia, which is the term used as an explanation of what the manual calls "social anxiety disorder." Some of what it says about social anxiety concerns specific conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or disfigurement, but the term is also intended to capture fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the person is exposed to scrutiny by others, such as being observed or performing; fear that one will be negatively evaluated; and fear of situations which might provoke anxiety. DSM-IV then adds further detail on what it calls generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which includes excessive anxiety and worry about two or more domains of activities or events such as family, health, finances, and school/work difficulties; excessive anxiety on more days than not for three months or more; anxiety showing symptoms such as restlessness, edginess, muscle tension; anxiety associated with behaviors such as avoidance of situations in which a negative outcome could occur, or marked time and effort preparing for situations in which a negative outcome could occur, or procrastination due to worries, or seeking reassurance due to worries.

Note that the main way most of us would find ourselves in the pages of DSM is through the category of anxiety. If one takes "excessive anxiety about two or more domains of activities or events" such as family, health, finances and work, and one throws in some "muscle tension" for good measure, it would be hard to find people who did not fit the category. On the basis of the DSM, it might actually be impossible to be human and avoid being diagnosed with a treatable mental disorder connected with anxiety. This would be consistent with the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, (4) anxiety has emerged as the most prevalent mental health problem across the globe (a process encouraged by the drugs industry and the banality of contemporary journalism). Thus one finds anxiety articulated as a problem just about everywhere one looks. The Agoraphobia Society started life in the United Kingdom over 30 years ago with a fairly specific remit. It later became the National Phobics Society, with the remit extended along the lines of the change of name. It has recently renamed itself Anxiety UK. Perhaps symptomatically, what used to be called hypochondria is now officially "health anxiety."

In this regard, we might pay heed to Franz Neumann's comment on the role of anxiety as one of the cornerstones of the political mobilization of fear under fascism. (5) But Neumann was also sensitive to the ways in which anxiety could play a similar role in the formation of liberal political subjectivity, one which opened the door to authoritarian mobilizations and maneuvers. Might not that be especially the case in an "age of anxiety" which is also an age of neoliberal authoritarianism? And how might that be connected to the fact that the age is also, if anything, an "age of security"? Might we not think of the "age of anxiety" in terms of its deployment in the security crisis of endless war?

One way to consider this is through the prediction of catastrophe and the anticipation of disaster. A notable feature of recent political discourse has been the proliferation of ideas and categories centered on the claim that there is a disaster about to happen. Preparedness, prevention, planning and preemption have therefore become core ideas: everywhere one looks one finds emergency preparedness, contingency planning, and preemptive action being addressed. Each of these is a concept with some scope, extending to war preparedness, disaster planning, and terror attacks, and each of them resonates with and reinforces a whole gamut of associated security measures. They play heavily on the fear of potential "natural" disasters, but their real power lies in the presentation of endless war in terms of the coming political disaster. They are intensely future oriented, in that they seek to shape behavior toward a future event beyond our control but which we must be prepared to take under our control. The worst-case scenario must be prepared for, even though we do not know what it is yet and never can know what it is. The preparation becomes a technique of governance accommodating us to the security measures constantly established to deal with the catastrophe and disaster. (6) Or, put differently: the security measures help us deal with the anxiety over the catastrophe to come. Seen in this light, anxiety is a means of preparing us for the next attack in the permanent war on tenor, the attack we are told time and again is bound to come--how many times does a politician, police chief, or security intellectual tell us that "an attack is highly likely," (7) even just after (or especially just after) a supposed victory in the war?--and which could be and probably will be worse than the last attack and might even be worse than anything we can imagine, all of which enables an acceptance of the ubiquity of the war, its purported endlessness, and the permanence of the security preparations carried out in its name.

Central to this process is the concept "resilience." In the aftermath of the bombs in London in July 2005, Tony Blair spoke of "the stoicism and resilience of the people of London," and Brian Paddick, then Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, assured viewers that the emergency services "had sufficient resilience to cope." Their use of the term was significant. "In the past few years," noted James Harkin in The Times at the time, "the idea of resilience has been elevated to the most important buzzword in defence policy-making circles. Since September 11, 2001, the Ministry of Defence has been busy commissioning all manner of research into the resilience of our big cities in the event of terrorist attack. Boffins in the Strategy Unit of No 10 have written countless turgid reports about what resilience means. Universities have set up whole departments, such as Cranfield University's Resilience Centre, to teach and study it." (8)

Resilience sterns from the idea of a system, which gives a certain scientific weight to ideas such as "preparedness" and "prevention" and, as Claudia Aradau and Rens van Munster point out, "smoothly combines meanings derived from physiology (the capacity of material to return to a previous state), psychology (the capacity of an individual to return to normal after a traumatic event), ecology (the capacity of systems to continue functioning and renew themselves after a disruptive event) and informatics (the capacity of a system to keep on functioning despite anomalies and design flaws)." (9) The official documentation on the term, of which there is now an enormous amount, plays on this: a 2008 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) document on state-building, styled "from fragility to resilience," defines the latter as "the ability to cope with changes in capacity, effectiveness or legitimacy. These changes can be driven by shocks ... or through long-term erosions (or increases) in capacity, effectiveness or legitimacy." (10) A key United Nations document on disaster management suggests that resilience requires "a consideration of almost every physical phenomenon on the planet." (11) Note: almost every physical phenomenon on the planet. Although the overall argument is couched in terms of general risks, the UN links it explicitly to the wider security agenda in a way which connects politicizes (and securitizes) physical and systemic resilience. The document thus parallels national domestic legislation such as the UK's Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which involves contingency plans for anything which might be said to affect the "welfare" of the UK. The extent to which "resilience" has come to the fore in the politics of planning is witnessed by the London Resilience Team set up to "deliver Olympic Resilience in London," and the extent to which it is designed to connect emergency planning to the logic of security is evidenced in the fact that the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games has a Security and Resilience section.

As these examples suggest, in terms of state power huge resources are now expended mapping out potential disasters and in the apprehension of a disaster to come. Playing on the origins of resilience in systems thinking, the idea of planning out organizational and institutional resilience has become a central plank of action across central state agencies, local governments, emergency services, and health authorities. In the United Kingdom, for example, this would stretch from the creation of "UK Resilience" based on the Cabinet Office through the resilience training offered to armed forces, right down to the fact that sniffer dogs, like their handlers, are now trained to be resilient. (12) There has also developed a commercial rhetoric of "organizational resilience" for corporations, not least through the "International Consortium for Organizational Resilience": institutional activity enacted to manage organizational anxiety.

This increased prominence of "resilience" during the rise of neoliberalism is significant. Although this connection might seem odd, given that more than anything resilience assumes a massive state role in planning for the future, the point of this future is that it is unknown and uncertain. Thus as a political category resilience relies fundamentally on an anxious political psyche engaged in an endless war and preparing for the coming attack. Such a strategy foregrounds a politics of anticipation, in which the anticipation itself becomes both an exercise in and an expression of anxiety. But the term has been expanded to straddle the private as well as the public, the personal as well as the political, the subjective as well as the objective, and so systemic, organizational, and political resilience is connected to personal resilience in such a way that contemporary political subjectivity now has to be thought through "the power of resilience." Thus one finds texts about resilience as a personal attribute in which citizen-subjects are trained to "achieve balance, confidence and personal strength," or, in the subtitle of another, "find inner strength and overcome life's hurdles," or better still, just "bounce back from whatever life throws at us." (13) And one finds workshops in resilience training to equip people for the endless war. The anxious subject is acknowledged as the resilient subject is championed.

It is here that one finds the relationship between the economic development of neoliberal subjectivity and the political development of resilient citizenship. Marx long ago spelt out the ways in which capital, as a system rooted objectively in permanent change and the constant revolutionizing of production, promotes feelings of everlasting uncertainty in the subjectivity it generates; capital both generates and thrives on the anxiety that lies at the core of bourgeois subjectivity. The neoliberal intensification of this process, repackaged by politicians and employers as an inevitable fact of contemporary labor and exacerbated by the anxiety associated with the rise of consumerism, a decline of trust in public institutions and private corporations, and a collapse in pension schemes, has been compounded by this articulation of resilience as personal as well as systemic. Resilience is thus presented as a key way of subjectively working through the uncertainty and instability of contemporary capital. The neoliberal subject can "achieve balance" across the several insecure and part-time jobs they have, can "overcome life's hurdles" such as facing retirement without a pension to speak of, and just "bounce back from whatever life throws at us" whether it be the collapse of welfare systems or global economic meltdown. The policing of the resilient subject coincides with the socioeconomic fabrication of resilient yet flexible labor. "Don't be scared, be prepared," a motto used by numerous organizations, from the United Nations to Christian Aid to Devon County Council, is a guide for managing one's place in the market as well as in the security state. Neoliberal citizenship is nothing if not a training in resilience.

All of which is to say that anxiety and resilience are now core to the jargon of neoliberal authenticity. (14) Superficially, such jargon is full of "recognition" for the complexities of human experience ("of course you are anxious"; "we all share the same fears"; "it's only natural to be anxious"), but this merely encourages the naturalization of a neoliberal subjectivity mobilized for security and capital. Hence, the jargon of neoliberal authenticity is the jargon of neoliberal authoritarianism. This is police power at its most profound, shaping subjectivity and fabricating order through psy-experts here there and everywhere: counselors within police departments, therapists within the community, psychologists in the media, and analysts in the cultural field, all offering advice on our anxieties, coaching us in our resilience and thus, in a roundabout way, functioning as technologies of security. For the one abiding political purpose of the culture of anxiety is to function as a police power par excellence in closing down alternate possibilities: we can be anxious about what might happen, but our response must be resilience-training not political struggle. We can be collectively anxious and structurally resilient but not mobilized politically.

Yet what has all this talk of anxiety and resilience to do with the politics of trauma? Toward the end of an essay called "Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety" (1926), Freud explores the relationship between anxiety and danger, suggesting that we can distinguish realistic anxiety centered on known danger and neurotic anxiety centered on unknown danger. In this context, he introduces the concept of trauma: danger conjures up feelings of helplessness, and Freud suggests that a situation of helplessness that has been actually experienced is a traumatic situation. He therefore ends his comments with a dialectical triad that runs "anxiety-danger-helplessness (trauma)." (15) What might we make of this politically?

Danger: Trauma

A few years before his essay "Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety," Freud published Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). Early in that text he writes about the lack of any analysis of war neuroses, which had been a major issue during and in the aftermath of the First World War. "Shell shock" is that war's emblematic psychiatric disorder, but by 1916 the term "shell shock" was being used as a synonym for "war neuroses."

Now, DSM-I, published in 1952, contained a category known as "gross stress reaction," picking up on the experience of soldiers in World War II (WWII) and trying to move beyond "shell shock" and "war neuroses." DSM-II, however, published in 1968, no longer had a listing for any kind of psychiatric disorder produced by war. Rather, it was suggested that the symptoms formerly understood under gross stress reaction should be reclassified under "adjustment reaction to adult life." This meant that war veterans returning from Vietnam after 1968 were being assessed using a diagnostic nomenclature that did not appear to have any terminology specific to war-related trauma. Vietnam veteran groups gradually mobilized around and against this, since they believed that the experiences of returnees from Vietnam were not being properly understood or appreciated by the authorities and, where they were recognized, it was not through the right prism (of war). The issue was finally resolved in 1980 with the invention, as Allan Young puts it, of "posttraumatic stress disorder" (PTSD). In other words, the fate of the category "trauma" was tied to the history of warfare, and one cannot understand PTSD without grasping it in the context of America's attempt to understand Vietnam and its own role (and "trawnatic" defeat) in that war. That is, we need to recognize from the outset that PTSD was a politically driven psychiatric diagnosis. (16)

One of the outcomes of this rise of PTSD was that as a label it meant abandoning the term neurosis in dealing with the experiences of the people in question. Fassin and Rechtman point out that this was a huge conceptual shift with profound political implications, because it meant jettisoning the tradition of suspicion that had always surrounded the idea of trauma and which had been captured with the label neuroses. This suspicion had its roots in the class politics of the terminology in question, for despite its long history in the English language trauma came into its own as a category in the nineteenth century as a means of interpellating workers on railways who were thought to be malingering after an accident. In the early twentieth century, it was then used for interpellating working class soldiers thought to be malingering after war experience. The original trauma victims were "the workforce in a rapidly expanding industrial society and cannon fodder for its great international conflicts." (17) In other words, the term trauma was originally applied to what were thought to be the malingerers and shirkers of the working class, although at that point the term was not being used in sympathy.

The withdrawal of the neurotic paradigm and the end of the crusade to discover fraud or malingering with the invention of PTSD had a major impact, since not only was trauma no longer a mark of malingering or cowardice, it was also now something that could be grasped and sympathized with. That this occurred through the struggle for recognition of the trauma suffered by Vietnam veterans was crucial, since it meant that if American soldiers could be understood as genuine victims of trauma, then the implication was that the perpetrators of atrocity could be counted among its victims. Note that as it agitated for changes to DSM-III the Vietnam Veterans Working Group argued that the symptoms of Vietnam compensation victims were very similar to those of the victims of what is widely said to be the most politically significant trauma of a century of traumas: the concentration camp survivors. And when not invoking the holocaust, the comparison was made with victims of other mass historical atrocities, such as the slave trade or Hiroshima. In the American context, classing perpetrators as victims was a move that satisfied both pacifists and supporters of the war because it meant that the war could be denounced by both sides and without directly condemning those who fought in it. In terms of healing and unifying a nation seriously divided by the war, not least given the historical moment in which more and more atrocities committed by American troops were being uncovered, the importance of the step taken in shifting the language of trauma perhaps cannot be overstated, for it generated an all-encompassing category of the "survivor" and "traumavictim." (18) Understood outside of the American context and in terms of the wider political and cultural shifts, we might say that by re-presenting trauma through a narrative of victimhood, psychiatry has played a crucial role in helping the state conceal the trauma that the state itself produces; experiences and memories understood as trauma come to play a central role in the reassertion of political authority. (19) Depoliticizing a highly charged situation, trauma replaces politics with a concept of psychic wounding, to be managed by the individual and the state.

From this moment, psychiatry would treat the battlefield as a "microcosm of trauma." (20) As we know, war zones are now always already understood through the language of the traumatic, individual and collective: "Iraqis are being traumatized every day"; "within five years of the falling of the regime, all Iraqis will be traumatized," and so on. (21) One of the features of "contemporary" war, however, is that the battlefield is now global: the whole social order is understood to be the ground of war, and there is no "front line" or "battlefield" in any meaningful sense of the term. And so trauma has moved away from the battlefield and into every walk of life. Not only has this made PTSD virtually indistinguishable from combinations of already established disorders such as depression, panic disorder, and, of course, GAD, it has also enabled the consciousness of trauma to penetrate all areas of social life and be applied to human experience in general. (22) On one hand, "traumatic memory" has become a way of unraveling people's experiences even when they do not think of themselves as traumatized. Bruno Bettelheim, for example, writes of concentration camp survivors who "often do quite well in life" and who appear "symptom free," but adds that this is only "as far as appearances go." In fact, "their life is in some essential respects, full of inner insecurity" (note the trope of security, again) which "they usually manage to hide." Bettelheim knows this because "the trauma (is) so horrendous" that real "integration" requires "acceptance of how severely one has been traumatized." (23) On the other hand, people can now be traumatized by an experience such as watching TV. The term "distant traumatic effects" is now widely used to describe people traumatized through a medium, the most common being TV. The extent to which it would be hard to overestimate the plasticity, power, and apparently universal applicability of the concept is illustrated by the fact with which we began: that "that was really traumatic!" has become a common way of describing a whole gamut of ultimately rather mundane experiences. (24)

It is on this basis that traumatology has taken off. Encouraged by specialist organizations such as the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (founded 1985) and specialist outlets such as the Journal of Traumatic Stress (first volume 1988), trauma talk has become everyday; Frank Furedi has revealed the proliferation of trauma talk in British newspapers, from just under 500 citations in 1994 to several thousand by the early twenty-first century. (25) United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)'s 1996 report The State of the World's Children estimated that 10 million children were psychologically traumatized. (26) Trauma, we might say, has become part of the jargon of neoliberal authenticity. But then might it not also be part of the jargon of neoliberal authoritarianism? And might this be so in a way similar to the relationship between anxiety and resilience, one which we saw was organized through the possibility of future (political) danger?

In a discussion in 2003, Jacques Derrida asked a pertinent question: "imagine that the Americans and, through them, the entire world, had been told: what has just happened, the spectacular destruction of two towers ... is an awful thing, a terrible crime, a pain without measure, but it's all over, it won't happen again, there will never again be anything as awful as or more awful than that." Mourning would be possible, selves could be remade, pages would be turned, and a line could be drawn under the trauma. But as Derrida suggests, the traumatism which followed, like all traumatism, "is produced by the future, by the to come, by the threat of the worst to come, rather than by an aggression that is 'over and done with.'" (27) Derrida's suggestion runs counter to the common trope of "trauma and memory," an approach which encourages us to think of trauma in terms of a "remaking of the self" in the light of the past, as "unclaimed experience," as the "redemptive authority of history," as "forgetfulness and forgiveness," as "struggles over representations of the past," as "healing." (28) This is especially the case following 9/11, an event which is presented to us as the collective trauma of our time--these are now "the days after," as one character puts it in Don DeLillo's "post-9/11" novel Falling Man. But Derrida's suggestion helps us read trauma in terms of the danger of the terror to come, or which might be to come. The trauma is the trauma of a future which is unknowable but imaginable, and imaginable as traumatic. The "wound" of trauma is less the wound of the past and much more, to paraphrase Derrida, a wound which remains open in our terror of the danger that we imagine lies ahead. The tensor lies not in what has happened in the past but in the danger and the anxiety of what we imagine threatens to happen, and which we are encouraged to imagine as being worse than anything that has ever taken place.

In this light, the issue is not the remaking of the self in the light of past trauma but the making of the self in preparation for the trauma to come. And that making of the self is how political subjectivity now comes to be shaped: endlessly, just like the war itself What we need to consider, then, is not acts that are somehow genuinely traumatic per se and how they are governed. Rather, what we need to consider is how and why so many acts are produced as trauma and what that production does to contemporary political subjectivity. For the imagination of danger and terror is the contemporary psychopolitical condition of trauma politics. If the catastrophe must be imagined and the worst-case scenario considered so that contingency plans, emergency measures, and, more than anything, the security arrangements be put in place, then trauma is mobilized to integrate us into the security measures of endless war. Trauma has become a means of organizing the subject of security/insecurity within a social field defined as war. This is not liberation from past violence but preparation for violence in the future. If "society must be defended," as we are now all fond of saying with Foucauldian irony (albeit with rather different levels of irony, depending on our politics), then it must be defended more than anything from its future traumas.

This is where trauma connects to the growth of resilience as a political concept. (29) If resilience has come to the fore in the context of an anxious political psyche engaged in a "war on tenor" and within the wider neoliberal authoritarianism confronting us, we might add that it has done so for a social order and international system understanding itself as traumatized and preparing for more trauma to come. "Resilience training" represents a general preparation for events defined in advance as traumatic. As Pat O'Malley puts it, "resilience does not seek only to render individuals able to 'bounce back' after trauma, an essentially reactive model." Rather, "it aims to create subjects capable of adapting to, and exploiting to their advantage, situations of radical uncertainty." (30) The biological and psychological frailty implied in the concept of trauma has to be somehow compensated for in advance by the strength and endurance implied in the concept of resilience. To be a viable political subject, now, means planning one's resilience to withstand the trauma to come.

It is for this reason that the psy-disciplines have been central to the growth of "resilience." The American Psychological Association launched a major "Road to Resilience" campaign in 2002 to link "those types of traumatic events" (i.e., September 11, 2001) with "the hardships that define all of our lives, anytime that people are struggling with an event in their communities." "It became clear that these events helped to open a window to self discovery for many," said Jan Peterson, assistant executive director of public relations in APA's Practice Directorate. "People were interested in learning more about themselves--and in particular, how to become more resilient." The APA launched a "multi-media approach," with a free tool kit including "10 ways to build resilience," a documentary video Aftermath: The Road to Resilience with three "overarching messages" ("resilience can be learned"; "resilience is a journey, not an event or single turning point"; "there is no prescribed timeline for the road to resilience"), special phases of the campaign including "Resilience for Kids and Teens," and resilience workshops for journalists. (31) The main theme to emerge is how individuals, communities and organizations might "bounce back" from any attacks, setbacks or challenges. (32) A leading article called "Providing Direction on The Road to Resilience" by Russ Newman, Executive Director at the APA, published in Behavioral Health Management in July 2003 to publicize the campaign, has been made available on websites run by and for business management. (33) Elsewhere one finds that resilience workshops are conducted in centers specializing in trauma. (34)

By pairing trauma with resilience, the subject's personal anxieties become bound up with the political dangers facing the nation; the trauma is individual and collective, and so the resilience training is the training in and of liberal subjects such that capitalist order might be properly secured. The fabrication of liberal subjectivity and its martial defense are to be achieved in one and the same moment. In this way, the trauma-resilience couplet is now central to the politics of security: the measures proposed in the unsuccessful National Resilience Development Act in 2003 found their way into the ubiquitous powers of the Department of Homeland Security, and the UK's more recent National Security Strategy (2008) is structured around the same problematic--the concept of resilience runs through the text, encompassing the armed forces, the police, the British people, the private sector, "human and social resilience," "community resilience," and on it goes. (35)

This planned defense and its prior imagining of the community and its subjects as anxious and traumatized closes down alternate possibilities. Trauma and, relatedly, PTSD are themselves symptomatic of the way contemporary order is constituted as a certain kind of war, the mobilization of emotion within this war, and the kind of responses we are allowed to have to it. We can be traumatized, we can prepare to be traumatized, we can be trained to be resilient against the trauma to come, and we can obtain some therapy to help us cope in advance. But we must not be challenged to respond politically. "Resilience" thereby designates an aptitude for little other than keeping things exactly as they are. We can expect to be traumatized collectively but not mobilized politically. Trauma talk is now part of the jargon of authenticity. Seemingly irresistible, it has become pure ideology, a language providing power with its refuge; seemingly responsive to real human need, it functions as a form of political administration. Politics has been replaced by the administration of anxious and traumatized subjects in their acceptance of the permanent security war.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article

Alternatives: Global, Local. Political

37(3) 188-198

[c] The Author(s) 2012

Reprints and permission:

DOI: 10.1177/0304375412449789


(1.) Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of (2007), translated by Rachel Gomme (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 10.

(2.) Patrick J. Bracken and Celia Petty, "Introduction," in Rethinking the Trauma of War, ed. Patrick J. Bracken and Celia Petty (London: Free Association Books, 1998), 1.

(3.) The paragraphs which follow in this section repeat and build on my "Anxious Resilience," Mute Magazine, August 2011.

(4.) The WHO World Mental Health Survey: Global Perspectives on the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

(5.) Franz Neumann, "Anxiety and Politics" ( 1954), in Neumann, The Democratic and the Authoritarian State (New York: Free Press, 1957).

(6.) Claudia Aradau and Rens van Munster, Politics of Catastrophe: Genealogies of the Unknown (London: Routledge, 2011); Stuart Price, Worst-Case Scenario? Governance, Mediation and the Security Regime (London: Zed Books, 2011).

(7.) Most recently, in this comment from Sir Paul Stephenson, Head of the Metropolitan Police, following Bin Laden's killing, May 2011, cited in the Daily Telegraph, May 5, 2011.

(8.) James Harkin, "What is Resilience?" The Times, July 9, 2005.

(9.) Aradau and Munster, Politics, 46-7.

(10.) OECD, Concepts and Dilemmas of State Building in Fragile Situations: From Fragility to Resilience (OECD, 2008), 17.

(11.) United Nations, Living With Risk: A Global Review of Disaster Reduction Initiatives, Vol. I (New York and Geneva: UN, 2004), 37.

(12.) See comments from Police Inspector Alun Jenkins, cited in "Sniffer Dogs Prepare for London Olympics," BBC News, October 15, 2010.

(13.) Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein, The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004); Karen Reivich and Andrew Shane, The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles (New York: Broadway Books, 2003); Jane Clarke and John Nicholson, Resilience: Bounce Back from Whatever Life Throws at You (Richmond, Surrey: Crimson Publishing, 2010).

(14.) I am playing here on Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity (1964), translated by Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973).

(15.) Sigmund Freud, "Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety" (1926), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XX (London: Vintage, 2001), 165-67.

(16.) Allan Young, The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995). Also Wilbur J. Scott, The Politics of Readjustment: Vietnam Veterans Since the War (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1993), 34, 238; Wilbur J. Scott, "PTSD in DSM-III: A Case in the Politics of Diagnosis and Disease," Social Problems, 37, no. 3 (1990): 294-310; Edgar Jones and Simon Wessely, Shell Shock to PTSD: Military Psychiatry from 1900 to the Gulf War (Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press, 2005), 131. Also Ben Shephard, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994 (London: Pimlico, 2002) and Paul Lerner, Hysterical Men: War, Psychiatry, and the Politics of Trauma in Germany, 1890-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003). Note also Philip Cushman's argument concerning psychotherapy's sociopolitical function, not least due to its reliance on trauma theory--Constructing the Self Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1995), 343.

(17.) Fassin and Rechtman, Empire, 39. Also Michael R. Trimble, "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: History of a Concept," in Trauma and its Wake, Vol. I: The Study and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ed. Charles R. Figley (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1985), 5-14.

(18.) For a more recent and comparable case see Paula Gody-Paiz, "'Canada's Troubled Troops': The Construction of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Its Uses by the Canadian Armed Forces," Alternate Routes, 20 (2004): 6-23.

(19.) See Jenny Edkins, Trauma and the Memory of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), xv. For a similar claim concerning the reassertion of the authority of the British state following WWI see Susan Kingsley Kent, Aftershocks: Politics and Trauma in Britain, 1918-1931 (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009), 7. On the advantage that the powerful have over the powerless in the conduct of grief work, see Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York: Scribner, 2003), 56.

(20.) Chester B. Scrignar, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Legal Issues (New Orleans: Bruno Press, 1988), 2.

(21.) Both cited in James Palmer, "Civilian Toll," San Francisco Chronicle, March 19, 2007.

(22.) Young, Harmony; Derek Summerfield, "The Social Experience of War and some Issues for the Humanitarian Field," in Bracken and Petty, eds., Rethinking; Austin Sarat, Nadav Davidovitch, and Michael Alberstein, "Trauma and Memory: Between Individual and Collective Experiences," in Trauma and Memory: Reading Healing, and Making Law, ed. Austin Sarat, Nadav Davidovitch, and Michael Alberstein (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).

(23.) Bruno Bettelheim, "Trauma and Reintegration," in Surviving and Other Essays (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), 33-35.

(24.) Tana Dineen, Manufacturing Victims (Montreal: Robert Davies, 1996), 56; Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 183; Kirby Farrell, Post-Traumatic Culture: Injury and Interpretation in the Nineties (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), x.

(25.) Frank Furedi, Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age (London: Routledge, 2004), 4.

(26.) UNICEF, The State of the World's Children (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 13.

(27.) Jacques Derrida, "Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides--A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida," in Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 97.

(28.) Susan J. Brison, Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002); Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Shosana Felman, The Juridical Unconscious: Trials and Traumas of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Allen Meek, Trauma and Media (New York: Routledge, 2010); Peter A. Levine, Walking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1997).

(29.) Allan Young, "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of the Virtual Kind: Trauma and Resilience in Post-9/1 1 America," in Trauma and Memory, 21-48; Roger Luckhurst, The Trauma Question (London: Routledge, 2008), 210.

(30.) Pat O'Malley, "Resilient Subjects: Uncertainty, Warfare and Liberalism," Economy and Society, 39, no. 4 (2010): 488-509.

(31.) J. Daw, "Documentary on Resilience Set to Air Sept. 11," Monitor on Psychology, 33, no. 7 (2002): 12; Sara Martin, "Building Resilience from the Grassroots Up: APA Members take the 'Road to Resilience' Campaign to the Public," Monitor on Psychology, 33, no. 11 (2002): 52.

(32.) Russ Newman, "The Road to Resilience," Monitor on Psychology, 33, no. 9 (2002): 62.

(33.) For example,

(34.) See For discussion see Keren Friedman-Peleg and Yehuda C. Goodman, "From Posttrauma Intervention to Immunization of the Social Body: Pragmatics and Politics of a Resilience Program in Israel's Periphery," Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 34, no. 3 (2010): 421-42.

(35.) Cabinet Office, The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an Interdependent World (London: HMSO, 2008).

Neocleous, Mark (1)

(1.) Politics and History, Brunel University, UK

Corresponding Author:

Mark Neocleous, Critique of Political Economy Brunel University, UK Email:


Mark Neocleous is professor of the Critique of Political Economy at Brunel University, UK, and a member of the Editorial Collective of Radical Philosophy.
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