Trauma-Centered Social Justice
48 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2020 Last revised: 15 Jan 2021
Date Written: February 2, 2020
This Article identifies a new and growing phenomenon in the American legal system. Many leading agendas for gender, racial, and climate justice are centered on emotional trauma as the primary injury of contemporary social injustices. By focusing on three social justice movements, #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and Climate Justice, the Article offers the first comprehensive diagnosis and assessment of how emotional trauma has become an engine for legal and policy social justice reforms. From a nineteenth century psychoanalytic theory about repressed childhood sexual memories that manifest in female hysteria, through extensive medicalization and classification in the twentieth century, emotional trauma has evolved and expanded into its current status at the center of our twenty-first century social justice movements.
The Article reveals how the rhetoric and logic of emotional trauma is increasingly used to articulate legal and policy claims for racial, gender and climate justice, and how the current understanding of trauma is connected to the concept of abuse of power. While recognizing the positive and generative effects of the growing understanding of emotional trauma, the Article explores some hidden costs of the enthusiastic embrace of the “age of trauma” in legal quests for social justice. The Article observes that the prominence of trauma may limit the scope of political and legal claims for gender, racial, and climate justice; and that it may shape and perpetuate wounded identities of those on behalf of whom legal claims for justice are made. As lawmakers and policymakers proceed in engaging the legal and political systems in claims for meaningful social justice, they ought to carefully assess the negative implications of a trauma-centered social justice.
Keywords: social justice, trauma, gender, race, climate change, abuse of power, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter
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