Technologies of Trauma

Cover of Technologies of Trauma

Cultural Formations Over Time



Table of contents

(9 chapters)

This introductory chapter opens up with the notion of ‘technologies of trauma’ and the appropriation of trauma as a cultural form in modernity aided by technologies of vision and sound. Trauma in modernity has been intimately welded with witnessing and testimony, illuminating an inter-relationship with technologies which simulates our senses and affect, with its capacities to re-present past events through present consciousness, and its ability to produce a moral economy in their own right. Humanity's reliance on technologies to narrate and circulate trauma as a cultural form of exchange and transaction articulates a moment of transcendence in which media as cultural artefacts reconfigure trauma as a cultural form. The notion of second-hand witnessing and the simulation of trauma as a shared and popular genre unleashes trauma as a resonant genre bound with technologies which renew human bonds. Equally it can be reduced to fiction or give way to compassion fatigue. In historically tracing the movement of technologies of trauma as a cultural form over time from televisual witnessing to its aesthetic or perverse renditions in the digital age, the chapter discerns trauma's machinic bind and its enactment as a cultural artefact couched within the sensorium of affect and ethics. The development of mass technological forms over time, from print to the digital age, also concerns the rise of trauma as a cultural form in terms of witnessing, testimony, memorializing, mourning and commemoration. Within these configurations the traumatized human figure is submerged through time as one equally enacted and abstracted through the formats of technology and consumption.


Mediated trauma pumped through information and communication technologies (ICTs), in highlighting the shared vulnerabilities and precarity of human lives, is also invested in the re-distribution and re-articulation of wounding and violence. This chapter examines what is transacted in the dissemination of human trauma through ICTs and how, within this affective architecture, we can come to understand the notions of wounding and woundedness as a pervasive condition of modernity invoking the human figure as continuously transgressed with the enlargement of trauma as a site of the political, visceral and commemorative whilst raising questions over our human qualities to feel as a community of affect through technologies which transmute trauma as part of their material commodification. The transmuting of trauma through technologies in the digital age means that trauma is re-absorbed as data and altered through its platform economics. Equally, trauma can be refracted through the digital terrain as banal content in which the wounded human becomes a transacted form within an incongruous spectrum ranging from the politics of pity to voyeurism. In the digital economy, trauma imagery enters another realm of disorientation in which it is pulled into typologies and vast ahistorical image repertories that hold non-contextual image as data. The digital economy re-modulates trauma through its own modes of (il)logic and turbulence, patterning trauma through its own modes of violence.


The domain of study on mediated suffering is ensconced within an Orientalist paradigm which ideologically structures our visuality and gaze. The consignment of suffering through bodies of alterity and the geo-politics of the Global South encodes the coloniality of power as a dominant reading. It then naturalizes the West as the voyeur in its consumption of the abject bodies of the Global South. Creating a binary through this East-West polarization in the oeuvre of suffering as a realm of study, it creates the hegemony of the West as the moral guardian of suffering, imbuing it with the right to accord pity and compassion to the lesser Other. Beyond elongating the Orientalist trajectory which lodged the body politic of the Global South as a sustained ideological site of suffering, it hermeneutically seals the East as irredeemable, ordaining it through the gaze over the Other as a mode of coloniality. In countering this Eurocentric proposition, this chapter contends that this coloniality of gaze needs further rumination and new sensibilities in the study of mediated suffering, particularly following 9/11 and the shifting of the geo-politics of suffering in which the West is dispossessed through its own manufactured ideologies of the ‘War on Terror’ such that it is under constant threat of terrorist attacks and through the movement of the displaced Other into the Global North. Besieged and entrapped through its own pathologies of risks and threats, the West is projected through its own victimhood and the politics of the Anthropocene within which risks are seemingly democratized by environmental degradation as an overarching threat for all of humanity. Despite these shifts in the global politics, the scholarship of suffering is locked into this polarity. The chapter interrogates this innate crisis within this field of scholarship.


The socializing of hate and its saturation on platforms as a resonant and emotional connection online reveal the networked nature of convergent platforms which pump hate as a mechanism of connection and fracture in society in the post-digital age. The violence of hate and negative sentiments online morph to appropriate a multitude of manifestations from cyberbullying and revenge porn to trolling and memes as subversive, denigrative humour. Social media, designed through an architecture for sharing and transaction, distributes hate as a popular sentiment, building connections with disparate communities through the articulation of hate for fellow humans and humanity at large. Trauma induced through hatred and bullying as an active aspect of social media platforms and interactivity distribute sentiments through its excess and disproportionality. This chapter interrogates the sentiment of hate and its workings on social media as a technology of trauma in distributing hate as a form of communion.


Black death on a loop online through the click economy brings to bear the mimetic violence associated with Blackness. The idea of consuming Black death as a repeat event highlights the visceral economy of online consumption practices in which Black death is shared and passed on as viral content. The foreshadowing of the Black body and Black death is both banalized and commodified as content for instant gratification spread via algorithms, tagging, likes and newsfeeds. The distributive popular economy online and the offering of Black death through a click economy redrafts Blackness through its historic fungibility of slavery and White oppression, and equally ‘virtuality’ in which both its hyper-visibility and invisibility assemble it through new modalities of violence whilst invoking new spaces to commune, grieve and experience collective grief for these demised bodies. Blackness is made perceptible through its liminality and denial of its corporeality such that both social death and mortal death are ascribed to it. This chapter agitates against the futility of Black death by its quest to read Black humanism online as a moment of empowerment and emancipation to reclaim Blackness and to defy its formlessness in the digital economy as the new graveyard of its spiritual resurrection.


The burnt-out Grenfell tower is a symbol of trauma and sacrificed lives. The brutalist block as a technology of trauma, viewed through its mediated depictions, reveals its condemned predicament between slippages in bureaucracy and governance. Through the formal enquiry into the disaster, the Grenfell victims' trauma is revived, replayed and contained within an archive in which victimhood is captured in a number of stages. The charred remains of the tower as a chronotrope of trauma and of lives cut short yields readings into the politics of social housing, gentrification and social displacement. The testimonials from Grenfell are temporally elongated both through the public review but also in the traces of victims' narratives left on social media in real time through flesh witnessing and as an online repository of death narratives. As a tower of trauma and as the forensic evidence of a disaster, Grenfell is part of the iconography of the ‘blackened’ and their necroaesthetics.

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