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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Encountering Memory and Trauma: Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma in Cambodian Americans

  • Author(s): Kwan, Yvonne Y.
  • Advisor(s): Takagi, Dana Y
  • Fukurai, Hiroshi
  • et al.

This dissertation addresses the ways in which trauma and violent histories may be transmitted from one generation to the next, particularly via the older generation’s use of narrative fragments, caesuras, and/or silences. It widens the sociological understanding of subjecthood and affect—not just via theoretical interventions but through a mixed methods, data driven analysis of 27 interviews and 69 surveys with Cambodian American college students and graduates from California. First, this study explicates how refugee subjecthood (i.e., the quality of being a refugee subject) does not require discursive utterance or identity naming but instead revolves around an affect of trauma—the positive, negative, and neutral feelings, emotions, and sensations that are elicited in the daily lives of refugee subjects. Instead of just theorizing that trauma reaches beyond the individual who has suffered some sort of catastrophic event, this research provides evidence that better informs individual-based medical and psychological research. Second, by making claims about how trauma is a formation, this research shows how trauma is neither stable nor discrete and is always subject to discursive and affective rearticulation. Trauma is therefore inherently social and collective because it references structures and people at the macro- (e.g., laws, policies, and war), meso- (e.g., community and groups), and micro- (e.g., families and individuals) levels. Third, this study speaks to a specificity of the Southeast Asian diaspora/refugee experience, one that is both raced and classed.

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