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Julianne Funk / Nancy Good / Marie E. Berry (eds.): Healing and Peacebuilding after War. Transforming Trauma in Bosnia and Herzegovina (reviewed by Jacqueline Nießer)

This edited volume connects the topics of trauma, memory and peacebuilding. Julianne Funk, Nancy Good and Marie E. Berry have compiled insights from scholars, peace practitioners and trauma experts to scrutinize the strengths and limitations of efforts to promote healing after trauma that are integrated into peacebuilding projects. The empirical examples come from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The volume is conceived as policy-oriented, aiming at providing strategic recommendations to policymakers, peace practitioners, donors and international organizations engaged in BiH. It therefore follows the conventional paradigm of future orientation and transfer thinking seen in such literature (“best practices to prevent future violence through psychosocial trauma recovery”, “models […] that can be applied to other countries rebuilding after war”, i).

The volume is composed of four parts. The first part discusses trauma work for peacebuilding practice. In Chapter 2 (after the Introduction), trauma therapist Nancy Good and peace researcher Julianne Funk aim to widen the understanding of trauma by expanding it from a single traumatic event to a “phenomenon of complex and cumulative trauma” (15) which they characterize as not only individual, but also collective. Moreover, they point towards a rather broad spectrum of traumatic stress beyond the diagnosis of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), highlighting the possibility of post-traumatic growth (PTG). They remind us that trauma affects not only the primary (direct) survivors but can be transferred to those who research or work with traumatized people too—a widely acknowledged effect termed “secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma” (23). Funk and Good suggest that this also concerns peacebuilding organizations, who should support their employees to maintain their mental health while helping others. Nancy Good works for the KonTerra Group, a consultancy providing staff care services for peacebuilding organizations, but the authors also mention other initiatives that support employers to address issues of vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress among their employees. The authors also describe how trauma impacts not only the physical and psychological health of individuals, but their beliefs and behaviours too. This directly concerns peacebuilding, as behaviour and beliefs determine the ability to cooperate, socialize and be politically active—conditions of a “healthy society”. Barry Hart elaborates on this topic in Chapter 4, setting down the key considerations in planning and implementing peacebuilding projects that factor in the effects of trauma on individuals and the society. Hart is Professor of Trauma, Identity and Conflict Studies at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, which began integrating trauma studies with peacebuilding in as early as the mid-1990s. He developed the “Peacebuilding Wheel”—a model which illustrates how war and therefore peacebuilding affect not only tangible, but also intangible issues, implying that, for instance, economic recovery or re-establishing the rule of law are important for peacebuilding (tangible), but spiritual, psychological and moral issues need to be considered too (intangible), as they impact the values of individuals and society as a whole (52–3).[1] In Chapter 3, peacebuilding researcher and anthropologist Kristina Hook demonstrates how this could work in practice by presenting her findings from conflict research that incorporates aspects of trauma work. Hook explains how trauma affects multiple generations, hence enduring in society and often deepening social divisions long after the conflict itself has ended.

The second part of the volume turns to the nexus between trauma and remembering. It explores how trauma influences memory culture, often with rather problematic effects, for instance by intensifying hostility between ethnic groups. In Chapter 5, psychologist Alma Jeftić shows how memory politics in BiH have created at least three different historical narratives about the war. Jeftić analyses history textbooks in high school teaching and explains how not only memory politics, but also other social factors like family and peer group memory affect remembering and forgetting. In Chapter 6, the Executive Director of the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium, Stephanie C. Edwards, refers to Michael Rothberg’s concept of “multidirectional memory” which makes it theoretically possible to overcome competing narratives of suffering. Psychologist and peace activist Edita Čolo Zahirović emphasizes, in Chapter 7, the importance of storytelling to process traumatic events by presenting the impact of projects organized by the Catholic Relief Service and Caritas in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which former soldiers and war survivors of different ethnic and religious backgrounds publicly shared their war stories. Čolo Zahirović describes how storytelling facilitated the development of distinct narratives in a way that fostered personal relationships and helped individualize people’s suffering beyond ethnic categories.

The third part of the volume looks at the gender dimension of the 1990s war in BiH by focusing on the victims of wartime sexual abuse. It refers to the estimated 20,000 women and men who were sexually assaulted during the war, and who often still live under a stigma and silence imposed by ethno-nationalist agendas, as well as cultural and religious norms. In Chapter 8, gender studies expert and head of the Transkulturna psihosocijalna obrazovna fondacija (Transcultural Psychosocial Educational Foundation) in Sarajevo, Zilka Spahić Šiljak, discusses how the dominant body politics of identifying women’s bodies through an ethnic lens influence their ability to tackle the trauma of the sexual violence they endured, and how the feminist framings of victimhood, survivorship and agency empower or hinder women in BiH. In Chapter 9, sociologist Mary E. Berry shows how women have used the aftermath of war to facilitate social change. She points towards the opening of social spaces for women through the devastation that the war has wreaked, for instance with women taking key roles in grassroots community organizations. This part of the book closes with conflict and peacebuilding researcher Jessica M. Smith’s chapter on women’s empowerment through peacebuilding. She presents the method of “Photovoice”—a participatory action research methodology developed by Wang and Burris [2] that she has successfully used in her research, enabling women in Bosnia and Herzegovina to voice their (marginalized or silenced) war and postwar experiences creatively and authoritatively.

The fourth and last part of the volume comprises two chapters described as “practices of working with trauma” (chapter subtitle) and a conclusion. Chapter 10 presents results of a quantitative survey on transitional justice, a very popular concept in peacebuilding and memory research until recently, but only briefly mentioned in the chapters before. Social scientists Mina Rauschenbach, Stephan Parmentier and Maarten Van Craen from the University of Leuven analyse data from a survey on mass victimization and restorative justice in BiH and Serbia conducted already in 2006. As symbolic forms of justice they identify the “acknowledgment of suffering” and “truth-telling”. In their quantitative study, they aim to decipher how many people accept or reject these “symbolic forms of justice […] attached to distinctive patterns of experiences and understandings of the past and identities” (173). In Chapter 11, peace educator Kathryn Mansfield presents embodied forms of trauma healing and peacebuilding through a workshop manual that sets out how expressive arts like theatre and body-work (breathing, yoga or silent forest walks) open up possibilities for recovery through somatic experiences that impact psychological healing. The sensory and somatic aspects of artistic engagement can help move energy or emotions considered “stuck” through the body, Mansfield notes. Not only can artistic expression and body-based approaches relieve physical pain, they can also contribute to meaning-making and cultivating resilience in the aftermath of war.

In the Introduction, the volume’s editors Funk, Good and Berry claim that “trauma that is not transformed is transferred” (19), implying harmful effects of unprocessed traumatic experiences on the individual and social level, for which Bosnia and Herzegovina serves as a case in point. Although more knowledge about the effects of trauma and coping with it may bring about better peacebuilding, the specific policy recommendations of the volume remain very vague. One piece of advice for peacebuilding initiatives reads for instance: stop promoting forget and forgive (26), but acknowledge the different subjective stories of victims and recognize their long-lasting harms instead. It seems that the concept of trauma in peacebuilding, like in cultural trauma theory, has become a vehicle for political demands for recognition and rights. Or in other words, including trauma work in peacebuilding projects and research serves as a means to discuss unresolved questions about inclusion, identity and belonging again, but in a different way.