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From warfare to welfare: a comparative study of how combat trauma is internalized and institutionalized (COMBATTRAUMA)
Start date: Aug 1, 2013, End date: Jul 31, 2018 PROJECT  FINISHED 

This project is an anthropological study of combat trauma in three Western nations: Israel, the United States, and the Netherlands. Trauma means different things to different actors, and acquires a different value (both economic and social) in different therapeutic settings. Research will examine how clinical notions of combat trauma are established, adapted, resisted or internalized in different nations. It will result in a comparative framework for understanding how combat trauma is shaped by two major modern institutions: the military and psychiatry. Methodologically, it combines ethnographic fieldwork with veterans, research on clinical practices, and analysis of the policies and discourses that institutionalize combat trauma. Unusual within trauma studies, it aims to shed light on potentially conflicting values about violence and suffering in military and psychiatric instiutions, which may be less apparent to researchers trained within those institutions. By analyzing how veterans and clinicians perceive ethnicity, it will also contribute to understanding of the experiences of subordinate ethnic groups in military and psychiatric institutions. It is expected to identify key problems in the delivery of good care to veterans and have an impact on policy and healthcare. Theoretically, it will advance studies of biopolitics and medicalization. Existing theories tend to minimize how patients contest clinical models of illness. The moral significance of violence in combat trauma may, however, create particular kinds of resistance to clinical illness models – an issue that has not been previously addressed. This study will make a major contribution to understanding how war related suffering is internalized and institutionalized as clinical illness. It will also advance social science studies of psychiatry during a time when the field is undergoing a major and controversial move towards a biological approach to mental illness.

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