Narrating Trauma in Egypt: On Being Human and Human Beings in Political Science

By Vivienne Matthies-Boon
Submitted to Session P4520 (Conflicting Fieldwork in the Middle East: Feelings, obligations, trauma and theory, 2016 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Current Events;
This paper will critically reflect on testimonial narrative fieldwork conducted on traumatic experiences amongst young activists (18-35 years) in (post-)revolutionary Cairo. This fieldwork, consisting of interviews with activists from all political stripes, was conducted between October 2013 and February 2014: shortly after the Rabaa massacre and in a context of deepening social and political polarisation. It will discuss the experiences in Egypt that led to this research, as well as the personal, political and professional difficulties faced both during and after the completion of this work. It particularly focuses on feelings of guilt and heightened responsibility towards interviewees who have shared some of their deepest personal and profoundly traumatic experiences (which had often remained unspoken prior to these interviews) – as well as feelings of anger and desperation as the lived reality worsens for many of them. This paper thus explores both the blurring of relations to interviewees as well as the shattering of the researcher’s own lifeworld (e.g. secondary traumatisation). It hence insists that as political scientists, we should critically reflect on issues of transference and countertransference between researcher and interviewee both during and after the conduction of highly sensitive interviews. It will also insist that whilst it is impossible (and possibly frustrating) to translate such traumatic narratives in a context were the audience – both academic and non-academic – has no frame of reference for such experiences, the impact of this type of critical research is nevertheless profound. It is therefore time to bring the ‘human’ back into Political Science.