ArticlePDF Available

Towards a Theory of Collective Posttraumatic Growth in Rwanda: The Pursuit of Agency and Communion



Despite a proliferation of research into posttraumatic growth, little attention has been paid to growth processes at the collective or group level. Where scholars have addressed collective posttraumatic growth, concepts such as cohesion and group identity have been flagged as positive responses to collective traumas such as the 9/11 bombings in the United States. However, although some have suggested that these responses may constitute positive change or posttraumatic growth, others have interpreted increases in group cohesion and collective identity as consistent with processes of ingroup enhancement. In a country like the United States, where the attack came from outside the country, at first glance, these processes may appear positive. On closer examination, however, it can be seen that ingroup enhancement co-occurs with outgroup derogation, which is clearly unfavorable for outgroup members. This article examines the case of Rwanda, where conflict arose between groups within the country. It shows how processes of ingroup enhancement are in fact disruptive rather than constructive because of this co-occurrence with processes of outgroup derogation. The article proposes an alternative model for understanding how collective posttraumatic growth may manifest itself, drawing on notions of agency and communion. By discursively analyzing the testimonies of female Rwandan genocide survivors, it is demonstrated that groups, much like individuals, must pursue drives of autonomy (freedom) and relatedness (reconciliation). By providing an understanding of collective responses to trauma and how posttraumatic growth is likely to manifest itself, such a model may offer insights into how positive change may be facilitated in postconflict societies. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
Towards a Theory of Collective Posttraumatic Growth in Rwanda:
The Pursuit of Agency and Communion
Caroline Williamson
University of Nottingham
Despite a proliferation of research into posttraumatic growth, little attention has been paid to growth
processes at the collective or group level. Where scholars have addressed collective posttraumatic
growth, concepts such as cohesion and group identity have been flagged as positive responses to
collective traumas such as the 9/11 bombings in the United States. However, although some have
suggested that these responses may constitute positive change or posttraumatic growth, others have
interpreted increases in group cohesion and collective identity as consistent with processes of ingroup
enhancement. In a country like the United States, where the attack came from outside the country, at first
glance, these processes may appear positive. On closer examination, however, it can be seen that ingroup
enhancement co-occurs with outgroup derogation, which is clearly unfavorable for outgroup members.
This article examines the case of Rwanda, where conflict arose between groups within the country. It
shows how processes of ingroup enhancement are in fact disruptive rather than constructive because of
this co-occurrence with processes of outgroup derogation. The article proposes an alternative model for
understanding how collective posttraumatic growth may manifest itself, drawing on notions of agency
and communion. By discursively analyzing the testimonies of female Rwandan genocide survivors, it is
demonstrated that groups, much like individuals, must pursue drives of autonomy (freedom) and
relatedness (reconciliation). By providing an understanding of collective responses to trauma and how
posttraumatic growth is likely to manifest itself, such a model may offer insights into how positive
change may be facilitated in postconflict societies.
Keywords: posttraumatic growth, intergroup dynamics, postconflict, Rwanda
Extremely traumatic events, such as genocide, have the power to
shake up, or even shatter an individual’s internal cognitive-
emotional structures (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 1999, 2006). Accord-
ing to Janoff-Bulman (1992), the foundation of people’s cognitive-
emotional system is made up of basic assumptions about
themselves, about the external world and about the relationship
between the two. Janoff-Bulman (1992) proposes that at the core
of these assumptions, people generally believe that the world is
benevolent, safe, predictable and meaningful, and that the self is
worthy. After a traumatic experience, these cognitive-emotional
structures may be left in a state of upheaval and disintegration. In
the absence of the individual’s usual modes of belief about the self
and the world, typical means of coping are overwhelmed and the
aftermath of such a disaster is frequently marked by significant
distress, incredulousness, denial, and a struggle to come to terms
with posttraumatic reality (Morland, Butler, & Leskin, 2008). The
dissolution of cognitive-emotional structures often sets in motion a
significant amount of thinking about the event. Initially, this ru-
minative process is automatic and unintentional but in later stages
it may become effortful and intentional (Calhoun & Tedeschi,
1999; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). According to Joseph and Linley
(2008), in some cases the output of this rumination may result in
old schemas assimilating the traumatic event into pre-existing
schemas. In other cases, however, this rumination may result in the
development of new schemas. In such cases, individuals may
establish new psychological constructs and build a new way of life
that they experience as superior to their previous one in important
ways. Positive changes after trauma, or posttraumatic growth, tend
to be observed in domains such as self-perception (e.g., increased
self-competence, efficacy, and new skills); interpersonal relation-
ships (e.g., enhanced intimacy and feelings of relatedness); and life
philosophy (e.g., a new sense of meaning or an increased spiritual
The fact that growth is observed in these domains gives credence
to McAdams’ (1993) conceptualization of identity. McAdams draws
on Bakan’s (1966) theory of basic human motivations, which
highlights the two fundamental drives of agency and communion.
According to Bakan (1966), agency allows for the existence of an
organism as an individual, manifesting itself in self-protection,
self-assertion, and self-expansion. In contrast, communion in-
volves the participation of the individual in some larger organism
This article was published Online First May 26, 2014.
This Research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research
Council, Collaborative Doctoral Award in collaboration with the Aegis
Trust. This article has been published under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (
.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright
for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American
Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article and
identify itself as the original publisher.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Caroline
Williamson, Department of French and Francophone Studies, University of
Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom.
Traumatology © 2014 the Author(s)
2014, Vol. 20, No. 2, 91–102 1085-9373/14/$12.00
of which the individual is part, manifesting itself in contact,
openness, and union. McAdams (1993) suggests that Bakan’s
position is particularly valuable for “comprehending the basic
motivational themes expressed in both personal myths and human
lives” (p. 71). To this motivational duality, McAdams (1993) adds
a third component for understanding human identity, namely the
ideological setting. This aspect of identity develops during ado-
lescence and concerns questions of goodness and truth; it defines
a person’s understanding of the universe, the world, society, and
God. Therefore, it is comparable with Janoff-Bulman’s (1992)
definition of “basic assumptions” (p. 6). For McAdams (1993), this
ideology functions as a setting or context for identity, locating it
“within a particular ethical, religious, and epistemological ‘time
and place’” (p. 83). He argues that the two superordinate themes in
a person’s identity, agency and communion, “characterize funda-
mental beliefs and values” in an ideological setting (McAdams,
1993, p. 87).
Although not in all cases (see Bonanno, 2004), traumatic expe-
riences may leave survivors feeling powerless, isolated, and with-
out a sense of meaning, suggesting that trauma destabilizes these
fundamental drives of agency and communion, undermining one’s
ideological belief system (i.e., their basic assumptions). Given that
posttraumatic growth tends to manifest itself in the aforementioned
domains (self-perception, interpersonal relationships, and life phi-
losophy), it would seem that individuals who experience growth
are striving to restore these motivations, which in turn helps
rebuild a philosophical framework that provides meaning and
The aim of this article is to draw on these individualist under-
standings of posttraumatic growth to configure a model of collec-
tive posttraumatic growth that accounts for the impact of trauma
on intergroup relations and society. Thus far, little research exists
on the impact of trauma at the group level and, the literature that
does exist, does not provide a model for understanding social
responses to trauma. Using evidence from women’s testimonies of
the 1994 Rwanda genocide, this article presents a discursive anal-
ysis of the various ways in which female survivors represent
society in the aftermath of the genocide. The article will propose
that while individual posttraumatic growth takes place purely at
the cognitive level, collective posttraumatic growth takes place
at the ideological level and is both cognitive and social. It will
argue that, if a group has comparable motivations to its constituent
individuals, then to achieve positive social change, its drives of
agency and communion must be satisfied, enabling the group to
rebuild a new ideology that provides a sense of meaning. Ulti-
mately, by proposing a model for understanding growth processes
at the collective level, the article aims to provide insights into how
positive change may be facilitated in postconflict societies such as
Existing Theories of Collective Posttraumatic Growth
Scholars who have addressed the phenomenon of collective
posttraumatic growth tend to describe the actions that may
result in positive social change but say little about what is
actually achieved by these actions (Bloom, 1998; Tedeschi,
1999; Vázquez, Pérez-Sales, & Hervás, 2008).
When the out-
comes of such actions have been discussed, those that are most
commonly cited are enhanced social cohesion and group iden-
tity (Bloom, 1998; Páez Basabe, Ubillos, & González-Castro,
2007; Vázquez et al., 2008). Páez, Basabe, Ubillos, and
González-Castro (2007), for example, argue that social sharing
and collective coping after the March 11 Madrid bombings
reinforced social cohesion that was important for creating a
positive emotional climate and contributed to an increase in
posttraumatic growth. Rather than proposing a model of post-
traumatic growth that could account for social changes, how-
ever, this study associates the changes observed at the collec-
tive level with individualist measures of posttraumatic growth
(such as Tedeschi and Calhoun’s [1996] Posttraumatic Growth
Inventory and Park, Cohen, and Murche’s [1996] Stress Related
Growth Scale). Similar conclusions are drawn by Vázquez et al.
(2008) who analyze the impact of terrorism at the community
level. These authors consider changes in the United States after
the 9/11 bombings, and highlight “an upsurge of patriotism, a
greater feeling of social cohesion, and stronger faith in any
decision that the government might take” (p. 65) as positive
social reactions to the attacks. Vázquez et al. (2008) also
discuss findings of increased national pride, including pride in
specific domains such as the army and the history of the country
as well as a decline in public cynicism about the government
and greater cohesion between different political parties (Chan-
ley, 2002; Smith & Kim, 2006). After examining the effects of
terrorism in a number of different contexts, the authors suggest
that exogroup terrorism (i.e., terrorist attacks from an external
group) can have an unexpected positive effect on national
self-esteem, intragroup cohesion, national pride, and identity.
They conclude that “positive emotions such as solidarity or
feelings of union can be an important catalyst of growth”
(Vázquez et al., 2008, p. 82). Besides these observations of the
short-term positive effects of terrorism, however, Vázquez et al.
(2008) do not offer any explanations as to how posttraumatic
growth at the collective level might actually manifest itself.
Moreover, although the authors suggest that such positive out-
comes may have “collateral negative effects” (p. 84.); this idea
is not pursued in their chapter.
Although it may be true that the effects of 9/11 resulted in
positive emotions associated with an enhanced sense of collective
identity, as an example of positive change or collective posttrau-
matic growth, it is misleading. Rather than a positive reaction,
similar observations of increased group cohesion and solidarity
following the 9/11 bombings have been interpreted by some schol-
ars as consistent with typical responses to threat, or fear (Kaiser,
Vick, & Major, 2004). Indeed a number of theories, including
Realistic Group Conflict Theory (Sherif, 1966), Social Identity
Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), Terror Management Theory
The individual “ideological setting” referred to by McAdams, alludes
to the idiosyncratic set of basic beliefs that an individual holds about the
nature of the world. This will henceforth be referred to using Janoff-
Bulman’s (1992) term “basic assumptions” or as the individual’s philo-
sophical framework. The term ideology will be used in accordance with
van Dijk’s (1998) definition, which refers to the socially acquired beliefs,
knowledge, and other social representations that are shared by members of
a given group.
Authors have highlighted, for example, factors such as effective lead-
ership, mutual self-help and sharing emotions, rescuing and altruism,
political action, as well as forms of self-expression such as art, humor, and
(Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986), and Social Domi-
nance Theory (Sedanius & Pratto, 1999) predict that situations of
conflict, competition, or threat may result in an increase in group
cohesion but via processes of intergroup differentiation rather than
posttraumatic growth. Broadly speaking, intergroup differentiation
encompasses processes of ingroup enhancement and outgroup
Ingroup enhancement corresponds to the types of behaviors
similar to those observed after the 9/11 bombings such as ingroup
cohesion, enhanced collective identity and increased perceptions
of the ingroup in more favorable terms through processes of
self-glorification. It can also result in a narrowing of the bound-
aries of ingroup inclusion as well as an increased ethnocentrism
and patriotism (Allport, 1954; Skitka, Bauman, & Mullen, 2004;
Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Thus, many of the supposedly positive
effects of terrorism observed by Vázquez et al. (2008) could
equally be understood as examples of ingroup enhancement. In
parallel to processes of ingroup enhancement, however, perceived
threats to an ingroup may also cause individuals to become more
likely to engage in outgroup derogation (Skitka et al., 2004). This
includes expressing negative attitudes toward outgroup members;
perceiving the outgroup as more homogenous and relying on
(often negative) stereotypes to judge outgroup members; increased
prejudice and discrimination; as well as escalating distrust, com-
petition, and antagonism (Esses, Dovidio, & Hodson, 2002). Out-
group derogation, and processes of intergroup differentiation in
general, often result in increased political intolerance, authoritar-
ianism, and punitiveness (Skitka et al., 2004). Examples of this are
also abundant in the United States after 9/11. For instance, the
attacks were followed by the detention of several hundred indi-
viduals without clear charges, the introduction of the U.S.A.-
Patriot Act that compromised a whole host of freedoms, two highly
controversial wars, and the opening of the detention center in
Guantanamo Bay. Researchers also found that two thirds of Amer-
icans reported that they were willing to sacrifice some civil liber-
ties to fight terrorism, and a quarter thought that the Bush Admin-
istration had not done enough to restrict civil liberties in the
aftermath of the attacks (Skitka et al., 2004). Attitudes toward
immigration became increasingly negative and some Americans
actively voiced their desire to take revenge for the attacks (Kaiser
et al., 2004).
Taken in this context, the social cohesion and patriotism
discussed by Vázquez et al. (2008) appear to be part of a larger
process of intergroup differentiation rather than posttraumatic
growth. Clearly, ingroup enhancement is associated with
strengthened social bonds between ingroup members as well as
positive emotions. Thus, given that posttraumatic growth is
often defined simply as “positive change,” it is possible that
posttraumatic growth at the collective level is merely the same
process as ingroup enhancement. However, although ingroup
enhancement may be perceived as positive by those engaging in
such processes, this is clearly not the case for outgroup mem-
bers who experience the negative impact of outgroup deroga-
tion. This is particularly apparent in Rwanda because, unlike
the United States, the conflict in Rwanda came largely from
within the country rather than from an external threat. There-
fore, it is much clearer that processes of intergroup differenti-
ation are far from positive and are, in fact, gravely problematic.
On the surface, Rwanda appears to have overcome its group
differences. However, as the following discussion will demon-
strate, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) en-
gages in intense intergroup differentiation.
Intergroup Differentiation in Rwanda
After the 1994 genocide, as part of a campaign to eradicate
genocide ideology and foster national unity, the Rwandan govern-
ment added crimes such as “divisionism” and “ethnic ideology” to
the penal code. The Hutu and Tutsi ethnic labels became an
illegitimate means of political expression or identification, and
ethnicity was removed from national identity cards. In combina-
tion with these policies, to promote a unified national identity the
government endorses a particular interpretation of historical
events, according to which, Rwandan society was essentially uni-
fied before the arrival of European colonists, who racialized the
Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa social categories. The official version of
history holds that before colonization, these groups had limited
social significance and referred merely to occupational categories
rather than social status and all citizens were unified by religion,
language, and loyalty to the king (Longman & Rutagengwa, 2004).
Colonial policies of divide and rule were, according to the official
narrative, principally responsible for creating division among
Rwandan people, and thus, the genocide constitutes a mere aber-
ration in Rwanda’s peaceful and united history and the violence
was caused by external forces (Clark, 2010). From this version of
events, it follows that processes of reconciliation in the postgeno-
cide period should focus on rediscovering the social harmony of
the past and restoring a lost sense of social cohesion (Clark, 2010).
Although not entirely inaccurate, this historical narrative con-
stitutes an ingenious manipulation of the past. Although appearing
to eradicate group divisions and create unity, in reality it is a form
of system legitimation and ingroup enhancement. Before the ar-
rival of colonial powers, Rwanda was governed by a Tutsi king
who, imbued with the divine right to rule, held absolute power
over his subjects and all of the country’s natural resources (Gatwa,
2001). Thus, this version of events subtly creates a form of ingroup
favoritism among the now predominantly Tutsi ruling class as it
implies that a Tutsi hegemony is “natural” or more “Rwandan” as
this was the way things were before the arrival of outsiders. Not
surprisingly, the official narrative is enthusiastically accepted by
Tutsi returnees, former refugees who returned to Rwanda after the
genocide; a group who now dominate most positions of social,
political, religious, and economic power (Longman & Ru-
tagengwa, 2004). As Longman (2001) observes,
The RPF now rules Rwanda, and Tutsi enjoy extensive benefits,
holding government offices, school positions, and other opportunities
far out of proportion to their percentage of the population. The
majority Hutu now must live in fear of being accused of involvement
in the genocide and facing imprisonment.” (p. 346)
Those who question the official version of events are labeled
“divisionist” and considered to harbor “genocide ideology” while
the Tutsi dominated government attempts to convince the popula-
tion of its own “moral rectitude and right to rule” (Longman &
Rutagengwa, 2004, p. 164). Thus, to cite Prunier (2009), “‘national
reconciliation’ [has come] to take on a very peculiar coded mean-
ing. It mean[s] in fact the passive acceptance of undivided Tutsi
power over an obedient Hutu mass” (p. 23).
While performing this surreptitious ingroup enhancement via
policies of unity and reconciliation, the government in Rwanda
also implements outgroup derogation. For example, the Rwandan
Patriotic Army (the military arm of the RPF) has been responsible
for carrying out revenge killings of Hutu civilians and soldiers
loyal to the former regime both within Rwanda, and during incur-
sions into refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC) (Des Forges & Longman, 2004; Lemarchand, 2008). Fur-
thermore, many scholars have argued that the RPF has imposed a
form of collective guilt on the Hutu ethnic group. The precise
number of Hutu who participated in the genocide is unknown yet
even the highest of estimates implicates only a fraction of the Hutu
population (Eltringham, 2004; Hintjens, 2008). Despite this, how-
ever, as Eltringham (2004) convincingly argues, many members of
the current political class “appear to globalize guilt according to
ethnic identity” (p. 69). At the same time, the government inflates
the number of Tutsi deaths and underestimates the number of Hutu
deaths, a strategy that provides quantitative credibility to the
commonly accepted understanding of history that equates Tutsi
with victim and Hutu with perpetrator (Hintjens, 2008; Lemarch-
and, 2008; Thomson, 2011; Waldorf, 2011). For example, drawing
on Vidal’s (2001) observations of official commemoration cere-
monies, Lemarchand (2008) discusses how these ceremonies deny
the status of victim to Hutu who lost their lives and act simply as
a reminder to the Tutsi population that their people were killed by
Hutu. Overall, Lemarchand (2008) argues, the ceremonies serve to
maintain Hutu in a position of culpability whereas providing
“ideological legitimacy to the consolidation of Tutsi power” (p.
The RPF are seen by many as saviors for ending the geno-
cide. This, in combination with the official version of history,
which fails to include Hutu among “survivors” of the genocide
and projects a globalizing guilt onto the Hutu population,
provides the RPF with what Reyntjens (2004) refers to as
“genocide credit” (p. 73), allowing President Kagame to deflect
attention from RPF crimes. For example, despite numerous
reports that implicate the involvement of the Rwandan Patriotic
Army in the killings of thousands of civilians both during the
civil war and after, the government is highly sensitive to any
suggestion of its own involvement in human rights abuses
(Longman & Rutagengwa, 2004). It has hindered attempts made
by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to investi-
gate crimes committed by the RPF in 1994 and no Rwandan
Patriotic Army soldiers have been indicted or brought to trial by
the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Des Forges &
Longman, 2004; Peskin, 2011). RPF crimes have also been
excluded from the local gacaca courts (the national system of
community courts) leading this legal institution to be perceived
as an exercise in victor’s justice, “raising the concern that [it
also] will impose collective guilt on the Hutu majority” (Rettig,
2008, p. 26). Meanwhile, while the only label available to Hutu
is génocidaire, the only label available to Tutsi (if not returnee)
is “survivor.” However, as Hintjens (2008) observes, although
“Tutsi have been elevated [from scapegoats] to victims, [this is]
not always a flattering image, nor an easy one with which to
live” (p. 87).
One might expect the predominantly Tutsi social elite to be
sympathetic with Tutsi genocide survivors, yet, the opposite seems
to be the case. Described by returnees as bapfuye buhagazi mean-
ing “the walking dead” and often looked on with suspicion, sur-
vivors are generally marginalized (Prunier, 2009). Some RPF
ideologues have even hinted that the “interior” Tutsi deserved
what happened to them (Prunier, 2009). Dauge-Roth (2010) sug-
gests that survivors “are seen as a parasitic presence today, a
disturbance that prevents others from fully embracing the present”
(pp. 8–9). In a similar vein, genocide survivor and author, Esther
Mujawayo, notes how:
Some politicians and anonymous citizens are suggesting, by an an-
noyed smacking of their lips, that “we must all move on now.” [. . .
Survivors] are an encumbrance. You have a country that needs to
move on and you, the survivor, you are a little bit like the tumor that
prevents it from claiming it is healthy. (cited in English in Dauge-
Roth, 2010, p. 251)
Thus, while the Hutu are often portrayed as collectively guilty
genocidal killers, survivors appear to be discredited as suspicious
and psychologically unstable. The only people in Rwanda who are
not stigmatized are those who were not in Rwanda at the time of
the genocide, the returnees, which serves to justify this group’s
relatively advantageous position in society and maintains inter-
group inequality.
In this section and throughout, I have sought to nuance the
representation of the Rwandan government. In combination
with these processes of ingroup enhancement and outgroup
derogation practiced by the Rwandan government, as predicted
by social psychological theories of group threat and conflict,
there has been a steady increase in political intolerance and
authoritarianism. The RPFs sense of moral righteousness and
continued distrust of the population has resulted in a regime that
frequently uses its authority to persecute its critics (Longman &
Rutagengwa, 2004). Human rights watchdogs and academics
have reported a number of arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and
even assassinations of dissident politicians, journalists, and
community leaders (Clark, 2010; Des Forges & Longman,
2004; Hintjens, 2008; Longman & Rutagengwa, 2004; Thom-
son, 2011; Waldorf, 2011). In addition, although the govern-
ment voices its belief in democratic values, both the 2003 and
2010 elections have been plagued with killings, arrests, and
intimidation of opposition politicians. Longman and Ru-
tagengwa (2004) encapsulate the general atmosphere of fear
and the lack of freedom of speech in Rwanda when they say,
“Tutsi genocide survivors generally feel freer to speak, but
many feel that they lack real influence in a regime that is
dominated by former refugees who were not in Rwanda at the
time of the genocide.” On the other hand, “most Hutu feel
limited in their ability to speak freely, particularly to express
criticisms, because of fears that they will be accused of partic-
ipating in the genocide or of promoting divisionism” (p. 177).
Overall, despite official emphasis on restoring Rwandan unity,
under the surface, processes of intense intergroup differentia-
tion are taking place.
Rwanda demonstrates that, despite being associated with posi-
tive emotions, notions of enhanced cohesion and group identity are
in fact detrimental to outgroup members. This highlights the lim-
itation of Vázquez et al.’s (2008) discussion on collective post-
traumatic growth, namely that it examines the impact of trauma on
single groups, rather than considering the ways in which groups
relate to one another after a trauma. It appears that there is a gap
in the theoretical development of posttraumatic growth that fails to
account for changes that take place at the collective, intergroup
Toward a New Theoretical Framework for
Understanding Collective Posttraumatic Growth
In his work on motivation, Bakan (1966) spoke in terms of
“organisms” having the drives of agency and communion. Taking
the definition of organism as an organized body or system that is
analogous to a living individual, it follows that, much like for a
single individual, the experience of a traumatic event at the group
level will also result in the destabilization of the group’s drives of
agency and communion. To achieve positive change, then, just as
individuals strive to restore such drives (that, in some cases, leads
them to achieve a greater sense of self-efficacy and enhanced
interpersonal relationships), the group must also react in ways that
allow for such motivations to be satisfied. This in turn will enable
the group to rebuild an ideological framework that provides a
sense of meaning. Beginning with the motivation to seek commu-
nion, the first step toward achieving a more favorable position for
a given social group in the aftermath of trauma is to forge im-
proved relationships with other groups. The literature from the
field of transitional justice is greatly instructive in this respect.
Clark’s (2010) work on Rwanda’s gacaca courts, for example,
emphasizes the importance of gacaca’s legal and nonlegal aims,
which he describes as its profound objectives. These include truth,
peace, justice, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation; where rec-
onciliation is the ultimate objective in which the other five are
involved. In its most ambitious form, Clark (2010) suggests that
reconciliation involves “the creation of a new dynamic between
parties that generates a more meaningful engagement” (p. 308)
between individuals, between individuals and groups or between
groups. The objectives highlighted by Clark (2010) are valuable
when considering how posttraumatic growth may manifest itself
between groups. In the context of Rwandan genocide survivors,
processes of reconciliation relate to horizontal relations between
individuals or between groups (i.e., between individual survivors
and perpetrators or the Hutu and Tutsi groups more generally).
To achieve a comprehensive understanding of collective post-
traumatic growth, however, the ways in which a group satisfies its
drives of agency must also be explored. If survivors are to satisfy
their group’s motivation of agency, they must pursue autonomy
and freedom by resisting the dominant ideology that appears to
subordinate them as burdens and parasites and negotiate more
favorable vertical relations (i.e., between survivors and people in
positions of power). Thus, as a group, collective posttraumatic
growth requires not only that survivors overcome the legacy of
genocide by forging new horizontal relations (via reconciliation),
but also that they achieve a more favorable position in society by
negotiating improved vertical relations (via freedom and auton-
The principal difference between individual and collective con-
ceptualizations of posttraumatic growth is that although individual
changes take place purely at the cognitive level, collective post-
traumatic growth must take place via the socially shared beliefs of
a given group, that is to say, at the ideological level. This makes
the assessment of collective posttraumatic growth particularly
complex because it is difficult to “measure” ideological change. As
van Dijk (1998) argues, although they relate to beliefs that are
properties of the “mind” (i.e., cognition), ideologies are not only
mental. “Ideologies are also socially shared and related to societal
structures [. . .] [they] are socially acquired, constructed and
changed” (van Dijk, 1998, p. 26). The above discussion of pro-
cesses of intergroup differentiation in Rwanda is, therefore, im-
portant not only for demonstrating that group cohesion is not
necessarily a positive response to trauma, but also because it
describes the fundamentals of the dominant ideological setting in
Rwanda. Before any assessment of collective posttraumatic growth
can be made within a given society, it is crucial to first gain an
understanding of the historical, cultural, and political context.
Although individual posttraumatic growth may be “measured” via
the use of questionnaires such as the Posttraumatic Growth Inven-
tory (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996) or other self-assessment tests,
ideologies present more of a challenge. Group knowledge is not a
well-defined concept and is “essentially fuzzy, in the sense that
there is no effective procedure to establish for each culture or
group what beliefs they collectively share” (van Dijk, 1998, p. 39).
Discourse analysis is, therefore, a particularly useful tool because,
by analyzing what is presupposed or implied by the speaker, it
becomes possible to gain an insight into their underlying belief
system. Of course each individual has her own idiosyncratic be-
liefs about her group’s relations with other groups, but by analyz-
ing a sample of speakers, it becomes possible to identify patterns
of shared belief regarding the group’s relations.
The analysis presented in this article is based on a corpus of
female survivors’ oral testimonies from the Genocide Archive of
Rwanda, which was established by the Aegis Trust in association
with Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Geno-
cide. Survivors give their testimonies to the Genocide Archive of
Rwanda on a voluntary basis and provide their full, written consent
for these to be used in the public archive. The archive began
collecting testimonies in 2004 and this process is ongoing, with
survivors coming from a range of demographic groups and geo-
graphical locations. The interviews are conducted in Kinyarwanda
by survivors working for the Genocide Archive of Rwanda using
open-ended questions that encourage survivors to speak at length
about their experiences before, during, and after the genocide.
In total, 18 female survivors’ testimonies were taken from the
online archive (
made accessible to me during my employment at the physical
archive in Kigali from 2011 to 2012. Although the archive contains
many more testimonies, the process of digitization, transcription,
and translation is ongoing and only a limited number are available
with full transcripts and translations. Only the testimonies with full
Kinyarwanda transcripts and (English or French) translations were
selected. The analysis was carried out on the original Kinyarwanda
versions (with the assistance of a native Kinyarwanda speaker).
Presented here are the English translations of sections of four
women’s testimonies. Although the women signed consent forms
for their testimonies to be used in the public archive, for ethical
reasons and anonymity, names have been abbreviated.
The discursive analysis of these testimonies investigates the
ways in which the trauma of the genocide has affected various
aspects of group identity and intergroup relations. From a socio-
cognitive perspective (see van Dijk, 2009), the analysis takes a
multidisciplinary approach, attending to linguistic, cognitive, so-
cial, and cultural aspects to gain an understanding of group dy-
namics in Rwanda. Discourse is rich in ideological content, and
thus, by analyzing the various structures of discourse, the nature of
group dynamics may be inferred. To begin with, the testimonies
were divided into semantic macrostructures (topics or themes) then
for sections in which society and group relations were the focus of
discussion, local meanings were scrutinized via an analysis of
syntactic and semantic structures, including use of agency, implicit
presuppositions (i.e., implied or assumed meanings), use of pro-
nouns, lexical choices (such as choice of noun-phrase to evoke a
person, place, or thing) and rhetorical structures (i.e., use of
stylistic features such as metaphor). Finally, by comparing the
analysis across the sample of testimonies, various patterns of
shared beliefs relating to group relations were identified.
The analysis that follows shows that survivors’ descriptions
suggest four different patterns of belief or ideological position
about the nature of their group (i.e., Tutsi survivors) and how it
should interact with other groups (i.e., whether or not it should
seek to reestablish its drives). These four patterns include (a) those
who, in the context of their group identity, do not pursue agency or
communion; (b) those who pursue communion but not agency; (c) those
who do not pursue communion but pursue agency; and (d) those
who pursue both communion and agency. Of the sample of 18
women’s testimonies, 4 of the women’s responses fell into the first
category (response Type I), 6 fell into the second category (re-
sponse Type II), 2 fell into the third (response Type III), and 3 fell
into the last category (response Type IV). Three of the women did
not discuss their perceptions of postgenocide society to provide
sufficient evidence for analysis. An analysis of each type of
response is presented below to exemplify each type of response. It
will be argued that, as a collective reaction, the most positive and
socially constructive response to the traumatic legacy of the geno-
cide is the fourth category, as only this type of response satisfies
both of the group’s motivations, which may in turn lead to positive
change and posttraumatic growth at the collective level.
Response Type I: Those Who Pursue Neither
Communion nor Agency
The first response type observed in the testimonies includes
women who satisfy neither communal nor agentic motivations in
the context of their group identity as genocide survivors. These
women demonstrate no attempt to reconcile with members from
other groups (Hutu) or to pursue freedom from the state. The
following extract from FM’s testimony fits into this category:
For me, Hutu are ruthless animals. They still have that wickedness in
their hearts. They are still hurting me, and that makes it hard for me
to forgive them. Honestly, when three or four people decide to
defecate on top of a grave, tear to pieces every photo that I lay on the
grave, it means they cannot change. They teach them about unity and
reconciliation but their hearts can never change. They are animals. I
have no names for that kind. They are animals. Even animals are
better; they let us hide in the bushes next to them. We lived with lions,
leopards...they would let you run away without eating you. But
them...Istill fear them. If they had the opportunity...Ifthey were
given a chance, they would hack us again with the same machetes.
FM’s use of “they” in this extract refers in most cases to Hutu.
As is typical of outgroup derogation, they (Hutu) are presented as
a homogenous collective that is fundamentally flawed (e.g., “Hutu
are ruthless animals”; “They still have that wickedness in their
hearts”; “they are still hurting me”; “They are animals”; “their
hearts can never change”; “they would hack us again”). Thus, FM
still appears to be influenced by the Manichean, dualist thinking
that characterizes both the ideology of the genocide (that divided
society according to ethnicity, i.e., Hutu vs. Tutsi) as well as that
of the RPF (that conceives of the population in terms of role in the
genocide, i.e., génocidaire vs. survivor). Rather than pursuing the
objectives which could result in reconciliation (such as justice or
forgiveness), FM’s use of metaphor to refer to Hutu as “animals”
could be construed as a form of retaliation, given that many of the
stereotypes used to stigmatize Tutsi before the genocide had faunal
references (Melvern, 2009).
However, not only does FM not seek to reconcile, but also she
submits to the dominant ideology, demonstrated by the statement,
“They teach them about unity and reconciliation but their hearts
can never change.” In this instance, “they” refers to the state or
people in authority. FM’s use of the contrastive “but” in “but their
hearts can never change” implies that she agrees with the govern-
ment’s policy of “unity and reconciliation” as well as the ways in
which it is being implemented but that there is something “wrong”
with Hutu who are unable to change. Thus, FM reproduces the
government’s stance of collective Hutu guilt in this extract. How-
ever, given that within the framework of the Rwandan govern-
ment’s ideology Tutsi survivors are also stigmatized, it could be
argued that FM is operating under what many scholars refer to as
“false consciousness” (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Mannheim, 1936;
Marx & Engels, 1974; van Dijk, 1998). This phrase refers to the
phenomenon of a group accepting an ideology as “natural” or
“common-sense” even though it runs counter to the interests of
that group, such as poor workers accepting the hegemony of the
liberal market, Black people accepting racism or women accepting
FM’s false consciousness is not only demonstrated by her ten-
dency to align herself with the government by collectivizing Hutu
guilt, but also by her reluctance to associate with other survivors.
It can be noted that while Hutu are referred to as they or “them,”
FM’s decision to refer to herself as “I” or “me” rather than as “us”
runs counter to ordinary processes of intergroup differentiation of
us versus them. The only time she speaks in the collective “we” is
when talking about the time during the genocide, before she
became a survivor (e.g., “[during the genocide] we lived with
lions, leopards”). In the present, she refers to herself in the singular
(e.g., “For me, Hutu are ruthless animals”; They are still hurting
me”; “that makes it hard for me to forgive them”; I still fear
them”). This is possibly indicative of her internalization of the
stigma surrounding Tutsi survivors.
FM’s apparent reluctance to associate herself with other survi-
vors could be interpreted as a form of disidentification or disso-
ciation from this social identity (see Crocker, Major, & Steele,
1998). Unfortunately, as Shih (2004) argues, stigma management
strategies that involve avoidance of the negative consequences of
one’s stigma, referred to as coping strategies, are ultimately drain-
ing and damaging to the individual who adopts such a strategy. For
example, it appears that FM’s internalization of the dominant
ideology leads her to alienate other survivors. This is evidenced in
other sections of her testimony in which she derides survivors,
criticizing those who turn to alcohol or prostitution, labeling them
“a target for mockery” and encouraging them to “deal with the
pain and endure it” because “that’s the Rwandese way.” She
continues her message to other survivors saying, “preserve your
dignity, as we are being taught” because “there are survivors who
are out of control.” FM’s representation of survivors as “drunk-
ards,” “prostitutes” and people who are “out of control” perpetu-
ates the stigma that surrounds survivors and demonstrates her state
of “false consciousness” as she supports an ideology that favors
the elites and alienates the group of which she is part.
Response Type II: Those Who Pursue Communion but
Not Agency
Women who seek to satisfy communal but not agentic motiva-
tions in the context of their group identity as genocide survivors
comprise the second type of response observed. These women
attempt to reconcile but do not pursue freedom or autonomy. Thus,
a willingness to achieve some of the gacaca objectives identified
by Clark (2010) may be observed in these testimonies but only in
a manner that is consistent with the official understanding of
“unity and reconciliation.” RSM’s descriptions of society corre-
spond to this type of response and, in particular, notions of for-
giveness are clearly paramount in the following extract from her
testimony: “Forgiving is possible. For example, myself, I have
already forgiven, even though no one has asked me for forgive-
ness, I have forgiven all those who participated in the killing.”
The former Executive Secretary of the National Summit on
Unity and Reconciliation (NURC, 2000), Aloysea Inyumba, out-
lined a list of steps that Rwandans should go through to achieve
unity and reconciliation. According to Inyumba, this process re-
quires that those who committed crimes ask for forgiveness but
also that survivors “be courageous enough to forgive their offend-
ers” (p. 47, cited in Clark, 2010, p. 279). This is echoed by
Rwandan President, Paul Kagame who declared that gacaca should
“encourage” forgiveness, highlighting that those who grant for-
giveness will need to be “courageous” (Clark, 2010, p. 281). Clark
(2010) argues that “the state does not appear to view forgiveness
as survivors’ duty” (p. 281), however, the government’s emphasis
on “courage” undoubtedly has significant coercive powers, as
strength and courage are greatly valued principles in Rwandan
culture. This is particularly the case for survivors who wish to
avoid the stigma associated with their survivorhood as well as
demonstrate to the killers that they are still living well. In the
previous extract, RSM clearly reveals a willingness to forgive, yet
other sections of her testimony suggest that she could easily be
influenced by the government’s emphasis on showing courage. For
example, she states that it is important that the killers see her “as
someone who is strong.”
Moreover, RSM also attempts to avoid
the stigma of survivors as burdens when she states, “I am not a
burden to Rwandan society or to the people around me.” It seems
possible, therefore, that RSM could be submitting to the govern-
ment’s call to be courageous, as she is a survivor who both wishes
to convey this message to the killers and avoid the stigma associ-
ated with survivorhood.
Despite her apparent pursuit of reconciliation, RSM’s blanket
approach to forgiveness suggests that she is not attempting to gain
autonomy. The only form of forgiveness represented in Rwandan
law is official forgiveness that requires perpetrators to request
forgiveness from a duly constituted bench, a judicial police officer
or a public prosecutor, rather than from survivors themselves
(Clark, 2010). This has led some critics to “view forgiveness as a
process driven more by the judges and leaders in charge of gacaca,
rather than by remorse from perpetrators or by survivors’ willing-
ness to forgive” (Clark, 2010, pp. 294–295; Uvin, 2000). In
addition, forgiveness is an important step toward reconciliation
that the government interprets as “primarily group-to-group”
(Clark, 2010, p. 313) rather than interpersonal. RSM’s blanket
expression of forgiveness fails to acknowledge the necessarily
two-way nature of this process and her emphasis on forgiving
“all those who those who participated in the killing,” echoes the
impersonal, collective nature of reconciliation, consistent with
the government’s ideology. Despite the attempts made by women
like RSM to forge improved horizontal social relations, their
reluctance to also pursue autonomy and freedom from the govern-
ment’s ideology means that survivors are likely to remain stigma-
tized and subordinated.
Response Type III: Those Who Do Not Pursue
Communion but Do Pursue Agency
The third type of response observed in the testimonies includes
women who do not seek to satisfy communal motivations but who
do attempt to fulfil agentic motivations in the context of their
group identity as genocide survivors. Women who respond in this
way candidly refuse to forge improved horizontal relationships by
rejecting the notion of reconciliation and related objectives thereby
defying the government’s ideology and thus, gaining a sense of
liberty. EN’s testimony provides an example of this type of de-
What do you think of Hutus?
As my enemy, as an enemy of peace. They ask us to reconcile and we
reconcile. But you can only reconcile with someone when their cows
eat from your field [that is, over trivial matters]. In the past, people
used to move from this hill to go and kill on another over there and
there would be a war. Now, just because the Government says,
“Reconcile,” then we reconcile because there’s no choice. What
would you do? Nothing. If they say, “Let’s unite,” we unite. But it’s
not real. You reconcile with someone in circumstances where their
animal damaged your land; You reconcile with someone after fighting
because you were drunk. You do not reconcile with someone after
they killed your family. That’s how it was in the past but for me . . .
I don’t want to reconcile with them at all. But maybe with a Hutu who
did not kill, a Hutu with whom I have no problem related to gacaca
RSM uses the term “umuntu w”umugabo” which is a turn of phrase
commonly used by Rwandans—literally to be “a man”—it means someone
who is strong and does not show emotions.
and the killing of my family. Those others with whom we don’t have
problems, it’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that I live freely and openly
with them. But we have to live together because it is our country all
together, there’s no other way of moving forward. But I won’t feel any
sympathy toward them...none. I saw how they changed overnight.
Although in this extract EN clearly states her reluctance to
improve horizontal relations via reconciliation (“I don’t want to
reconcile with them at all”), she does negotiate more favorable
vertical relations. She refuses to accept the stigma surrounding
survivors by unashamedly defying the government’s call for sur-
vivors to show “courage” by forgiving perpetrators. Her ironic
tone in the statements “They ask us to reconcile and we reconcile,”
“just because the Government says, ‘Reconcile,’ then we recon-
cile,” “If they say, ‘Let’s unite,’ we unite,” mocks the govern-
ment’s authoritarian style, as she clearly implies the superficiality
of this compliance (“it’s not real”). There is even a rejection of the
government’s emphasis on restoring past ways of doing things,
“That’s how it was in the past but for me...Idon’t want to.”
The real irony of this passage, however, can be seen in the fact
that although EN states her outright refusal to reconcile, she does
not globalize guilt onto the entire Hutu population. Although she
is wary (“I saw how they changed overnight”), EN, in fact,
demonstrates a willingness to reconcile with Hutu who were not
involved in the killing of her family: “But maybe [I could recon-
cile] with a Hutu who did not kill.” Moreover, in her defiance of
government authority, EN’s use of the plural first person actually
unites her with other Hutu in their collective resistance against the
government, (e.g., “They ask us to reconcile and we reconcile”;
“then we reconcile”; we unite”; and we have to live together
because it is our country”). Thus, EN’s use of us and them actually
refers to us (Tutsi and Hutu) versus them (the government), in
contrast to survivors discussed earlier who voice their willingness
to reconcile, but speak in terms of us (Tutsi) versus them (Hutu).
It could be argued, therefore, that despite her apparent reluctance
to forge improved horizontal relations, through EN’s pursuit of
more favorable vertical relations, she inadvertently engages in
more positive horizontal relations by collectivizing the shared
strife of the population against a common oppressor; the govern-
Response Type IV: Those Who Pursue Communion
and Agency
The final type of response observed includes women who seek
both to satisfy communal and agentic motivations in the context of
their group identity as genocide survivors. The following examples
come from the testimonies of women who pursue both improved
horizontal relations via Clark’s (2010) objectives but who do so
independently of the government’s ideological framework, thus,
also pursuing freedom and autonomy. Despite witnessing unspeak-
able suffering at the hands of the former government militia, the
testimony of GM demonstrates remarkable progress in several of
the profound gacaca objectives identified by Clark (2010):
If a person acknowledges his fault, he admits his sin genuinely and
from the heart, then he is already being punished. It will always affect
him and there is no greater punishment than the guilt in someone’s
heart. If it comes from the heart when a person says to me, “Forgive
me, I was involved in the killing of your sibling, your parent...”I
would understand. I would forgive him because the burden he carries
in his heart is enough of a punishment. But forgiving in general
without a request to be forgiven...that is very hard for me. I find it
so hard. That’s like forcing them to receive forgiveness. That’s like
forcing them to be forgiven when the person doesn’t care enough
about forgiveness to ask for it from the heart. Forgiveness is about one
person seeking it and another one granting it. The person forgiving
shouldn’t forgive before the seeker asks for it. People should seek to
be forgiven genuinely and then be granted forgiveness.
In his discussion on justice, Clark (2010) identifies three types
of justice. Retributive justice aims to punish perpetrators in a
manner that is commensurate with their crime so as to give them
what they “deserve”; deterrent justice aims to punish perpetrators
in a way that will dissuade them and others from committing
further crimes so as to avoid further punishment; and finally
restorative justice holds that while punishment may be necessary,
it should be facilitated in ways that allow perpetrators and victims
to rebuild relationships and renew the social fabric. As can be seen
in this extract, GM is willing to forgo the first two types of justice
by agreeing to accept an apology and acknowledging that genuine
guilt is punishment enough.
The objectives of forgiveness and reconciliation are also themes
that present themselves in this extract. Unlike the blanket ap-
proaches to forgiveness discussed earlier, GM clearly opposes the
government’s pressure on survivors to forgive, (“But forgiving in
general without a request to be forgiven . . . that is very hard for
me”). Instead, GM demonstrates an understanding of what genuine
forgiveness must entail by emphasizing its interpersonal nature.
GM continually refers to the perpetrators of genocide in the
singular third person (“he admits his sin”; he is already being
punished”; and “It will always affect him”)
and to herself in the
singular first person (“when a person says to me”; I would
understand”; and I would forgive”), highlighting the interpersonal
nature of this process. Although not voiced, the only they in this
extract does not refer to Hutu, but to the government. GM’s
resistance against governmental pressure is not explicit, but is
apparent in her nominalization of the verb “to forgive” (“forgiving
in general . . .”), with which she alludes to the government’s
demands for collective forgiveness and reconciliation. By empha-
sizing the interpersonal nature of reconciliation, GM counteracts
the government’s interpretation of reconciliation as a “group-to-
group” process and its tendency to generalize guilt to the entire
Hutu population; simultaneously pursuing improved horizontal
and vertical relations. Further steps toward reconciliation may also
be seen in the following extract from GM’s testimony in which she
expresses her understanding that both “sides” suffered as a result
of the genocide:
Those who did not die in the genocide, died in exile. Whether Hutu,
Tutsi or even Twa, none of us was spared. Some were perpetrators,
others were victims...Butallofuswere in trouble, even if it was not
to the same extent.
It can be seen here that GM understands that the line between
victim and perpetrator is not as clear as the dualist view of the elite
ideology where Tutsi is equated with victim and Hutu with per-
GM uses the gender neutral word for “person” (umuntu); she does not
specify a gender. I’ve translated this in the masculine third person (he) only
because English does not have neutral form.
petrator. At the same time, her inclusion of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa
in the collective “we” (“none of us was spared”; “all of us were in
trouble”) demonstrates significant steps toward a more inclusive
understanding of society. Overall, not only does GM defy the
government’s ideological interpretation of events, negotiating im-
proved vertical relations, but also she engages in forging improved
horizontal relations. It would seem that women like GM, who seek
to satisfy their group’s motivations of agency and communion,
produce the most socially constructive response to the genocide.
In line with Bakan (1966), who “adopted the terms ‘agency’ and
‘communion’ to characterize two fundamental modalities in the
existence of living forms” (p. 14), I would argue that genuine
positive change within Rwandan society involves the pursuit of
both reconciliation and autonomy. This is not to say that the
women whose responses fall into the first three categories have not
experienced posttraumatic growth as individuals. Indeed, many of
these women do pursue agency and communion at the individual
level (i.e., by gaining increased personal strength and improved
interpersonal relations). At the group level, however, only the
fourth response enables the group to achieve both these goals. Just
as trauma has the potential to destabilize individual drives of
agency on the one hand, and communion on the other, so it also
appears to do for groups. Thus, similarly to individual posttrau-
matic growth manifesting itself in areas such as self-perception
(increased autonomy, self-efficacy, and new skills) and interper-
sonal relationships (intimacy, relatedness), at the collective level,
growth manifests itself through group members reacting against
the constraints of oppression to gain autonomy/agency and reach-
ing out to members of other groups to gain communion.
If the analogy of individual posttraumatic growth is extended,
then, groups, much like individuals, may presumably also gain a
new sense of meaning or a change in life philosophy via the pursuit
of these motivations. With regard to Rwandan survivors, examples
of such changes might include, for instance, the belief that, as a
result of their survival, they have acquired certain duties to hu-
manity such as conveying the true nature of the genocide. An
analysis of the ways in which survivors as a group have acquired
a new sense of meaning is, however, beyond the scope of this
What does emerge from this analysis is that, much like at the
individual level, posttraumatic growth at the collective level in-
volves the pursuit of agency and communion within an assumptive
framework that provides meaning and purpose. The principal
difference between individual and collective conceptualizations of
posttraumatic growth, then, is that while individual changes take
place at the cognitive level, collective posttraumatic growth takes
place at the ideological level; that is to say via the socially acquired
beliefs, knowledge and other social representations that are shared
by members of a given group.
The Social Equivalent to Schema Change
At the individual level, posttraumatic growth is thought to
consist in rebuilding new cognitive working models of the world
after one’s previous assumptions have been completely shattered
(Calhoun & Tedeschi, 1999; Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Tedeschi, Park,
& Calhoun, 1998). According to Calhoun and Tedeschi’s (1999)
functional-descriptive model of posttraumatic growth, the shatter-
ing of cognitive-emotional structures by traumatic events may set
in motion a ruminative process, characterized by a significant
amount of thinking about the event. Although this process may at
first be distressing and can include unwanted negative thoughts, it
can also include neutral and positive cognitive processes and its
very presence is indicative of cognitive activity directed at rebuild-
ing cognitive schemas. While initially this rumination is automatic
and unintentional, the nature of this activity can become increas-
ingly deliberate and effortful. It is this effortful rumination that
plays a role in developing a narrative which can help the individual
to organize the event into a new schema, make sense of the
experience and develop more adaptive assumptions about the
In the aftermath of trauma, Tedeschi (1999) suggests that social
narratives serve a similar function to individual narratives and just
as traumatic events may affect individual life stories, they may also
serve as critical demarcations for social stories in which time
becomes separated into pre- and posttrauma periods. Although
creating this narrative may bring about controversy over the his-
torical record, such as who bears responsibility for the trauma and
what is to be learnt from it, the creation of such a narrative may
result in what Tedeschi (1999) refers to as “the social equivalent to
[. . .] schema change” (p. 333). Given that the production of a
social narrative, just like the production of a personal narrative, is
likely to be effortful and time consuming, it seems probable that
the group cohesion and enhanced collective identity described by
Vázquez et al. (2008) does not fit this conceptualization of post-
traumatic growth. First, this cohesion is arguably part of the larger
process of intergroup differentiation which, as discussed earlier, is
far from beneficial to a society. Second, given that the so-called
“positive” behavioral effects observed after 9/11 were generally
observed soon after the attacks and described as “temporary,” it
seems unlikely that these changes could be considered “sche-
matic.” Just as cognitive schema change is time consuming, pre-
sumably so is ideological schema change. Rather, the observations
made by Vázquez et al. (2008) are more likely to be a knee-jerk,
emotional response to fear, rather than posttraumatic growth.
Theories such as the Value Protection Model argue that pro-
cesses of ingroup enhancement are akin to value affirmation in
which individuals attempt to morally cleanse themselves by reaf-
firming commitment to their cultural or moral values and so
reassure themselves of their own moral worth (Tetlock, 2002).
Similarly, proponents of Terror Management Theory suggest that
ingroup enhancement involves the bolstering of one’s cultural
worldview as a defense to existential threat and fear of mortality
(Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004). On a schematic
level, this is quite the opposite of what is generally considered
posttraumatic growth, which is construed as the rebuilding of new
working models of the world rather than a reversion to old ones.
Ingroup enhancement, then, is more like the collective version of
what Joseph and Linley (2008) refer to as “assimilation.” This is
where a traumatic event is “assimilated” into preexisting models of
the world, as opposed to growth, which requires that our models of
the world be modified in order to adapt or “accommodate” infor-
mation relating to the traumatic event. Overall it seems that, much
like at the individual level, collective posttraumatic growth is
about finding new meaning in what happened so as to gain more
mature and socially constructive ways of understanding events.
Although as Joseph and Linley (2008) argue, human beings are
intrinsically motivated toward posttraumatic growth as part of their
innate tendency toward self-actualization, circumstances and en-
vironments play a significant role in this process and may restrict,
impede or distort this intrinsic motivation. As Janoff-Bulman
(1992) maintains, the “restorative efforts of survivors to rebuild a
valid and comfortable assumptive world are always embedded
within the larger context of social relationships” (p. 143). This is
equally relevant to posttraumatic growth processes at the collective
level. One of the challenges that groups face when it comes to
achieving positive change and posttraumatic growth is that ideo-
logical change requires communication between group members.
Given that elites tend to have control over the means of ideological
production, their social representations about society are hugely
influential and tend to favor the ruling class (van Dijk, 1998).
Elites often apply a number of manipulation strategies to maintain
ideological control, such as dividing nondominant groups, prevent-
ing ingroup solidarity, or preventing or limiting access to public
discourse (van Dijk, 1998). As we have seen, the RPF uses a
number of these strategies, such as dividing the population and
preventing free speech, making the development of counter ideol-
ogies far from straightforward. To produce and reproduce ideolo-
gies, access to public discourse is essential.
It is possible, however, to facilitate the development of post-
traumatic growth, via the role of organizations, cooperatives, and
other institutions. For example, the Genocide Archive of Rwanda
plays a fundamental role in this respect by providing survivors
with access to public discourse. Giving their testimonies provides
survivors with an opportunity to fulfil motivations of communion
by pursuing the objectives highlighted by Clark (2010) (truth,
healing, justice, etc.); and of agency by challenging the stigma that
surrounds their identity as survivors and providing a counter
narrative to the official version of history. Because the testimonies
collected by the Genocide Archive of Rwanda enable survivors to
reconstruct their life narratives freely and without coercion or
contestation, they may communicate their own interpretation of
events. With such an opportunity, even in the aftermath of such
devastating horror and under the restrictive environment of an
authoritarian regime, survivors such as GM demonstrate that peo-
ple, whether as group members or as individuals, are capable of
developing positive outcomes.
A significant limitation of this study is that, while the Genocide
Archive of Rwanda attempts to collect demographically varied
testimonies, individuals who volunteer to give their testimony are
likely to represent a minority given the sensitive and traumatic
nature of the topic. As they have presumably recovered sufficiently
to be able to speak about their traumatic experience, those who
volunteer may present more signs of posttraumatic growth than
those who do not (although the ways in which growth is mani-
fested among those who volunteer may not necessarily differ). The
fact that the sample was small and limited to female survivors also
impedes the generalizability of findings. Women were affected by
the genocide in different ways to men; they were frequently raped,
tortured, and physically mutilated. However, because of their
sexual value, in the aftermath of the genocide, the number of women
in Rwandan society far outweighed the number of men, leading to a
veritable social crisis for women. The lack of men in the post-
genocide period meant that women were forced to learn new skills
and take on new roles both in civil society and in politics. The
genocide transformed women’s identities and created a sense of
solidarity among women that transcends both ethnic and political
lines (Powley, 2005). Relative to men, then, the effect of the
genocide on women’s identities may have a facilitative effect on
communal drives of reconciliation. Clearly, further research is
needed to investigate how themes of growth in men compare with
those found in women.
Another limitation of the study is that Rwanda’s strict laws on
divisionism and its authoritarian government may have led to
biases and constraints in the ways these women discussed society.
Indeed, three of the women did not discuss postgenocide social
dynamics at all. This does not necessarily mean that they do not
pursue the agentic or communal motivations of their group. Given
the political sensitivities that exist in Rwanda, however, the fact
that the interviewer was a survivor, who had no research agenda,
and who conducted the interviews in Kinyarwanda, means that
survivors probably felt at greater liberty to speak openly than
would have otherwise be the case.
The model proposed in this article provides an initial step
toward understanding how growth processes at the collective level
may take place and how such processes may be facilitated. The
ways in which drives of agency and communion are pursued after
trauma are likely to vary significantly according to different social,
cultural, and political contexts. For example, in the context of the
United States after 9/11, freedom from stigmatization may be less
important and drives of collective agency and communion may
instead involve engaging in a dialogue with the Middle East,
contesting dominant understandings of American culture on the
one hand, while seeking common ground on the other. Although
the specific ways in which drives of agency and communion are
enacted may vary across cultures, however, these fundamental
drives are likely to be universal, as is the need for dialogue and
access to public discourse given that these drives take place at the
shared, ideological level. Further research to validate and elaborate
on the model is necessary. But such research should be encouraged
because only by understanding the motivations of groups in the
aftermath of crises is it possible to conceive of ways of promoting
positive social change in postconflict societies.
Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison
Bakan, D. (1966). Duality of human existence: An essay on psychology and
religion. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.
Bloom, S. L. (1998). By the crowd they have been broken, by the crowd
they shall be healed: The social transformation of trauma. In R. G.
Tedeschi, C. L. Park, & L. G. Calhoun (Eds.), Post-traumatic growth:
Positive changes in the aftermath of crisis (pp. 179–214). Mahwah, NJ:
Erlbaum, Inc.
Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we
underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive
events? American Psychologist, 59, 20–28.
Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (1999). Facilitating posttraumatic
growth: A clinician’s guide. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, Inc.
Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2006). Handbook of posttraumatic
growth: Research and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, Inc.
Chanley, V. (2002). Trust in government in the aftermath of 9/11: Deter-
minants and consequences. Political Psychology, 23, 469483.
Clark, P. (2010). The gacaca courts, post-genocide justice and reconcili-
ation in Rwanda: Justice without lawyers (Cambridge Studies in Law
and Society). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University
Crocker, J., Major, B., & Steele, C. (1998). Social stigma. In D. T. Gilbert,
S. T. Fiske, & L. Gardner (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (2
vols., II, pp. 504–553). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Dauge-Roth, A. (2010). Writing and filming the genocide of the Tutsis in
Rwanda: Dismembering and remembering traumatic history. Lanham/
Plymouth, United Kingdom: Lexington Books.
Des Forges, A., & Longman, T. (2004). Legal responses to genocide in
Rwanda. In E. Stover & H. M. Weinstein (Eds.), My neighbor, my
enemy: Justice and community in the aftermath of mass atrocity (pp.
4968). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Eltringham, N. (2004). Accounting for horror: Post-genocide debates in
Rwanda. London, United Kingdom: Pluto Press.
Esses, V. M., Dovidio, J. F., & Hodson, G. (2002). Public attitudes toward
immigration in the United States and Canada in response to the Sep-
tember 11, 2001 “Attack on America.” Analyses of Social Issues and
Public Policy, 2, 6985.
Gatwa, T. (2001). Rwanda: Eglises: Victimes ou coupables? Les églises et
l”idéologie ethnique au Rwanda 1900–1994. Yaoundé, Cameroon: Edi-
tions Clé.
Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., & Solomon, S. (1986). The causes and
consequences of a need for self-esteem: A terror management theory. In
R. F. Baumeister (Ed.), Public self and private self (pp. 189–212). New
York, NY: Springer.
Hintjens, H. (2008). Reconstructing political identities in Rwanda. In P.
Clark, & Z. D. Kaufman (Eds.), After genocide: Transitional justice,
post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation in Rwanda and beyond
(pp. 77–99). London, United Kingdom: Hurst and Co.
Janoff-Bulman, R. (1992). Shattered assumptions. New York, NY: The
Free Press.
Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A. (2008). Positive psychological perspectives on
posttraumatic stress: An integrative psychosocial framework. In S. Jo-
seph & P. A. Linley (Eds.), Trauma, recovery, and growth: Positive
psychological perspectives on posttraumatic stress (pp. 3–20). Hoboken,
NJ: Wiley.
Jost, J. T., & Banaji, M. R. (1994). The role of stereotyping in system-
justification and the production of false consciousness. British Journal of
Social Psychology, 33, 1–27.
Kaiser, C. R., Vick, S. B., & Brenda, Major. (2004). A prospective
investigation of the relationship between just-world beliefs and the
desire for revenge after September 11, 2001. Psychological Science, 15,
Lemarchand, R. (2008). The politics of memory in post-genocide Rwanda.
In P. Clark & Z. D. Kaufman (Eds.), After genocide: Transitional
justice, post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation in Rwanda and
beyond (pp. 65–76). London, United Kingdom: Hurst and Co.
Longman, T. (2001). Identity cards, ethnic self-perception, and genocide in
Rwanda. In J. Caplan & J. Torpey (Eds.), Documenting individual
identity: The development of state practices in the modern world (pp.
345–359). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Longman, T., & Rutagengwa, T. (2004). Memory, identity, and community
in Rwanda. In E. Stover & H. M. Weinstein (Eds.), My neighbor, my
enemy: Justice and community in the aftermath of mass atrocity (pp.
162–182). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Mannheim, K. (1936). Ideology and utopia: An introduction to the soci-
ology of knowledge. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1974). The German ideology. London, United
Kingdom: Arthur.
McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by: Personal myths and the
making of the self. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company.
Melvern, L. (2009). A people betrayed: The role of the west in Rwanda’s
genocide (2nd ed.) London, United Kingdom: Zed Books.
Morland, L. A., Butler, L. D., & Leskin, G. A. (2008). Resilience and
thriving in a time of terrorism. In S. Joseph & P. A. Linley (Eds.),
Trauma, recovery, and growth: Positive psychological perspectives on
posttraumatic stress (pp. 3961). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
NURC. (2000). Report on the national summit of unity and reconciliation
Kigali: Republic of Rwanda. Retrieved from
Páez, D., Basabe, N., Ubillos, S., & González-Castro, J. L. (2007). Social
sharing, participation in demonstrations, emotional climate, and coping
with collective violence after the march 11th Madrid bombings. Journal
of Social Issues, 63, 232–337.
Park, C. L., Cohen, L. H., & Murch, R. L. (1996). Assessment and
prediction of stress-related growth. Journal of Personality, 64, 71–105.
Peskin, V. (2011). Victor’s justice revisited: Rwandan Patriotic Front
crimes and the prosecutorial endgame at the ICTR. In S. Straus & L.
Waldorf (Eds.), Remaking Rwanda: State building and human rights
after mass violence (Critical Human Rights) (pp. 173–183). Madison,
WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Powley, E. (2005). Case study Rwanda: Women hold up half the parlia-
ment. In J. Ballington & A. Karam (Eds.), Women in parliament: Beyond
numbers (A Rev. ed., pp. 154–163). Stockholm, Sweden: The Interna-
tional Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Prunier, G. (2009). From genocide to continental war: The “Congolese”
conflict and the crisis of contemporary Africa. London, United King-
dom: HURST Publishers Ltd.
Rettig, M. (2008). Truth, justice and reconciliation in postconflict Rwanda?
African Studies Review, 51, 25–50.
Reyntjens, F. (2004). Rwanda, ten years on: From genocide to dictatorship.
African Affairs, 103, 177–210.
Sedanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory
of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cam-
bridge University Press.
Sherif, M. (1966). In common predicament: Social psychology of inter-
group conflict and cooperation. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Com-
Shih, M. (2004). Examining resilience and empowerment in overcoming
stigma. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,
591, 175–185.
Skitka, L. J., Bauman, C. W., & Mullen, E. (2004). Political tolerance and
coming to psychological closure following the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks: An integrative approach. Personality and Social Psy-
chology Bulletin, 30, 743–756.
Smith, T. W., & Kim, S. (2006). National pride in comparative perspective:
1995/96 and 2003/04. International Journal of Public Opinion Re-
search, 18, 127–136.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2004). The cultural animal:
Twenty years of terror management theory and research. In J. Green-
berg, S. L. Koole, & T. Pyszcznski (Eds.), Handbook of experimental
existential psychology (pp. 13–34). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup
conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of
intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Tedeschi, R. G. (1999). Violence transformed: Posttraumatic growth in
survivors and their societies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 4, 319
Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). Trauma and transformation:
Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The posttraumatic growth
inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of Trau-
matic Stress, 9, 455–471.
Tedeschi, R. G., Park, C. L., & Calhoun, L. G. (1998). Posttraumatic
growth: Conceptual issues. In R. G. Tedeschi, C. L. Park, & L. G.
Calhoun (Eds.), Post-traumatic growth: Positive changes in the after-
math of crisis (pp. 1–22). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, Inc.
Tetlock, P. E. (2002). Social functionalist frameworks for judgement and
choice: Intuitive politicians, theologians, and prosecutors. Psychological
Review, 109, 451–471.
Thomson, S. (2011). Whispering truth to power: The Everyday resistance
of Rwandan peasants to post-genocide reconciliation. African Affairs,
110, 439456.
Uvin, P. S. (2000). The Introduction of a modernized gacaca for judging
suspects of participation in the genocide and the massacres of 1994 in
Rwanda. Governance and Social Development Centre. Retrieved from
van Dijk, T. (1998). Ideology: A multidisciplinary approach. London,
United Kingdom: Sage.
van Dijk, T. (2009). Critical discourse studies: A sociocognitive approach.
In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of critical discourse analysis
(2nd ed., pp. 62–86). London, United Kingdom: Sage.
Vázquez, C., Pérez-Sales, P., & Hervás, G. (2008). Positive effects of
terrorism and posttraumatic growth: An individual and community per-
spective. In S. Joseph & P. A. Linley (Eds.), Trauma, recovery, and
growth: Positive psychological perspectives on posttraumatic stress (pp.
63–91). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Vidal, C. (2001). Les commémorations du génocide au Rwanda. Les Temps
Modernes, 56, 1–46.
Waldorf, L. (2011). Instrumentalizing genocide: The RPF’s campaign against
“Genocide Ideology”. In S. Straus & L. Waldorf (Eds.), Remaking Rwan-
da: State building and human rights after mass violence (Critical Hu-
man Rights) (pp. 4866). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Received February 25, 2013
Revision received July 3, 2013
Accepted July 5, 2013
Correction to Williamson (2014)
In the article “Toward a Theory of Collective Posttraumatic Growth in Rwanda: The Pursuit of
Agency and Communion” by Caroline Williamson (Traumatology, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp.
91–102., the copyright attribution was incorrect. The copyright
is retained by the author.
Likewise, the following text should have appeared in the author note: “This article has been
published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons
.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright for this article is retained by the
author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish
the article and identify itself as the original publisher.”
All versions of this article have been corrected.
... In what follows, we group these metaphors into Levold's (2012) categories and describe their applications in greater detail. Williamson (2014) reported that for some Rwandans one adaptive response to extreme adversity is to remember to be umuntu w'umugabo -literally ''to be a man.'' This is a common Rwandan phrase that reminds individuals to be strong and not to show emotions. ...
... On a different note, individuals who experienced extreme adversity at times feel as they were the burden themselves, causing others to feel heavy. A Rwandan study reported that survivors of the genocide strived not to be a burden on society and therefore tried to move on (Williamson, 2014). A Ugandan study of the post-traumatic growth phenomenon emphasized the importance of accepting community support (Kryger & Lindgren, 2011). ...
... In the mental health literature, it reflects the capacity to shift one's attention from negative emotions and cognitions to a more positive focus (Hinton & Kirmayer, 2016). In some cultures, resilience is portrayed as the most important trait needed to overcome adversities and there is a growing interest in carrying out research on resilience, particularly in African cultures (Goodman, 2004;Whittaker et al., 2005;Williamson, 2014). In an ethnographic study of resilience among survivors of rape and genocide in Rwanda, the term kwihangana (withstanding) stood out. ...
In Euro-American societies, “resilience” and “post-traumatic growth” are commonly used metaphorical terms for positive responses to extreme adversity. However, research on illness narratives has demonstrated that other cultures may have different metaphorical concepts that act as vehicles for shared beliefs about how to overcome extreme adversity or traumatic experiences. The purpose of this article is to identify metaphors used in various cultures to describe positive responses to extreme adversity and to discuss the cultural ontologies and other socio-cultural factors that shape them. Metaphors of this nature were extracted from psychological, anthropological and ethnographic studies and were organized into categories: battle, path, container, balance, weight, object and network metaphors. Findings support the notion that metaphorical expressions related to positive responses to extreme adversity vary widely across cultures. We argue that an understanding of cultural differences in metaphors for mental health-related concepts is crucial to assisting trauma survivors from different cultural backgrounds.
... In a useful contribution about collective PTG, Williamson (2014) reported on the case of survivors of the genocide that took place in Rwanda. The author raised the interesting point that PTG at the collective level is about agency and communion, thus highlighting changes in socially shared ideologies. ...
... A Rwandan study reported that survivors of the genocide strived not to be a burden on society and therefore tried to move on (Williamson, 2014). A Ugandan study of the posttraumatic growth phenomenon emphasized the importance of accepting community support (Kryger & Lindgren, 2011). ...
... In some cultures resilience is portrayed as the most important trait to overcome adversities and, particularly in African cultures, resilience is currently one of the most frequently studied phenomena in this context (Goodman, 2004;Whittaker et al., 2005;Williamson, 2014). In an ethnographic study of resilience phenomena among survivors of rape and genocide in Rwanda the term kwihangana (withstanding) stood out. ...
The global mental health movement endeavors the recognition that Western-devised concepts of mental health cannot be applied on a universal scale. Cultural concepts of psychological distress and their broader socio-cultural context are increasingly gaining importance in the process of understanding the complexity of mental health around the globe. The present work proposes a culture-specific perspective on metaphorical concepts of posttraumatic growth and resilience. This approach is taken from a mixed emic and etic standpoint suggesting a culture-sensitive assessment of the phenomena under study. The cumulative Ph.D. thesis applies this theoretical perspective to investigate metaphors on adaptive responses to adversity first, from a broader angle, and second, from the viewpoint of two particular rural communities, remote from urban and Western biomedical orientations of mental health. The first study aimed to identify the broad variety of metaphorical concepts related to positive responses to extreme adversity. This was done by an extensive and explorative literature review. Results were arranged according to an existing framework of resilience metaphors and were extended by further metaphors found in qualitative, emic studies. Selected metaphorical concepts were interpreted according to their socio-cultural background. The findings revealed that the wide range of metaphorical expressions implies different shared understandings of overcoming adversity around the world and stressed the need to further explore this in applied field studies. For the second study, the Brazilian Indigenous Pitaguary community was chosen to be investigated in ethnographic fieldwork exploring locally shared metaphors on adaptive responses to severe adversity. In the third study, the Brazilian metaphors were contrasted to metaphors expressed by individuals from Gondo, a small Swiss mountain community. In both studies, the metaphors were analyzed both deductively and inductively and were embedded in a socio-cultural context. The results from the two field studies shed light on the wealth of locally shared metaphors applied by individuals from different cultures. These findings highlight the need to further engage in culture-sensitive assessment of mental health phenomena, which would provide for better communication between clients and professionals from different cultural backgrounds and thus, better mental health outcomes worldwide. The empirical findings of all three studies are then discussed in the context of current knowledge on cultural-clinical psychology, posttraumatic growth, and resilience research. These theoretical discussions provide suggestions for clinical practices with individuals and for cultural adaptation of large-scale clinical interventions. The shortcomings of the present investigation are then addressed, and methodological reflections are outlined, thereby providing suggestions for future research. A final focus is given to the discussion of ethnographic studies and the conflicting role of cultural-clinical psychology and on eliciting the importance to further engage in extensive research to contribute to a better understanding of global mental health.
... In their review about PTG associated with the individual and community impact of terrorist acts, the authors found an "upsurge of patriotism, a greater feeling of cohesion, and stronger faith in any decision that the government might take" (Vázquez et al., 2008, p. 65). Collective PTG takes place through socially shared beliefs of a given group, i.e. at the ideological level whereas individual PTG happens at the cognitive level (Williamson, 2014). ...
... Moreover, forgiveness is also based on religious demands (Hook et al., 2009) as the participants emphasised during the interviews that "God will forgive those who forgive others". Forgiveness and reconciliation were also important topics in the testimonies of female Rwandan genocide survivors (Williamson, 2014). Even though "optimism" was considered as a distinct concept of PTG by Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) -it included neither a property of transformation nor a shift of functioning -we interpreted optimism as an outcome. ...
Full-text available
The Sierra Leonean population has faced severe collective traumata (e.g., civil war, Ebola). Although adversities have a devastating impact on people’s lives, there is strong evidence that the struggle with stressful life events can lead to positive changes, which is called posttraumatic growth (PTG). Across many cultures individuals experience PTG. However, the nature of PTG might be influenced by cultural factors. This study aimed to explore PTG in a Sierra Leonean sample using a convergent parallel mixed methods design. The quantitative study investigated the factor structure of the expanded Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI-X). The qualitative study identified emergent PTG themes. In sum, 360 adults reported on their worst experience and completed the PTGI-X; Additionally, 20 participants took part in in-depth interviews. The original factor structure of the PTGI-X did not apply to this Sierra Leonean sample. A one-factor model including 17 items was supported by confirmatory factor analysis. The qualitative findings revealed PTG dimensions that corresponded to the original ones, which were summarised into the domain “individual growth” (tranquillity and trust, achievement motivation, existential apperception, emphasis on values of life, benevolence). A new domain “collective growth”, which reflected societal changes, was found as well. That means, in addition to a personal positive transformation, a social transformation was revealed. The findings indicated that an individualistic measurement such as the PTGI-X falls short to examine growth dimensions in non-Western cultures. A broader definition of PTG might foster the integration of different cultural and collective elements that emerge in response to stressful events.
... Frontiers in Psychology | Ramos and Leal, 2013;Williamson, 2014;Bhat et al., 2015). An alternative explanation relates to positive experiences people may have had during the conflict. ...
Full-text available
The brutal wars in Iraq, Syria and now Ukraine have caused a massive influx of refugees to Europe. Turkey alone has received more than 4.8 million refugees. An important precondition for their economic and social incorporation is trust: refugees need to trust the citizens as well as the state and the justice system to find their place in the host country. Yet refugees’ propensity to trust may be affected by cultural differences between their home and host countries, their personal conflict exposure and the experiences they had on the run. This study investigates how individual differences in exposure to armed conflict and institutional breakdown shape two types of trust among refugees: Generalized social trust and trust in the institutions of the settlement country. We survey a large and diverse sample of refugees from Syria and Iraq living in Turkish communities and deploy well-established measures of conflict exposure, posttraumatic stress, and posttraumatic growth. We find that higher degrees of conflict exposure are positively related to social trust, and to trust in courts and the police. These positive findings are largely driven by refugees who had very personal and emotionally powerful experiences. The psychological mechanism of posttraumatic growth cannot explain these findings, however, suggesting positive experiences of cooperation in the midst of war and displacement are potentially a better explanation for this finding than positive psychological changes resulting from trauma. At the same time, conflict exposure is negatively related to trust in political institutions. Posttraumatic stress may be the mechanism behind this result. We discuss the implications of these findings for the integration of war refugees—a topic that is tragically of great relevance today.
... 18). In a useful contribution about collective PTG, Williamson (2014) reported on the case of survivors of the genocide that took place in Rwanda. The author concluded that PTG at the collective level is about agency and communion, thus highlighting changes in culturally shared ideologies. ...
The expressions resilience and posttraumatic growth represent metaphorical concepts that are typically found in Euro-American contexts. Metaphors of severe adversity or trauma and the expressions of overcoming it vary across cultures—a lacuna, which has not been given much attention in the literature so far. This study aimed to explore the metaphorical concepts that the Indigenous Pitaguary community in Brazil uses to talk about adaptive and positive responses to severe adversity and to relate them to their socio-cultural context. We carried out 14 semi-structured interviews during field research over a one-month period of fieldwork. The data were explored with systematic metaphor analysis. The core metaphors included images of battle, unity, spirituality, journeys, balance, time, sight, transformation, and development. These metaphors were related to context-specific cultural narratives that underlie the Pitaguary ontological perspective on collectivity, nature, and cosmology. The results suggest that metaphors and cultural narratives can reveal important aspects of a culture’s collective mindset. To have a contextualized understanding of expressive nuances is an essential asset to adapt interventions to specific cultures and promote culture-specific healing and recovery processes.
... Weiss and Berger's (2010) edited book on PTG and culturally competent practice contains chapters by researchers from many countries across the world, but the context of Rwanda was noticeable by its absence, although subsequently there has been interest (Arnold, 2011). In our work at the Rwandan Stories of Change research project at the University of Nottingham in England and the University of St Andrews in Scotland, in collaboration with the Aegis Trust 2 and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda in Kigali, we have pioneered qualitative analysis of transcripts from survivors; first with Nicki Hitchcott's doctoral student Caroline Williamson who has gone on to publish her results on women's testimonies (Williamson, 2014;2016), then building on this preliminary work we were able to obtain the AHRC grant to conduct further more in-depth analyses of testimonies and to extend the corpus to include other groups, particularly men and perpetrators of genocide. ...
Full-text available
The aim was to contribute to an understanding of social processes of post-conflict healing, reconciliation and development, by reflecting on what lessons might be taken from posttraumatic growth research to inform trauma practitioners and researchers in Rwanda. Following a theoretical discussion on the implicit assumptions, limitations and dangers of imposing ideas from Western psychology, it is concluded that we might be best advised to turn to humanistic psychology with its person-centered stance of recognizing that it is the people themselves who will be their own best experts.
Cambridge Core - African Studies - Rwanda After Genocide - by Caroline Williamson Sinalo
The metaphorical concepts resilience and post-traumatic growth (PTG) reflect the contemporary Western understanding of overcoming highly challenging life events. However, it is known that across different cultures, a broad range of metaphorical idioms for describing adaptive responses to severe adversity exists. This study aimed to explore and contrast two distinct cultural groups’ culturally shared metaphors for overcoming severe adversities. Fieldwork was conducted in two rural communities: an indigenous Brazilian community that has experienced severe collective adversity and a mountain village in Switzerland that has survived a natural disaster. We carried out separate qualitative metaphor analyses of semistructured interview data from each community. There were some similarities in the metaphorical narratives of the two cultural groups, for example, in metaphors of balance, changed perspective, collective cohesion and life as a journey. The main variations were found in metaphors of magical thinking, equilibrium and organic transformation used by the Brazilian group and metaphors of work, order and material transformation used by the Swiss group. Results from this study suggest that the Western-devised concepts of resilience and PTG can be further expanded, which is highlighted by the variety of culturally shared metaphors. Metaphorical idioms for overcoming severe adversity may be determined by the type of trauma as well as by the sociocultural and historical context. Our findings indicate potential approaches to the cultural adaptation of psychological interventions.
The 1994 Rwandan genocide was a monumental atrocity in which at least 500,000 Tutsi and tens of thousands of Hutu were murdered in less than four months. Since 1994, members of the Rwandan political class who recognise those events as genocide have struggled to account for it and bring coherence to what is often perceived as irrational, primordial savagery. Most people agree on the factors that contributed to the genocide -- colonialism, ethnicity, the struggle to control the state. However, many still disagree over the way these factors evolved, and the relationship between them. This continuing disagreemnt raises questions about how we come to understand historical events -- understandings that underpin the possibility of sustainable peace. Drawing on extensive research among Rwandese in Rwanda and Europe, and on his work with a conflict resolution NGO in post-genocide Rwanda, Nigel Eltringham argues that conventional modes of historical representation are inadequate in a case like Rwanda. Single, absolutist narratives and representations of genocide actually reinforce the modes of thinking that fuelled the genocide in the first place. Eltringham maintains that if we are to understand the genocide, we must explore the relationship between multiple explanations of what happened and interrogate how -- and why -- different groups within Rwandan society talk about the genocide in different ways. Contents: Preface 1. 'Ethnicity': The Permeant Debate 2. The precursor debate 3. The Holocaust: The comparative debate 4. Debating Collective Guilt 5. Unresolved allegations and the culture of impunity 6. Appealing to the past: The debate over history Afterword
In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, both the international community and the government of Rwanda have placed substantial emphasis on the prosecution of alleged perpetrators, in part because they hope that justice will promote social reconstruction. With trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha, Tanzania, in national courts in Belgium and Switzerland, in classical courts in Rwanda, and in an innovative, local judicial system, gacaca, the Rwandan genocide has received greater judicial attention than any other case of mass atrocity in recent history. Because of the military defeat of the regime that carried out the genocide and the willingness of many countries to support judicial processes, a very substantial number of the alleged perpetrators have been apprehended and are awaiting trial. Hence, Rwanda might provide an excellent case for determining whether trials do in fact contribute to reconciliation. Yet each of the judicial initiatives has been beset with problems, and the contribution of the sum of their activities to reconciliation remains unclear. Both international and domestic prosecutions have focused exclusively on the genocide, while war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly perpetrated by some power-holders in the post-genocide regime have been ignored, compromising the appearance of fairness in judicial processes. The Arusha Tribunal has remained detached from Rwandan society, focusing more on legal processes and contributions to international law than on its potential impact within Rwanda. Domestic prosecutions, meanwhile, have been politicized.
I was at a June 2008 conference in Kigali when Rwanda's minister of justice publicly accused Alison Des Forges of becoming "a spokesperson for genocide ideology." She took that in stride. After all, Des Forges was in good company: The government had already accused CARE International, Trócaire, Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Voice of America (VOA) of propagating genocide ideology. Subsequently, the government prevented her from entering the country- without giving any reason. She took that in stride as well. Perhaps Des Forges saw her exclusion as conclusive proof that Rwanda's new law on genocide ideology was, as she had written, an "abusive restriction on free speech" intended to punish any criticism of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) (HRW 2008b, 42). Des Forges never disputed Rwanda's need for laws to prevent hate speech and incitement to genocide. She knew only too well what a real genocide ideology had wrought in 1994. In her tireless efforts to document the genocide and bring génocidaires to justice, she repeatedly emphasized the key role that ideology and "hate media" had played in inciting Rwanda's genocide (Des Forges 2007; Des Forges 1999, 65-95). Yet she was also able to see, more clearly than most, how the RPF was instrumentalizing the genocide-through gacaca and its genocide ideology campaigns-to maintain its hold on power. She worried that in the long run, this could trivialize the genocide and fuel further negationism. This chapter begins by examining the tensions between the government's discourse on reconciliation and its fight against negationism. It then shows how the government's campaign against genocide ideology has taken shape. Next, the chapter looks briefly at the accusations against Des Forges, the BBC, and political opponents. The chapter concludes that the government's misuse of the genocide ideology law to repress political dissent and civil society voices does not augur well for Rwanda's future. © 2011 by the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.
Founded on the principle that all victims of atrocity have a right to justice, contemporary international war crimes tribunals are mandated to prosecute individual suspects from all sides of an armed conflict. This mandate sets these institutions apart from the victor's justice paradigm of the Allied- run Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals. Today's tribunals, of course, are different from those of Nuremberg and Tokyo because they are not operated by the winners of particular armed conflicts. But this difference does not immunize today's tribunals from being effectively controlled by the winning side. A victorious state may, on its own or in conjunction with international allies, thwart a tribunal's prosecution of the state's atrocities. Whereas the Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone tribunals have sought prosecutions from all sides, the Rwanda tribunal has not. As the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) nears the end of its mandate, it has yet to indict a single Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) suspect implicated in the nongenocidal massacres of Hutu civilians in 1994. If moving beyond victor's justice is so fundamental, why has this not occurred at the ICTR Specifically, why have successive ICTR chief prosecutors not indicted RPF suspects? Answering these questions requires addressing the political and legal factors that have shaped the decision of the ICTR prosecutors to forgo targeting RPF suspects. While none of the four ICTR chief prosecutors has issued RPF indictments, each one has approached the RPF question differently. This chapter pays particular attention to the different approaches of three prosecutors and their relationship with the RPF- led government. The first prosecutor, Richard Goldstone (1994-96), focused on securing the cooperation of a testy Rwandan government and avoided opening the volatile issue of investigating the RPF. Carla Del Ponte's tenure at the ICTR (1999-2003) was marked by her vocal and ultimately unsuccessful confrontation with Kigali over her bid to investigate RPF crimes. Hassan Jallow's tenure (2003-present) has been markedly conciliatory toward the Rwandan government. Initially, Jallow was largely silent on the RPF issue, refusing to say whether he would issue RPF indictments. In 2008 he reached an "understanding" with the Rwandan government to forgo tribunal indictments if it conducted a fair trial of RPF suspects who had been under ICTR investigation (Jallow 2008, 11). In seeking an arrangement that suited the interests of the Rwandan government, Jallow has sought to avoid becoming the target of Kigali's wrath and to avert the political crisis that might arise if he tried to prosecute the RPF. At fi rst glance, Jallow's approach appears to resemble the International Criminal Court's (ICC) notion of complementarity in which it prosecutes only if a domestic legal system is unable or unwilling to do so. However, Jallow has abdicated the ICTR's responsibility to ensure that individuals from all sides of the Rwandan conflict face international trial for violations of international humanitarian law. Moving beyond the victor's justice paradigm at the ICTR proved particularly difficult because of the strategic opposition of the Rwandan government. This opposition has been bolstered by three factors. First, the Tutsi- led RPF government has garnered significant international backing for its self- declared status as representative and rescuer of Tutsi victims of the 1994 genocide. Second, the government has likened calls for RPF prosecutions to genocide denial and genocide ideology (Article 19 2009; HRW 2008, 92). Finally, the government has intimidated the tribunal by blocking prosecution witnesses from testifying in genocide trials. © 2011 by the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.
In the mid-1990s, civil war and genocide ravaged Rwanda. Since then, the country's new leadership has undertaken a highly ambitious effort to refashion Rwanda's politics, economy, and society, and the country's accomplishments have garnered widespread praise. Remaking Rwanda is the first book to examine Rwanda's remarkable post-genocide recovery in a comprehensive and critical fashion. By paying close attention to memory politics, human rights, justice, foreign relations, land use, education, and other key social institutions and practices, this volume raises serious concerns about the depth and durability of the country's reconstruction. Edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf, Remaking Rwanda brings together experienced scholars and human rights professionals to offer a nuanced, historically informed picture of post-genocide Rwanda-one that reveals powerful continuities with the nation's past and raises profound questions about its future. © 2011 by the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.
Outcomes Following TraumaApplication to Different PopulationsCentral Role of Meaning-Making to Postevent AdaptationClinical Applications from a Growth PerspectiveSummary
This is a timely empirical study and review of the Gacaca Courts which were established in 2001 in Rwanda as an attempt to prosecute suspects involved in the 1994 genocide. Based on the author's original field work which began in 2003 in Rwanda and which has been updated to the end of 2009, it includes responses from within the Rwandan population. Dr. Clark argues that, despite widespread international scepticism, the Gacaca process has achieved remarkable results in terms of justice and reconciliation, although this has often come at a price, especially the re-traumatisation of many Rwandans who have participated firsthand in hearings. This book will appeal to a wide global readership crossing human rights, transitional justice and African studies for its combination of original empirical data with a socio-legal analysis.