Sujit Thomas

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

New York U.

Grant number

Gr. 10034

Approve Date

August 26, 2020

Project Title

Thomas, Sujit (New York U.) "Trauma Between Concept and Experience: Neuroscientific Engagements in American Psychiatry"

This project examines how the meaning and experience of ‘trauma’ are being reinvented in the US today. Using neuroimaging technologies, neuroscientists, trauma patients and psychiatrists are contributing in different ways to the redefinition of trauma. Since 1980, scientific, psychiatric and popular discourse on ‘trauma’ has been dominated by the diagnostic category ‘Post-traumatic Stress Disorder’ (PTSD) informed by patient self-reports. As neuroscientific models colonize psychiatry, however, scientists are questioning this construct: they seek a more objective and biological definition of ‘trauma’. This challenge comes at a time when ‘trauma’ looms large in American culture. Today ‘trauma’ is invoked broadly in debates over asylum seekers, safe spaces, narratives of sexual harassment, etc. ‘Trauma’ seems irreducibly subjective and resistant to objective measures. Scientific and medical spaces are not immune to these currents. Scientists and psychiatrists struggle to establish a universal, neurologically-grounded definition of ‘trauma’ while also accommodating a range of personal traumatic experiences. Through fieldwork in two sites I analyze this tension in the emerging neuroscientific paradigm in ‘trauma’ research. I focus on (i) the emergence of new interdisciplinary collaborations (ii) the improvisation of experimental protocols to admit the subjective experience of patients and (iii) the testing of alternative treatments like psychedelic therapy.