Dr Emma Hutchison
Dr Emma Hutchison
23 December 2008

Trauma may be the key to healing the world, according to UQ researcher and Shorncliffe local Dr Emma Hutchison.

Completed through UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies, Dr Hutchison’s PhD found traumatic events could construct forms of community in world politics.

“I examined how the emotional dimensions of witnessing trauma can pull people together, in spite of cultural or geographical distance,” she said.

“I examined literatures from a range of different disciplines to show how representations of individual trauma and emotion can abet the construction of political community.

“I then illustrated the issues at stake by analysing the role that photographic representations employed by media and non-governmental aid organisations played in generating the substantial transnational community following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.”

Dr Hutchison’s scholarly interest in the politics and ethics of alleviating human hardship and suffering was inspired by her own traumatic experience.

“As a teenager I was diagnosed with renal failure and lived on dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant at age 20,” she said.

“While my transplant has been successful, living with a chronic medical condition is never easy.

“I constantly contemplate the nature of pain, wondering, and hoping, that suffering need not be as solitary as so many scholars contend.”

For Dr Hutchison, undertaking a PhD proved the perfect opportunity to dig up academic evidence in support of her personal hypothesis.

“This research demonstrated that although trauma is commonly conceptualised as a solitary experience, it can also help to construct forms of community,” she said.

“In particular circumstances, processes of representing trauma – such as stories told by survivors or visual representations like photographs, art and film – can make trauma collectively meaningful, and in doing so can reshape important emotional and communal connections.

“These findings are of significance to a range of scholarly and practical endeavours, from understanding the motives and behaviours of nation-states and other key actors in international relations, inquiries into terrorism, international security and cooperation to engagements with more normative issues, such as humanitarian intervention, international justice and the politics of reconciliation.”

A three-time World Transplant Games swimming competitor and spokesperson for Transplant Australia and Queenslanders Donate, Dr Hutchison is continuing her research in the area of trauma, emotion and international relations at UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies.

Her PhD study was co-supervised by Professor Roland Bleiker, Dr Barbara Sullivan and Dr Prue Ahrens.

Media: Dr Hutchison (07 3365 3308, 0403 345 766, e.hutchison@uq.edu.au) or Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)