The hermeneutics of suffering: researching trauma

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Rich B Hovey
Nida Amir


Researchers need to stand amidst traumatized people to learn from them to begin to understand the meaning of their suffering. Distance is lessened and listening intensified as researchers ask the question of what it means to suffer. Through this paper, we explore as compassionate researchers, the meaning of suffering, its language and consequence with the intention to understand, inform, enlighten and challenge ourselves to learn from each other. We offer a perspective for human science research created through a hermeneutic consciousness about suffering where understanding takes its form analytically as an interpretation, of an interpretation. This unquiet understanding, a chaotic bricolage of suffering was brought together hermeneutically to unify a diversity of suffering narratives within the context of honoring personal narratives, while confronting the challenges of academic writing.  “I do not think realizing that we who [suffer] are utterly lost and broken, necessarily causes despair. What breaks us is the impression that everyone else isn't”. Our work as researchers, writers and teachers then becomes bringing the meaning of suffering into language and understanding what challenges us to confront and humanize research beyond academic expectations of “…clean and reasonable scholarship about messy, unreasonable experiences”. The hermeneutics of suffering prevents personal narratives from becoming “an exercise in alienation”, but rather as an invitation for humanizing conversations about suffering, where their unique qualities and characteristics are brought back interpretively into the world. We belong to our suffering; it humanizes all worldly activities through a common ‘rough-ground’ from which we can become more compassionate, generous and open to the experiences of others. A committed engagement between the researcher and the people who suffer, together becoming experienced about the many faces of suffering, deconstructing its complexity and thus co-creating a deeper understanding how to communicate, respond, share language, and learn from each other. 

Article Details

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Author Biographies

Rich B Hovey, McGill University

Associate professorOral Health & Society Unit, Faculty of DentistryMcGill University

Nida Amir

BDSDivision of Oral Health and SocietyFaculty of DentistryMcGill University,Montreal, QC. Canada


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