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The Australian National University

Ms Catherine Smith

Position: PhD candidate in Anthropology


Phone: +61 2 6125 6764

Thesis title: War, Medicine and Morality in Aceh: An ethnography of ‘trauma’ as an idiom of distress.

Despite long being surrounded by controversy, trauma remains a pervasive medical-moral idiom to explain suffering and distress.  Anthropologists have often been critical of the globalisation of medicalised subjectivities such as trauma, and yet few have sought to examine how the concept of trauma itself transforms as it travels through different cultural and political milieu.  This project is a grounded ethnographic study of how this globalised trauma construct plays out in the moral imagination in post-conflict Aceh, Indonesia.

Through women’s life histories and ethnography, I explore the meanings that trauma carries as a loanword used in both clinical and everyday contexts in Aceh.  I approach trauma as an adopted idiom of distress that is animated by broader Acehnese sensibilities of suffering, emancipation, illness and the body.  I discuss the ways that my Acehnese interlocutors use the idiom trauma to reflect on and problematise their own experiences of violent conflict, their understandings of the body and their expectations of the social role of medicine.  Bringing together critical medical anthropology with the anthropology of violence, this project is a case study of the ways through which medicine and illness become reimagined, challenged and reconfigured through the suffering of war.

Research interests:                                  
Medical anthropology
Political subjectivity and the body                 
The anthropology of violence
Islam and medicine
Emotion and epistemology
Person-centred ethnography
Oral history
Aceh, Indonesia, Malaysia



Updated: 29 June 2011/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher