Collective Narratives, Individual Trauma, and Emotion Work: How Survivors of Typhoon Morakot Negotiated with Conflicting Frames of Memory

Ming-Cheng Lo, University of California, Davis
Yun Fan, National Taiwan University

In 2009, Typhoon Morakot caused massive destruction to many villages in Taiwan, most of which were aboriginal communities. In its aftermath, state officials focused on defending their reconstruction policies. Major news media told a story of government incompetence. A small number of intellectuals and activists viewed Morakot as an illustration of the long-term social and environmental injustice suffered by the aboriginal tribes. Drawing on 48 in-depth interviews with Morakot survivors, we ask how Morakot survivors negotiated with these macro narratives. Our findings suggest that most Morakot survivors drew upon the “government incompetency” frame. They positioned themselves as rational participants in civil society and envisioned a better future through voting and grassroots civic engagement. Their frame resonated with the mainstream society, but their silences on racialized injustice entailed self-censorship and related emotion work. A very small minority of interviewees invoked the “social and environmental injustice frame.” They discussed the historical and political context that manufactured aboriginal tribes’ environmental crises and cultural marginalization. They found hope in resisting state policies and capitalist projects. This oppositional stand invited hostility from state agencies and large NGOs, but these survivors displayed pride and righteous anger, defying the emotional rules imposed on disaster victims. A third of our interviewees hybridized these two frames by embracing sustainable development as a vision for the future while downplaying past environmental and cultural racism. They experienced mixed emotions. As the literature informs us, trauma narratives describe the protagonists, the event, and the event’s context. Thinner messages, which focus on the first two, can reach a wider audience; thicker messages, which place the actors and the key events in nuanced contexts, tend to be more divisive. However, little is known about how individual survivors of a traumatic event interacted with different macro narratives. Our study of Morakot survivors addresses this gap.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 230. Culture Logics and Frames