The Social Uses of Trauma: Establishing and Expanding Veterans Treatment Courts in Minnesota


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The US punishes violent crime more harshly than other affluent nations, driving mass incarceration and doing little to curb the country’s high rates of violence. Against this punitive trend in policy and practice, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) provide military veterans with rehabilitation-focused supervision instead of incarceration. Through ethnography and discourse analysis, this study analyzes this political anomaly, asking how the VTC campaign managed to secure and implement less punitive policies for veterans accused of violent crime. Core to this campaign’s success was its unique engagement with the resonant discourse of trauma. VTC advocates adapted combat trauma discourse to recontexualize causal stories of violent crime. Doing so gave these stories political utility, but simultaneously supported the creation of symbolic and legal boundaries around “meritorious” trauma claims. This project enhances understanding of the parameters and possibilities of contemporary uses of trauma, particularly in the pursuit of justice reform.