The Poetics of Narrativity: Understanding Trauma, Temporality and Spatiality 40 years after the Birmingham Pub Bombings

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  • University of Bristol


This article explores the social history of the Birmingham Pub Bombings (UK). In addition to individual losses and injuries, the bombings triggered widespread anti-Irish prejudice and violence, wrongful convictions and community tensions. The resultant disharmony within the city of Birmingham lasted for generations, while the voices of communities not directly involved in the events of November 21, 1974, have mostly remained silent. This article offers new lessons in the historical construction of trauma and how we make sense of traumatic events. Using original oral history interviews and witness seminars, it explores the layers of trauma that have been transmitted socially, politically, spatially, and intergenerationally. It begins by first focusing on the temporal and spatial dimensions of this local history, which reveal how the reconfiguring of temporalities can be used to locate an inner voice for British postwar, urban, social history. Then, it contextualizes individual and collective experiences of the Birmingham Pub Bombings in order to reveal the ways in which traumatic experiences are placed within a narrative form that orders and facilitates the integration of past trauma within the present. As such, we argue that the poetics of narrativity—or the narrative framing of how and when trauma memories are told, heard, and negotiated—has the potential to pull together a richer, more inclusive, community history.

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© Crown copyright 2019 This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 (


Original languageEnglish
Article numbershz004
JournalJournal of Social History
Early online date10 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Apr 2019