The politics of the production of knowledge on trauma: the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Through an analysis of data obtained from research carried out with the bereaved families of Grenfell Tower and residents of North Kensington, this article demonstrates that the Grenfell community’s knowledge on the causes that led to the fire is being systematically excluded by the Inquiry.

The article discusses the four main ways in which this is happening. Through its exclusionary practices, the Inquiry is representing a diversion from the principles set by the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and is creating conditions that will impede its ability to fulfil the purpose for which it was established. By linking Foucault’s power/knowledge theory and critical trauma studies, it is demonstrated that the Inquiry is reflecting a central dynamic that exists in processes of knowledge production on trauma. The lens of knowledge known to people who have undergone trauma is recognized as a critical research tool in revealing legal mechanisms of knowledge exclusion.

This article demonstrates, using data from research conducted with the bereaved families of Grenfell Tower and residents of North Kensington, that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (henceforth the Inquiry) is systematically excluding the community’s knowledge from its investigation. Through data analysis, the ways in which the community’s knowledge is excluded from the Inquiry’s proceeding are explored and the significance of this exclusion is examined.

This is achieved by locating the Inquiry within a broader context of proceedings that produce accepted knowledge on traumatic events linked to social oppression. These include, for example, traumatic events related to gender-based violence, racism, and classism. The concepts ‘trauma’ and ‘social oppression’ are defined. Through this context, it is shown that in these proceedings, the exclusion of knowledge known to the people who experienced the trauma is a common dynamic and that it is also central to the Inquiry in question.

The validity of a theory that explains this dynamic is examined throughout the article. It is proposed that the exclusion of knowledge known to people who have undergone trauma that is linked to social oppression, from proceedings in which public narratives on the trauma are produced, enables the construction of narratives that protect rather than challenge the status quo. Those who experienced a social oppression-related trauma hold crucial knowledge on the ways in which the status quo enables different forms of violence against certain groups of people to take place. Leaving their knowledge outside of a narrative-constructing proceeding frees it from contest and enables the production of a narrative that shields and is aligned with the status quo.