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Culture and Symbolic Reparation in Transitional Colombia:

State and Grassroots Initiatives of Memory and Reconciliation.

In countries passing through transitional justice processes, the construction of a post conflict society entails going beyond mechanisms for the demobilization of illegal armed groups and the economic reparation of victims, to the creation of a culture of inclusion, peace and reconciliation by state and civil society actors. Within this process, initiatives of symbolic reparation constitute a central element. Yet, scholarship and public debates on transitional justice mostly address symbolic reparation by focusing on official memory and truth commissions and the politics of truth telling. Little is known about how cultural initiatives contribute to peace building; about the effectiveness and impact of symbolic reparation initiatives, particularly among marginalized ethnic groups and displaced populations; or about the role of civil society in creating spaces for debate and civic participation among diverse social sectors through the resources of culture, and how this process can contribute to reconciliation.

This project articulates multi-sited ethnographic research and digital humanities documentation methodologies to illuminate the links between culture, reparation and reconciliation at a key moment in Colombia’s history, when thousands of victims of the armed conflict still wait for their rights to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence to be guaranteed. Despite the peace agreement signed on November 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), many regions continue to be epicenters of human rights violations affecting particularly social and environmental leaders, ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups. During 2017, a total of 138 social leaders were assassinated according to a resent report by CINEP (Center for Research and Popular Education). In the Pacific coast region, an area of particular interest in this project, black and indigenous communities counted for 76.3% (5,640 out of 7,400) of Colombia’s total forcibly displaced population during 2017, according to Colombia’s Office of the Ombudsman. A context of exclusion, institutional neglect and invisibility has intensified the risks these communities face.

Within this context, this project explores the potential of cultural practices of memory for mending the social fabric, promoting justice, revitalizing community ties and building lasting reconciliation in vulnerable regions. It focuses on practices that constitute nodes of what conflict transformation, a notion proposed by Paul Lederach (2013) to refer to those practices that respond to violence by “transforming it into life enhancing opportunities to create constructive change”. This digital platform documents and makes visible what I call the “cultural ecologies” of symbolic reparation: a complex assemblage of memory initiatives that have proliferated in the current transitional justice conjuncture, from documentaries and photography exhibitions by which state institutions restore the dignity of victims, to grassroots memory processes promoting the recovery of ancestral agroecological practices to help displaced families face their concrete needs. The platform serves as repository of documentation, interviews and analytical insights and reflections. Using curatorial techniques, its central aim is to make the research process accessible and to give visibility to initiatives that are making important contributions to memory construction and national reconciliation, as well as to the different actors, strategies, and processes involved. The platform leverages digital humanities tools to bring the result of the dissertation into the public sphere in an accessible format. It emerges from the strong belief that visual and sensual data is as powerful a tool as words can be. You are invited as a reader to explore the complex initiatives here documented, a process that has emerged through a dialogue with the extraordinary social actors, leaders and activists who have shared their experiences and knowledges for us to learn.