Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

¿La paz es ahora? Examining peace and violence

Convened by PGR students Alba Griffin (School of Modern Languages) and Diana Morales (School of Geography, Politics and Sociology)

The aim of the CLACS Conference ‘¿La paz es ahora? Examining the question of peace and violence’ was to bring together scholars from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss what we really mean when we talk about peace, and about violence, in the Colombian context. And this was what we achieved. Dr Rory O’Bryen from Cambridge University opened the conference with a consideration of some of the narratives, rituals, discourses and sites that have been mobilised and appropriated not only to frame questions of violence and peace, but also to problematize the effects of such frameworks. Discussions throughout the day ranged from meditations on the applicability of our theoretical concepts (what is the state and according to who?) to analyses of case studies where in some cases everyday peacebuilding has been put into practice (how do the Indigenous Guard in Northern Cauca do it?) and in other cases grand corruption continues unimpeded by grand gestures of peace. The practices of various state institutions, from lawmakers to educators, were compared and contrasted to those of activists, artists and filmmakers, with special attention paid to how different groups in different situations perceive and respond to questions of memory, human rights and media narratives.

The significance of the papers related not only to the attention paid to different contexts of peace and violence in Colombia, nor just to the forms that mediate these discourses, but in particular to the consideration of the people who find themselves implicated: disenchanted schoolchildren aware of being instrumentalised to sell a particular vision of peace, young people involved in the illegal extraction of gold whose narratives contradict standard approaches childhood and war, academics politicised by their appointment as mediators of historical narratives.

Speaking to those who attended the conference it was also clear that these were questions and discussions that were not limited to the Colombian context. These are questions that need to be addressed on a broader scale, in Latin America and elsewhere. People spoke about comparisons with peace processes in Central America, years ahead in terms of the signing of peace agreements but still plagued by continuing violences. This is perhaps unsurprising given the difficulties of recognising multiple violences and the reticence of the state in many countries to come to terms with their own role in reproducing violence. Indeed, another participant was reminded of the French context and the silence of the state over the crimes committed by them during the Algerian War. Thus, while peace is a powerful aim and ideal to hold on to, the conference reminded us of the vigilance required to continue to point to continuing violences, to see through the discourses that are politicised for ideological purposes, to question everything and to take seriously what peace means, taking inspiration from both the large and small scale interventions that are at least trying to move towards a situation not just of peace as a performance, but of non-violence as a reality.

La paz es ahora programme (PDF 445KB)

La paz es ahora collated abstracts (PDF 504KB)

Alba Griffin, Conference Organiser