Title: Intimates and Strangers: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru
Name: Kimberly Theidon
Anthropology Department
Harvard University
Peabody Museum
11 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
ktheidon@wjh.harvard.edu
Year: 2000
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

This comparative community-based study focused on the micropolitics of reconciliation practiced at the communal and intercommunal levels, as well as the factors that facilitate or hinder the reconstruction of social relationships and coexistence in the aftermath of fratricidal violence. How rural villagers in Ayacucho understand the political violence that has molded life since 1980, as well as the mandate to kill that arose within the context of the armed conflict between the Shining Path guerrilla, the Peruvian armed forces and the rondas campesinas - the armed civil defense patrols organized by rural villagers as a response to the "revolution"- were explored during the course of the study. Understanding the forms of violence both suffered and practiced when addressing peace building and reconciliation in the post-war period were important to this study. This was a war fought between "intimate enemies" - between neighbors, family members, communities.

Exploring how the context of war shapes moral life, challenging notions of acceptable human conduct and the meaning of living in a human community were priorities to the study. I utilized a genealogical approach for analyzing how the origins of moral interpretations are context-specific rather than absolute. Indeed, the shifting moral frameworks villagers recount draw upon elements of Catholic and Evangelical Christianity, psychocultural themes and the appropriation of extralocal discourses both in the process of militarizing and demilitarizing daily life.

Among the conflict resolution tools available to villagers are the public airing of grievances, actos de conciliación that seek compromise between aggrieved parties, laws to regulate divisive gossip, and the practice of arrepentimiento - the communal act of confessing one's actions and requesting pardon from one's peers. The study traced the reincorporation of the arrepentidos ("the repentant ones" - literally, the ex-guerrilla) back into communal life. Additionally, the research analyzed psychocultural themes, which emphasize the mutability of individual identity, underscoring the possibility of reclaiming community members who have "fallen out of humanity."

Material conditions play an important role in these practices. Tamayo Flores, in her study of customary law in Peru, notes the importance of communal forms of work such as faenas and ayni (Tamayo Flores 1992). These communal forms of labor establish interdependence among the villagers who participate in them, and they are practiced due to the harsh geography of the region, which makes the introduction of technology almost impossible. Thus the recourse to communal labor is a necessity for survival, requiring cooperation between families and villages. Indeed, one term for the ex-Senderistas who have been incorporated into the village is "runa masinchik" - people we work with.

In her book Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, Martha Minow analyzes societal responses to collective violence. She discusses the concept of restorative justice, suggesting it is based upon Christian notions of forgiveness and the reclaiming of humanity (Minow 1995). Her analysis had tremendous resonance with the practices of arrepentimiento and reconciliation practiced in northern Ayacucho. However, this project extend Minow's argument by noting that villagers administer both retributive and restorative justice, illustrating the veracity of Hannah Arendt's maxim that it is difficult for man to forgive what he cannot punish.

Additionally, villagers differentiate between "forgiveness" and "reconciliation. The perpetrator must ask for forgiveness (perdón) in front of the community in a General Assembly. Community members judge if the request for perdón "comes from the heart or from the mouth outward." Forgiveness must also come from the heart. Villagers insist that no body can force one person to forgive another; it is a subjective state.

In contrast, villagers define reconciliation as coexistence. It consists of restoring sociability and the trust necessary to cooperate with others on collective life projects. It is a social state that responds to the exigencies of daily life and the idea that after repenting the person is no longer who they were before. Rather, the "arrepentidos" are musaq runakuna - new people.

Bibliography: Theidon, Kimberly. Forthcoming, 2004. Entre Prójimos: La política de la reconciliación en el Perú. Instituto de Estudios Peruanos: Lima, Perú.
Theidon, Kimberly. 2003. "Disarming the Subject: Remembering War and Imagining Citizenship in Peru." Cultural Critique, No. 54. 67-87.
Theidon, Kimberly. 2001. "Terror’s Talk: Fieldwork and War." Dialectical Anthropology 26(1):19-35.