Grassroots Peace: Postconflict Reconstruction in Rural Colombia
Casey Ehrlich, Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dissertation Fellowship, 2014
This project focuses on grassroots peacebuilding efforts across 182 rural villages in Eastern Antioquia, Colombia. For nearly a decade, these villages were caught on the frontlines of the civil conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), paramilitary groups, and Colombian state forces. Despite their proximity, villages experienced different types of armed occupation and levels of violence wielded against civilians. Since the conflict subsided in this region, villages have also revealed variation in their community reconstruction patterns. In some villages, residents worked together to demine public spaces, rebuild basic infrastructure, and exhume the bodies of the disappeared. Meanwhile, other neighboring villages did not organize their communities to rebuild infrastructure and guarantee common security. This juxtaposition sparks an important research question that has not been examined by peacebuilding scholars or social scientists: What accounts for variation in grassroots peacebuilding efforts in the postconflict landscape? This dissertation examines this question by tracing the relationship between local conflict dynamics and subsequent village-level peacebuilding efforts.
Numerous international peacebuilding missions have failed to establish sustainable peace precisely because they have ignored local dynamics, both in transitions from war and in postwar environments.
Despite a rich body of academic literature on civil wars, social scientific studies have seldom focused on postconflict settings. Existing research on postconflict settings has focused on top-down peace programming and failed to consider the theoretical link between conflict dynamics and postconflict outcomes. By studying local reconstruction activities across villages in Colombia, and implementing a comparative, theoretically driven study of the relationship between these outcomes and local conflict dynamics, this dissertations argues for a more explicit link between a conflict setting and its postconflict landscape. Further, this dissertation delineates how conflict dynamics affect reconstruction efforts through the trust, informal institutions and social networks of villages.
Finally, I offer a conceptualization of grassroots peacebuilding and a theoretical framework to help scholars, policymakers, and practitioners understand and identify informal or small-scale reconstruction processes led by ordinary people. Numerous international peacebuilding missions have failed to establish sustainable peace precisely because they have ignored local dynamics, both in transitions from war and in postwar environments. Although international policy circles have advocated for greater attention to micro-level causes of conflict and bottom-up reconstruction processes, systematic research has yet to be conducted on this topic and scholars continue to focus on elite-led peace operations. My dissertation fills these gaps, while providing generalizable insights relevant to the international community and countries transitioning from war to peace.