"Memory is the strength of our resistance": A Critical Performance Geography of Peace, Memory, Territory, and Politics in the San José Peace Community, Colombia Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 19, 2019
  • Courtheyn, Christopher
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • This dissertation traces the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, located in the war-torn Urabá region, Colombia. Since 1997, this group of small-scale farmers has resisted forced displacement, the assassination of 15% of their population, and co- optation by paramilitary, state, and guerrilla forces. In contrast to passive notions of ‘tranquility’ or ‘no war,’ Peace Community members define peace actively as a) refusing to collaborate with any armed group and b) building community. Peace is often associated with state diplomacy and military operations, as in the current negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas. Yet the Peace Community demonstrates that peace is an embodied, material, and spatial process that can be produced by non-state actors through everyday ethical practices that cultivate dignified living conditions. To resist the racist-capitalist violence of today’s global land grab, the Peace Community cultivates cash and food crops in work groups on common land, makes decisions in village meetings and general assemblies, and participates in human rights and seed-sharing networks. In so doing, the Peace Community produces an alter- territory: a moving set of spatial practices, places, and values that produce a particular political subject. Furthermore, their memory practices are central to their creation of a communal Peace Community subject. By commemorating assassinated farmers with pilgrimages to massacre sites and stones painted with victims’ names, they nurture internal cohesion, build solidarity with allies, and re-affirm an ethic that rejects retaliatory killing. I call this radical trans-relational peace: dignity and solidarity created through trans-community networks. This dissertation draws from my prior work in San José de Apartadó as a protective accompanier from 2008-2010 as well as 49 interviews conducted during 16 months of fieldwork in Colombia between 2011-2016. Methodologically, this project combines a) structural analysis rooted in feminist geopolitics, critical race theory, and world-systems analysis with b) critical and performance ethnography’s political reflexivity, co-performative witness in the field, and staged performances of ethnographic data. I call this critical and performance geography, a creative, embodied, and ethically-grounded methodology that integrates critical theory and political action research to advance the emergent “pro-peace agenda” in contemporary critical human geography.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Cravey, Altha
  • Reyes, Alvaro
  • Alexander Craft, Renee
  • Escobar, Arturo
  • Gökarıksel, Banu
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

This work has no parents.