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The loss and making of place in Colombia

Focusing on two cases of resettlement in rural Cundinamarca, Colombia, this book examines how displaced campesinos (peasants) make sense of their displacement. The book is based on ten months of fieldwork employing ethnographic methods working, living and sharing with the displaced and the receiving populations. The book calls for a more nuanced understanding of displacement and suggests that people’s complex experiences are best understood through the prism of place, examining people’s lives both pre- and post- physical relocation. The core of the book draws on people’s narratives which are embedded in the broader socio-political and historic context of the country. These narratives depict life in violence and terror, the journeys to the current hamlets, the burden, consequences and the symbolism associated with the category desplazado (internally displaced person), the process of place negotiation between the displaced and the receiving populations who each claim their right to belonging, the challenges the displaced encounter in their attempts to tame unknown terrains, and how the nostalgic memories of the place left behind and the still present fear shape individuals’ lives. The gradual loss of place to violence and terror and subsequent process of place-making after uprooting demonstrate that displacement is not an event which starts with movement and ends with resettlement or return, but is a process whose timeframes are difficult to define.

IDP community under question

96 7 Displacement hierarchies: IDP community under question After the first run of vote counting, Don Eduardo did not get a place in the local council. Before the election a number of candidates invited their relatives to register their cédulas (identification documents) in the municipality where they did not normally live to be able to cast a vote for their family member. Some political parties allegedly organised transportation for people to come from elsewhere and vote for their representative or they paid for people’s expenses. Even though some of Don

in Living displacement

33 3 Displacement as an unwinding process Speaking of displacement, Alejandra remembers the disappearance of her mother at the end of the 1980s. Only one of her mother’s shoes, a sandal, was found at the entrance of the house –​all other traces were lost. Alejandra, who is now in her early thirties, was nine years old when her mother vanished. Her mother’s friend, Martina, took her in but she treated her differently to her own four children. As a result Alejandra feels she never had childhood. She dreams of going back to Urabá, but not so much to the place

in Living displacement
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End of displacement?

159 11 Conclusion: end of displacement? ‘We are desplazados for life,’ said Carlita, 11  years old, born and raised in Esperanza. After four years of peace negotiations between the government led by Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC, the two parties signed a peace accord in November 2016. In February 2017, Santos’ administration additionally started official negotiations with ELN. Peace negotiations with the guerrilla groups are long due and are a welcome change to the previous government’s announcement of the guerrillas as terrorists and subsequent declaration

in Living displacement
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Reconceptualising displacement

1 1 Introduction: reconceptualising displacement …no one lives in the world in general. (Geertz 1996: 262) At the end of 2016, Colombia counted more than seven million people displaced due to violence and conflict, a number which places it at the very top of the global statistics. The recurrent nature of the phenomenon, which has shaped the country’s demographics, makes displacement seem a natural occurrence. A somewhat contradictory process is going on. The greater the number of the displaced, the more desensitised Colombian society seems to be towards

in Living displacement

73 5 The making of a desplazado Displacement in Colombia has a long history; nevertheless, it was only in the mid-​ 1990s when the desplazados were born. Desplazado, a word that even at the beginning of the 1990s was hardly ever heard, is now an established and frequently utilised expression. It gained prominence after it had become part of legislation and an official category denoting those who have left their places of residence due to violence, persecution and fear. Since then, the term has become part of the general vocabulary, used not only by the

in Living displacement
The quest for relational belonging

place’ (Low and Altman 1992: 17). That is to say, people we share places with determine whether we feel welcome, supported and, ultimately, safe. Not all relations matter in the same way. Yet in small settings, such as rural hamlets, where the number of inhabitants is low and where everyone knows each 110 Living displacement 110 other, even the weaker social ties bear greater value due to the intimacy of the setting. How those already settled in a place receive the displaced greatly affects the displaced’s sense of belonging to the place. At the same time, the

in Living displacement
The struggle for land

the great struggle it took to negotiate land in the two hamlets. The last part of the chapter examines the role policy has in keeping people in place or compelling them out of their place. It shows that the unequal power relations which were involved in the negotiation of plots continue shaping the journeys and consequently displacement experiences. The first fragments of the journey to Esperanza Despite violence, threats and death, the decision to leave is not an easy one to take. It entails leaving behind the product of years of hard work, cradle of memories, a

in Living displacement
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To be or not to be

being a ‘category of practice’ (Brubaker and Cooper 2000). Through self-​identification as desplazados, the displaced are contributing to the category’s meaning, circulation and life. There is something in the manner in which being a displaced is conveyed. Spanish has two verbs which correspond to the English verb ‘to be’, namely ser 86 86 Living displacement and estar. ‘Estar’ refers to temporary character and ‘ser’ to a more permanent one. When referring to themselves as desplazados, the displaced employ the verb ‘ser’. Language creates realities and the use of

in Living displacement

1995: 139). Participants can also distrust the objectives behind the research. No fieldwork process is perfect and without challenges but it is also not ‘fatally flawed’ (Magolda 2000:  210). My time in Porvenir and Esperanza was marked by a number of different challenges. Some were of emotional character. I  felt 16 Living displacement 16 powerlessness in the face of participants’ situations. Even though I was clear about my lack of power, I felt and still feel a sense of guilt that I have moved on in life while the fate of my participants has not changed. Some

in Living displacement