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Disarming the Subject: Remembering War and Imagining Citizenship in Peru

Kimberly Theidon

Center for Latin American Studies
Stanford University

War and its aftermath serve as powerful motivators for the elaboration and transmission of individual, communal and national histories. These histories both reflect and constitute human experience as they contour social memory and produce their truth effects. These histories use the past in a creative manner, combining and recombining elements of that past in service to interests in the present. In this sense, the conscious appropriation of history involves both memory and forgetting — both being dynamic processes permeated with intentionality.

In this essay the author explores the political use of the narratives being elaborated in rural villages in the department of Ayacucho regarding the internal war that convulsed Peru for some fifteen years. She suggests that each narrative has a political intent and assumes both an internal and external audience. Indeed, the deployment of war narratives has much to do with forging new relations of power, ethnicity and gender that are integral to the contemporary politics of the region. She argues that these new relations impact the construction of democratic practices and the model of citizenship being elaborated in the current context.

Equally, these narratives serve as a central component in the elaboration of local and national identities, taking the heroic war epic as the structure that guides both the form and the content of these histories. This epic style emphasizes masculine heroism, and has been canonized not only in these communities but in the academic literature as well.[1] The “homogenizing” of these narratives has obscured alternative experiences and understandings of the war, compacting polyphonic memories into the dominant war story paradigm (Cooke 1996). Indeed, this masculine version of the war — of ronderos defending their villages, defeating Sendero Luminoso and establishing new democratic practices and demands for citizenship — obscures the disjunctive and contradictory construction of citizenship in these villages[2]. Kimberly Theidon argues that these disjunctions reflect the axes of differentiation that operate within these villages — axes that include gender, generation and ethnicity.

[1] For example, see Degregori, Carlos Ivan et al., 1996.
[2] Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) is the Maoist inspired guerrilla group that began its armed effort to overthrow the Peruvian state in 1980. The rondas campesinas are the armed peasant patrols that exist in rural villages. 
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