Disarming the Subject: Remembering War and Imagining
Citizenship in Peru
Center for Latin American Studies
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.
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.
Kimberly Theidon argues that these disjunctions reflect the axes of differentiation
that operate within these villages — axes that include gender, generation
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