An Unpredictable Past : Guerrillas, Mayas, and the Location of Oblivion in War-Torn Guatemala
Abstract: The concept of resistance is analytically outdated. In an emergent anthropology of contemporary warfare and the experience of political violence, concepts like coping and negotiation are adopted to encompass the pragmatics of human agency in times of social unrest, flight, and militarily monitored mass destruction. But "resistance" is nevertheless perpetuated in the self-imagery of warring parties and politically organized groups of refugees as, for instance, among internally displaced and rebel-affiliated communities in the Maya Ixil area of highland Guatemala. There, resistance defined the very being of the living as opposed to the non-resisting dead, and the difference between "us" among the displaced and "them" in or under the army. Resistance was also conceived of as a place, and it thereby tapped into the notions of familiarity and interdependency of a pre-war Maya cosmology. In the dissertation the relationship between Maya and guerrilla during the Guatemalan war is extensively discussed in terms of occasionally conflating rather than mutually exclusive categories of social and political identity. The rejection among analysts of the concept of resistance is explained through reference to a post–Cold War paradigm shift that resulted in the equation of Maya with neutral victim caught between two armies. In this paradigm, the people under study here (i.e., Mayas and guerrillas at the same time) represent a contradiction in terms.In a challenge to strategies for containing war in time and space, the dissertation focuses on the interplay of local, national, and global agents in the socio-political design of the displaced communities (thereby challenging strategies of spatial containment) on the one hand, and processes of mobilization, defection, and peace-time disarmament (challenging strategies of temporal containment) on the other. Such a focus on the problematic contours of war, combined with a double attention to both structure and agency, is outlined as a model for the interpretation of political and ethnic processes of mobilization. It aims at an understanding of past events, and, further, at understanding the re-evaluation of decisions to rebel, and why, in the 1990s, defection and neutrality became attractive political options in Guatemala. The recognition of a context-dependent memory leads to an exploration of the history of war in terms of "an unpredictable past."
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