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Becoming activists of meaning: resisting violence and enforced disappearance in Colombia

Cuellar Sarmiento, Sebastian (2022) Becoming activists of meaning: resisting violence and enforced disappearance in Colombia. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this dissertation, I explore human rights activists' training and learning practices in times of transition to democracy in Colombia. The peace agreement that President Juan Manuel Santos and the Marxist guerrilla FARC signed in 2016 opened a political window of opportunity to victims' struggle for recognition.
My starting point is the experience of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation for Human Rights, an organization of victims of forced disappearance based in Bogotá, and from there I argue that social organizations of victims deploy powerful pedagogical strategies for the construction of peace and offer alternatives for reconciliation.
Assuming the daily life of the Nydia Erika Foundation as a starting point, I argue that the pedagogical processes of training activists are possible thanks to the configuration of three different types of communities: memory, practice, and emotional. By participating in these communities, victims and non-victims constitute activism of meaning aimed not only to reconstruct the identities of victims exterminated by the practice of enforced disappearance. It also offers ways to re-signify the experience of citizenship amidst transitional moments. Activists of meaning deploy symbolic strategies to raise awareness about the atrocious experiences that victims experienced and struggle to strengthen human rights discourse in Colombian public opinion. The activism of meaning is the product of merging local knowledges of victims of enforced disappearance with academic knowledge. It is a paradigmatic space of encounter that aims to overcome structural inequality that makes it difficult the recognition of victims of political violence as citizens.
From a perspective of collaborative sociology, this dissertation gives an account of the joint work of "seeker-women" and non-victim populations in Colombia's defense of human rights. Through this joint work, seeker-women and volunteer professionals configure ethical – and political horizons for renewed collective action. Therefore, the activism of meaning recreates horizontal bondages between victims and non-victims and deeply renewed ethics of care.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Cuellar Sarmiento, Sebastiansec108@pitt.edusec108
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee MemberPutnam,
Committee MemberSmith,
Committee MemberMarkoff,
Committee ChairBamyeh,
Date: 14 July 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 December 2021
Approval Date: 14 July 2022
Submission Date: 5 April 2022
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 232
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Sociology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Human rights defenders, enforced dissappearance, social movements, resistance, pedagogy, activism
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2022 20:58
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2023 18:03


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