UK and Colombian researchers working together for sustainable peace

UK and Colombian researchers working together for sustainable peace

Ten new research projects announced today, 8 November 2018, by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will address issues facing Colombia’s transition from conflict to peace.

Areas of focus include:

  • How to ensure the participation of vulnerable and marginalised groups so their interests and abilities are represented, and that they can influence the country’s development
  • How to ensure reconciliation between previously conflicting elements of society
  • Exploring the role of education in developing entrepreneurial capacity, skills and creativity for all age-groups in a post conflict landscape

The projects, launched by UKRI in partnership with Colombia’s Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias) has been funded with £2.8 million through the Newton Fund. UK researchers will collaborate with colleagues in Colombia on projects designed to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development using the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI Champion for International and Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), said:

“These projects will contribute to a more just and peaceful world, enabling us to assess the causes and effects of long term conflict and promote sustainable development by starting a dialogue based on understanding and respect. It is heartening to see, in the Colombian context, research projects that take fresh approaches to tackling development challenges. As well as being insightful in themselves, I hope they will also open up new corridors of research practice within the arts, humanities, and social sciences.”

Dr Eduardo Rojas Pineda, Colciencias Director of Research Development, said: “This initiative promotes the consolidation of a scientific community across different research areas and the promotion of the transference of knowledge in ways that will contribute to the economic and social development of Colombia in collaboration with UKRI. These are internationally competitive, transformative and high-quality collaborative projects which address a broad range of areas related to peace transitions in Colombia.”

The new projects, being led by UKRI’s AHRC and Economic and Social Research Council, address a broad range of areas relating to post-conflict transitions in Colombia.

The partnership is an example of UKRI’s vision that international collaboration is key to ensuring world-leading research and development, and global challenges require global solutions, across nations and disciplines. Find out more about our international work by following the hashtag #UKRIGlobal on Twitter.

Project summaries

Territorial planning for peace and state building in the Alto Cauca region of Colombia – UK lead: Professor Katherine Gough, Loughborough University/Colombia lead: Dr Irene Velez-Torres, Universidad del Valle

This project will explore the formulation and implementation of territorial planning, which is crucial to the success of the Colombian peace process. The location selected for the project is the Alto Cauca region, one of the areas particularly affected by the armed conflict. Through engaging the active participation of long marginalised actors, including landless peasants, Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples, the voices of these communities will be brought into the territorial peacebuilding process in an attempt to ensure that it is truly participatory and long lasting.

A key element of the project is the participation of diverse community members in a diploma, certified by the Universidad del Valle, which, as well as offering training in techniques including GIS, videoing and oral history, will provide space for dialogue within and between different ethnic groups. The project will generate important new knowledge about how territorial rights and access, social relationships, and state power interact in the transition from war to peace.

Colombia River Stories: improving socio-environmental understandings for building sustainable peace – UK lead: Dr Mo Hume, University of Glasgow/Colombia lead: Dr Alex Maurcio Jimenez, Technological University of Chocó

The research responds to the landmark Colombian Constitutional Court Ruling T- 622, which recognises the River Atrato in Chocó as a bearer of rights and calls on both communities and the state to be its 'Guardians'. Chocó is Colombia’s poorest and most ethnically diverse department. Social organisations have declared an ongoing ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the region, which is manifest in continued violent confrontations between different armed actors over territory and resources, displacement of communities and the lack of access to sustainable livelihood systems for many of the department’s Afro-Colombian and Indigenous inhabitants Riverine communities have been deeply affected by widespread, illegal alluvial gold mining, which interacts with political conflict and is a key factor in driving the crisis. 

The project will co-produce a series of ‘river stories’ with local communities that bring together data from the natural and social sciences. The ‘stories’ will help provide evidence to indigenous communities and Afro-Colombian descendants living along the Atrato to support their demands to enforce the river’s rights. Project team members will work with local social organisations, the Ministry for Environment and Development, international NGOs and specialist networks to improve the processes of sustainable peace building in Colombia.

Bringing Memories in from the Margins: Inclusive Transitional Justice and Creative Memory Processes for Reconciliation in Colombia – UK lead: Professor Matthew Brown and Julia Paulson, University of Bristol/Colombia lead: Dr Fabio Enrique Lopez de la Roche and Maria-Teresa Pinto Ocampo, National University of Colombia

This project supports community members in some of Colombia's most marginalised municipalities to produce creative pieces of memory work. Creating memory work means using the pain of the past to create something useful for working towards peace in the present and future. Working with a set of national partners (including the National Library of Colombia, the Peaceful Route for Women, and the National Network of Memory Sites) the project will enable victims to develop the skills, networks, and confidence to share their memories on a national stage, including with Colombia's truth commission. 
The project will contribute to a sustainable, inclusive reconciliation in Colombia. In doing so, it will also generate important knowledge about the potential for localised processes of reconciliation to be connected with formal initiatives like truth commissions and shared in schools using co-production and digital methodologies. These lessons will be valuable for global policy discussions around transitional justice and for academic debates across our disciplines.

Improbable Dialogues: Participatory Research as a Strategy for Reconciliation – UK lead: Dr Simon Rushton, University of Sheffield/Colombia lead: Dr Jefferson Jaramillo, Pontifical University Javeriana

This participatory action research project works towards reconciliation through approaches that give primacy to local communities over external perspectives in understanding the roots of ongoing conflict, and recognise that communities themselves have the necessary knowledge and expertise to overcome conflict. The ethos of the project, as both research and intervention, is therefore to work with communities to facilitate and harness their expertise rather than to impose models or ideas from outside.
This project brings together a partnership of scholars from the University of Sheffield (UK) and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia) with CINEP, the leading Colombian organisation on issues of peace and development. Through co-production with the communities themselves, the project aims to generate important capacity-building gains for them to move towards a stable and lasting daily peace, and at the same time to contribute to the generation of new academic knowledge.

School, territory and post-conflict: grounding a local peace culture in Tolima, Colombia – UK lead: Dr Iokiñe Rodriguez, University of East Anglia/Colombia lead: Dr John Jairo Sarmiento, University of Ibague and Monica Lozano, Eureka Educativa

This project seeks to contribute to conflict transformation in South Tolima, by working with school teachers and community organisations from the municipalities of Ataco, Chaparral, Planadas and Rioblanco, in the design and development of a local peacebuilding strategy rooted in memories of the armed conflict, the cultural and environmental heritage of the region, and visions of a desired future. The project builds on the experiences that children, teenagers, teachers, parents and community leaders have had with the armed conflict and new emerging socio-environmental conflicts, but also and most significantly on the local peacebuilding visions and projects that exist in the region, in order to jointly generate proposals for long-term conflict transformation in the Tolima territory.

One key feature of this project is the action-research methodology that will be developed for the definition of a local, bottom-up peacebuilding strategy (as opposed to externally imposed, top-down peacebuilding approaches), which includes developing conflicts narratives, participatory videos, and talking maps in conjunction with schools and community organisations.

Pathways to Reconciliation: Investigating the impact of ES.PE.RE (Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation) on psychological and social well-being – UK lead: Professor Sandra Jovchelovitch, London School of Economics and Political Sciences/Dr Fabio Idrobo, Santa Fe de Bogota Foundation (FSFB)

This project investigates the impact of Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation -ES.PE.RE - on the psychological and social wellbeing of victims of the Colombian conflict. More specifically we seek to assess the effect of forgiveness and reconciliation on mental health, social capital and choosing a fulfilling life-track in individuals and communities that were heavily affected by the armed conflict. Depression, loss of emotional control, feelings of rage and vengeance are frequent outcomes of violent traumatic events and experiences of justice having been offended. Forgiveness and reconciliation may have a central role to play in mitigating these outcomes and in the reconstruction of civil-war-torn societies. Although difficult to realise, they are key social and psychological processes for supporting people who have been placed in a vulnerable situation move past their debilitating circumstances.

We aim to investigate both the detrimental consequences of violence and the pathways through which individuals and communities forge positive coping responses to these consequences. We combine the individual, community and societal levels of analysis to contribute an integrated conceptual model of forgiveness and reconciliation and inform evidence-based policy making in the domains of mental health among victims of the conflict, youth and community development.

Development of entrepreneurship in demobilisation areas – UK lead: Magnus George, Lancaster University/Colombia lead: Dr Andres Barrios, University of the Andes - Colombia

During the transition between conflict and peace, demobilised individuals have few opportunities to enter the job market. This is particularly critical in Colombia where more than 3 million people live in areas affected by the conflict and have now started their journey into peace. In this setting, one possible alternative is to develop entrepreneurial ventures. However, the entrepreneurial endeavors developed by former combatants have a low rate of success.

The central goal of this research is to empower former combatants so that they can identify problems in their communities, as well as develop and test different solutions to address them. This is a way to reduce the issues caused by the lack of formal institutions, promote the generation of productive processes, and encourage a peaceful coexistence by addressing problems instead of avoiding them.

Embodied Performance Practices in Processes of Reconciliation, Construction of Memory and Peace in Choco and Medio Pacifico, Colombia – UK lead: Dr Melissa Blanco, Royal Holloway, University of London/Colombia lead: Dr Ana Maria Tamayo Duque, University of Antioquia

This project examines the role that embodied performance practices have on post conflict memories in order to aid the processes of reconciliation and peace-building among the majority Afro-Colombian communities affected by the armed conflict in four municipalities in Chocó and el Pacifico Medio. Its main objective is to co-create a digital archive with the vulnerable communities most affected by the armed conflict that features a collection of their oral testimonies, memorabilia, video footage of workshops and discussions, and embodied performance work, identifying methods and practices that really create lasting impact within the participants.
 

The goal of this research project is to generate spaces (virtual and actual), so that the communities affected by the conflict can use their shared experiences in order to help develop their own community awareness projects, and generate interest in and pursuit of embodied methodologies that can help with the complex processes of reconciliation, reparations, and the construction of peace. 

Mending the New: A Framework for Reconciliation Through Testimonial Digital Textiles in the Transition to Post-Conflict Rural Colombia – UK lead: Dr Dimitrios Papadopoulos, University of Nottingham/Colombia lead: Dr Tania Pérez Bustos, National University of Colombia

This collaborative project uses digital textiles as a novel methodological instrument to investigate how women's sewing, weaving and crafting collectives promote alternative forms of reconciliation and reparation within communities which have been severely affected by the armed conflict. Rather than just documenting memories of war, textile crafting generates spaces of common reflection and has a healing, restorative and constructive potential. The project will establish an account of reconciliation as a practice of community building that rests on collective and individual acts of exchange, learning, reparation and mutual involvement that take place through textile crafting.


The project will conduct an ethnographic study of artisanal textile work in eight rural communities across Colombia and will deploy an innovative compositional methodology, testimonial digital textile making, that fuses artisanal textile artefacts with digital media to communicate, record, reproduce and amplify reparation stories. The project will produce unique testimonial digital textiles and will create and make public a digital archive of textile artefacts and local histories of reconciliation. The main aim is to develop a framework for reconciliation as an ecology of care and community building. It will also set up socio-material spaces that foster primarily trans-local dialogues between different communities within Colombia and transnational exchanges between Colombia and the UK.

(Un)Stitching the Subjects of Colombia's Reconciliation Process – UK lead: Dr Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Aberystwyth University/Colombia lead: Dr Beatriz Arias, University of Antioquia

This project explores the subjectivities constructed by ex-combatants in the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in Colombia and how these ex-combatants are, in turn, perceived by other groups in society and specifically in the communities where they now settle. The project combines narrative biographical interviews with textile narratives. This innovative method consists in the running of textile workshops during which first ex-combatants and then civilian community representatives, individually or collectively, create sewn wall-hangings to express their memories, self-understandings, and hopes for the future. In this approach, oral and textile narratives are not merely data to inform the analysis of ex-combatants' role in the process of reconciliation and social integration in Colombia, but, as a methodological intervention strategy, are intended to actively contribute to this process.