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Abstract

The abundance of ongoing armed conflicts and ailing or failing peace processes in the world throws into sharp contrast the disparity between the billions of dollars invested into resolving systemic division and the extent to which societies have been able to effectively build sustainable peace. Most notably since the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission (1996), reconciliation has figured centrally in post-conflict programs. However, academics and practitioners have largely ignored the topic of interpersonal trust in post-conflict contexts, the sine qua non of national reconciliation. The notable exception to this lacuna argues that trust figures centrally in ideas about reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict violence: it constitutes a repair in a rift of relations and a rebuilding of trust in the wake of an actual or perceived wrongdoing (Govier & Verwoerd, 2002). In response, several questions guide this investigation: How do community mechanisms for governance and coexistence, which emerged within a context of catastrophic violence and an absent state, configure trust and mistrust within the social frameworks that guide every day interactions? In what ways are new possibilities for personal and communal healing produced and foreclosed in encounters between well-meaning, but imperfect interventions and their beneficiaries? How do conflict-affected communities build new ways forward when they remain steeped in an environment that reproduces the dynamics of half a century of armed conflict? To answer these questions, I draw from 35 months of field work in Colombia. I first spent 15 months living in an informal settlement comprising conflict victims and former and combatants from illegal armed groups living together in the war-torn state of Caquetá. Following, I spent 20 months working in a United Nations program for Reintegration and Recruitment Prevention in Bogotá. I find that organizational and policy interventions designed to promote trust-building and reconciliation inadvertently reproduced the very divisions they sought to repair. In the following analysis, I first establish the emergence and reproduction of mistrust that shapes everyday relations among individuals implicated in armed conflict and its aftermath. I then go on to analyze community, NGO, state, and international interventions intended to promote reconciliation among those individuals. Throughout, I present the ways in which attempts to resolve what is broadly understood to be a social problem of cycles of violence and revenge re-inscribe the very structural conditions that gave rise to such dynamics. In each instance, I argue that the administrative practices – accounting, reporting, and training - that sustain the interventions as organizations provide the means by which this re-inscription is made possible. Furthermore, I suggest that organizational and policy interventions designed to foster reconciliation reproduce divisions by structuring the interventions between citizens, organizations, and the state according to conflict identities. That is, by the very nature of being a reconciliation intervention, it convenes conflictive parties – and it does so according to their positionality in that conflict. These identity categories reinforce the conditions of possibility for current and future ways of relating to the other and to the state. And third, I argue that subjective experiences with social and political life in contemporary Colombia (re)configured social relations in hierarchical terms consistent with a long history of inequality and established ways of being in social and political life. This dissertation thus contributes to an anthropology of reconciliation and interventions with an eye towards how administration of political and organizational mandates serve to unite as much as they do to produce the grounds for the novel but familiar dynamics of past sociopolitical divisions along identity, class, and political grounds.

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