Liquid graves and meaning activism in the Colombian armed conflict: the ‘bottom-up’ recovery and memorialisation of victims of forced disappearance

by Adriana Rudling and Lorena Vega Dueñas

22 Jun 2021
Journal of the British Academy
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages
17 (pp. 121-137)

Abstract: Although the use of non-burial methods can be traced to the early 1950s, this conceptual paper seeks to define the agency of the community members of Puerto Berrío (Department of Antioquia, Colombia) engaged in the recovery of human remains from the Magdalena River since the 1980s. Covering the preservation of the remains salvaged from these liquid graves, their ‘baptism’ using fabricated names, and the ‘adoption’ of their souls in exchange for small favours, this complex practice is political. This community-level meaning activism arises as a consequence of the harm-amplifying reality of a pathological state and is a form of resistance to (in)formal rules of necro-governmentality imposed by the non-state armed groups, the state, and the Catholic Church. We conclude that, despite the fact that relatives recognise the precarity of the legal–bureaucratic administration of forced disappearance, they have expressed a renewed expectation that the search, location, and identification be part of a new ‘virtuous state’ in light of the 2016 Final Peace Agreement.

Keywords: Forced disappearance, internal armed conflict, Colombia, community-level agency, memorialisation, necro-governmentality, Puerto Berrío, rivers.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 3 (Memories from the Margins: Violence, Conflict and Counter-Narratives).

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