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 Featured Title
Dwellers of Memory
Youth and Violence in Medellin, Colombia
Pilar Riano-Alcala  

$33.95 Paperback
Release Date: 2/1/2010
ISBN: 9781412811071    

252 Pages

Distributed for Transaction


About the Book

Dwellers of Memory is an ethnographic study of how urban youth in Colombia came to be at the intersection of multiple forms of political, drug-related, and territorial violence in a country undergoing forty years of internal armed conflict. It examines the ways in which youth in the city of Medellín reconfigure their lives and cultural worlds in the face of widespread violence. This violence has transgressed familiar boundaries and destroyed basic social supports and networks of trust. This volume attempts to map and understand its patterns and flows.

The author explores how Medellín’s youth locate themselves and make sense of violence through contradictory and shifting memory practices. The violence has not completely taken over their cultural worlds or their subjectivities. Practices of remembering and forgetting are key methods by which these youth rework their identities and make sense of the impact of violence on their lives. While the experience of violence is rooted in urban space and urban youth, the memory dwellers use a sense of place, oral histories of death, and narratives of fear as survival strategies for inhabiting violent neighborhoods. The book also examines fissures in memory, the contradictory constructions of young people’s subjective selves, and practices of gendered violence and terror. All have and continue to pose risks to the historical memory and cultural survival of the residents of Medellín.

Dwellers of Memory offers an alternative ethnographic approach to the study of memory and violence, one that calls into question whether the role of the ethnographer of violence is to be a mere witness of terror, or to oppose it by writing against it. It will be of interest to sociologists, anthropologists, and students of ethnography.

About the Author(s)

Pilar Riaño-Alcalá is assistant professor, School of Social Work and Family Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada.

Table of Contents

Colombia at the Crossroads
Youth's Forgettings and the Politics of Memory
Bridges of Memory
The Circulation of Memories and the Traffic of Violence
An Anthropology of Remembering and Forgetting
Dwellers of Memory: The Youth in this Book

Chapter 1
Local Histories in a National Light
Clouds of Smoke: The Thirties
A War of Colors and Horrors: The Fifties
Red Lights in the Barrio: The "Tolerant" Years
Languages of Concealment: The Sixties
Travels and Travellers: The Seventies
A Troubling Image of Youth: The 1980s and 1990s
Busy Streets
Local Wars
Pigs for Peace
"Por qué, a pesar de tanta mierda, este barrio es poder?"

Chapter 2
Remembering Place: Making and Sensing Places
Place-Making: Memory Landscapes and Landmarks
A Walkabout
The Memory of Things Seen
Changing Names, Changing Dynamics
Typologies of Social Space and Spatial Practices
Home Far Away From Home
Imagining and Border Crossing
Communities of Memory in Place

Chapter 3
The Living Memories of Death: Oral Histories of Death and the Dead
I see his blood that falls like seed:
Narratives of the Dead: "How do you speak to the disappeared?"
Chronologies of Death and Dead-Listings
Events and Their Meaning: Giving Death a Place
An Embodied Place for Death
Subjects of Death: Martyrs

Chapter 4
Ghosts, Possessed Bodies and Warriors: Narratives of Fear and Gendered Violence
Ghostly Stories and Social Regulations
"This happened to me, I have lived this": Witnesses and Possessed Spirits
Warrior Bodies, Women and Terror
Fissures in the Social Fabric and Social Tensions

Chapter 5
A Generational Forgetting?
Territorial Otherness
Paths of Distrust and Vengeance
Witnessing, Suffering and Memory



"This textured ethnography of how young barrio dwellers from Medellín, Colombia, collectively weave their memories of violence into the very space of death where they live, provides new directions for the anthropology of violence, moving us beyond fatalism and voyeurism, to a constructive engagement with the very people with whom we work. The actors in this ethnography are eloquent witnesses to the Colombian conflict, presented by Pilar Riaño-Alcalá as agents in the reconstruction of their world --although they are not always successful in this respect. Riaño shows us how their memories of violence are lodged in urban space, embodied in narratives and in sound and movement. In this thought-provoking book, Riaño-Alcalá recounts how she transformed the traditional ethnographic enterprise, not with innovative modes of writing, but through an innovative field methodology in which tangible connections with and among her respondents are built through collective remembering, making the researcher part of the very story she is investigating. Riaño-Alcalá's workshop approach -- itself, a Latin American contribution to anthropology -- is an eloquent example of how anthropological methods can contribute to dialogue and peacemaking. Dwellers of Memory is engaged anthropology at its very best."

-- Joanne Rappaport, Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies and Anthropology, Georgetown University

"Dwellers of Memory is an outstanding examination of Colombian violence, with lessons for much of the contemporary world. Rather than taking 'violence' as an undifferentiated and unavoidable fact affecting countless numbers of faceless people, Dr. Riaño takes us through a difficult but intellectually and politically instructive voyage of discovery and understanding of the intimate details that account for the more visible forms of violence. Focusing on the cultural dynamics of remembering and forgetting by poor urban youth in Medellín over the past twenty-five years -- in their attachment to particular places, bodies, senses and experiences -- the book explains lucidly how memory functions as a tool of survival, and how violence, more broadly, emerges within a complex set of social, cultural, and economic factors. Dwellers of Memory is urban ethnography at its best. Informed by the anthropology of place, feminist epistemology, and Latin American popular education participatory research methods, this courageous work also constitutes a tremendous lesson on the ethics and politics of doing fieldwork 'in dangerous locations.' For far from the position of 'writing violence' from a detached perspective as it is often the case in metropolitan anthropologies, what Dr. Riaño offers us in this book is a convincing demonstration of the transformative potential of socially responsible fieldwork, when done in meaningful collaboration with the subjects themselves. Dwellers of Memory, finally, makes more intelligible, without aestheticizing it, the violence associated with Medellín youth depicted in otherwise powerful popular films, such as La Virgen de los Sicarios, La Vendedora de Rosas, and Rosario Tijeras.

-- Arturo Escobar, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Director, Institute of Latin American Studies.

Sample Chapter

A sample chapter of this title is not available at this time. For further information, please email

Related Topics

Latin American Studies
Political Science

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