A Land of Lawyers, Experts and "Men Without Land": The Politics of Land Restitution and the Techno-Legal Production of "Dispossessed People" in Colombia
Davila Saenz, Juana
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CitationDavila Saenz, Juana. 2018. A Land of Lawyers, Experts and "Men Without Land": The Politics of Land Restitution and the Techno-Legal Production of "Dispossessed People" in Colombia. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIn this dissertation I examine the contested process of configuration of a new subject of rights in Colombia: the people violently dispossessed of land (los despojados). I examine three instances of its articulation: (1) the process by which land dispossession became a a real and urgent problem for a variety of publics and especially for a set of techno-political and legal elites; (2) the production of a special legislation, the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law No. 1448 of 2011) establishing land dispossession as a new legal category and creating a whole new administrative and judiciary apparatus for land restitution; and (3) the everyday practices of the Land Restitution Unit, the new governmental institution entrusted with the task of identifying dispossessed peoples (and lands), and promoting the vindication of their rights to land restitution in court and beyond.
As a point of entry to the politico-legal life of this new subject of rights, I follow the trajectories of a group of lawyers and other experts who in the midst of the recent armed conflict, articulated for urban and politically powerful publics the occurrence of a massive land dispossession in the countryside. I trace how land became an object of desire in Colombia and how, after the failure of several generations conquering land and enjoying its promises, by the early 21st century land dispossession had become a familiar and ubiquitous story for Colombian families, my own included. I trace how at that time these experts contributed to posit land as a nation-wide problem with a long history and increasingly immoral effects. Also, I show how these experts navigated the shifting political topography to gain access to the halls of Congress and after a series of attempts between 2003 and 2011, influence the production of legislation vindicating the rights of despojados and become normative elites. The most significant articulation of this new subject of rights came with the Victims and Land Restitution Law, approved in 2011 by ordering the restitution of land to people dispossessed after 1990 and ordering the creation of a specialized administrative and judiciary apparatus and introducing an alternative regime of proof to be followed during the procedures. Some of these experts were appointed to operate this new apparatus and set of legal rules. I focus my attention in those who joined the Land Restitution Unit and in their daily practices through which they seek not only to reverse land dispossession but incarnate a virtuous state, a state different from the one that allowed and even contributed to the victimization and invisibilization of the dispossessed. I show that as the official truths about land dispossession are assembled during the administrative and judiciary procedures and are then set in circulation, the complicated relationships between the dispossessed, the armed organizations and the larger communities in which they are embedded tend to be simplified by means of the juridification of the past (Comaroff and Comaroff 2012) and also by additional structural mentions and silences (Trouillot 2015) that have as their main effect the preservation of the dichotomy of victim-perpetrator and the resolution of both legal and moral ambivalences. As a result, such reconstructions tend to result in narratives of dispossession that share what I have called the standard plot of dispossession; and to not only legitimize but demand the use of force on behalf of the final subject of rights and the effacement of the war and dispossession stories of other
Throughout the dissertation I interrogate from an ethnographic perspective the cultural politics of land in Colombia, the making of techno-legal elites, the conversion of claims for justice in written law and the politics of legal change, the production of administrative truths and the daily practices of state-making. More generally, this dissertation reflects about what anthropologist William Roseberry (1994) has referred to as the “field of force” in which the struggles around the definition of the populations and landscapes that ought to be protected through official truth-making and the symbolic (Bourdieu 1987) and physical violence of the law are waged.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41128811
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