Monday, September 26, 2011

Will they read what I write? High-risk, low-risk, medium-risk anthropology

Every writer worries, or wonders, if what she or he writes is simply pissing in the wind, or if the words he or she commits to paper or to some electronic cloud in the sky will have any impact whatsoever. On the one hand, can they lead to any change, or might they  lead to some potential danger for the writer?

The latter question has not preoccupied me much. Guatemala is a violent and insecure country, and while no one can be entirely secure given the current climate,  a kind of fatal cocktail in which the key elements are organized crime, pervasive and endemic corruption, and a culture of impunity that permeates so many arenas of social life, foreigners in general, and foreign academics in particular, are hardly the most vulnerable populations. There are various kinds of structural and conjunctural violence that put specific kinds of people at risk. Campesinos and campesinas who are resisting the incursions of transnational mining companies are targeted for violent removals from their lands (i.e. armed guards, police and army moving in and forcibly removing people from their land), as well as outright murder of community leaders.  Communities that are resisting the "development" projects involving other large companies -- for example, energy companies that want to build hydroelectric plants -- are also at risk. Bus drivers (and also their passengers).  The list goes on: women, for example(Guatemala has one of the highest rates of domestic violence and femicide in the hemisphere).

There are other forms of political violence: each political assassination (for example, that of Monsignor Gerardi in 1998) spawns threats against the lawyers who take up the cases or the judges who hear them. The forensic anthropologists who are excavating mass graves from the 1980s, or retrieving remains from garbage dumps and other locales where bodies were dumped during the war, regularly receive death threats, as do those human rights advocates and defenders who are pushing the police and the military to reveal information from their archives.

However, recently a friend who has started to read this blog asked me if I ever felt at risk from things that I write here, and my response to her was, no.  Firstly, I am not saying anything especially original. Although there has been an excision of historical memory, the charge that one of the two presidential candidates is implicated in atrocities from the 1980s is not new.  This is part of the public debate (to the extent that there is one) in Guatemala now. Op-ed columnists for the major national newspapers regularly expound these ideas.  Other political candidates talk about them. Secondly, I am not that public a figure here. I'm just one of a couple of dozen foreign academics who spend time here and talk to folks and write. It would be nice to think that what I write will be read by thousands, but I have to content myself that perhaps a few dozen people pay attention to what I write in this blog or what I post on Facebook. So I don't think that I pose much of a threat to anyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment