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Master of Arts (MA)




Making sense of chaos takes a narrative form. It is for that reason that efforts to find and comprehend narratives commonly follow violent events. After all, violence leaves societies in a state of turmoil that demands some sort of order. Such order can only be reached through the act of telling and hearing difficult stories. However, in societies affected by conflict, stories are as diverse and biased as people’s experiences. Privileging a single story can have the unintended effect of aggravating violence by failing to recognize the validity of people’s interpretations of war. Echoing an array of stories is therefore imperative for understanding and addressing violence.

Colombia serves as an intriguing case for the study of narratives of violence. After over five decades of war, the Colombian armed conflict has caused 220,000 deaths and displaced more than six million people. The primary actors of war in Colombia can be categorized in three classes – guerrilla groups, paramilitary groups, and the official armed forces. The paramilitary underwent a peace process between 2003 and 2006. After four years of negotiations, the FARC guerrilla group reached a peace agreement with the government in 2016. Peace negotiations with the ELN guerrilla group are currently in process. Due to the prolongation of the armed conflict, the majority of Colombia’s population was born in the midst of war. Conflict has thus filtered down to inform Colombians’ sense

of self. Unveiling exactly how conflict relates to identity requires a careful examination of history through stories.

With the purpose of uncovering Colombians’ relationship with war, this survey examines official and alternative narratives of violence. The first phase of this study analyzes social sciences textbooks, which represent the official narrative of war. Adding to the range of potential perspectives of conflict, the second phase of this study contrasts the textbooks’ narrative with the personal narratives of eight young students in Tumaco, a conflict-afflicted city in the southwest end of Colombia.

Both official and alternative narratives reveal fascinating features of Colombians’ understandings of the armed actors, the acts of war, the underlying motives of conflict, and the possibility of peace. But personal narratives differ greatly from textbooks’ grand narrative in the modes of telling and connecting events. By exploring and contrasting multiple narratives, this study hopes to help make sense of Colombia’s chaotic past.

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