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Peace from Harmony
Mary Luz Sandoval. Colombian Sociology: Researches from Terror up to Peace and Harmony

Mary Luz Sandoval Robayo




Sociologist at the Universidad Nacional, Holds a Masters in Political Sociology from the same University, author of various books and articles o­n sociological and juridical topics, international consultant, currently working at the Universidad de Caldas.



Mg. Editor in Chief Contemporary Sociological Global Review - CSGR Email address: csgr@syllabapress.com



Colombian sociology in a context of violence, conflict and terror






Colombian academics agree o­n the idea that social sciences should look at conflict in certain dimensions: social, economical, political, armed, etc. But they have not asked about the ways under which the conflict in its unique manner has affected the social sciences in our country. This puts things in an inverse order which complements the relationship between the particular reality in Colombia and at the level reached by Colombian social sciences, especially in sociology.


  • A gap exists in Colombia between the problem of the practical armed conflict and the state of necessary amount of knowledge to overcome it. Investigators are clear o­n the causes of the deterioration of the conflict, but not o­n the answer to the question why the conflict has gone o­n for five decades and continues to. (Guizado 1991; 1999) Given that the causes of each historical period are distinct and there is feedback from within (Kutemback 2005).


  • Under conditions of the use of extreme violence and indiscriminate of different types, by distinct armed actors against civil society (Lair 2009), certain sociological concepts are outdone. The Colombian reality presents dualities still unresolved by sociology, for example, the theoretical differentiation between the state of peace and the state of war; between the situation of normality and anomie as much individual as social; between rationality and affectivity (feelings and sensations); between democracy and authoritarianism; between individual and social violence, between the law as instrument of justice and collective memory and the law as instrument of injustice, of forget and forgiveness and impunity, to mention a few. To say that sociological theory speaks of the Colombian conflict, implies its own deformation, inversion, deconstruction and permanent adaptations, as well as the creation of new inspired concepts in greater paradigms.


  • On the other hand, the existence of the armed conflict has effected the investigation of it. The investigation has inevitably followed the course of the facts and the dynamics of the conflict. The research has also suffered from the influence in a number of ways.




The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the end of socialism and a cease to the confrontation between East and West. With this also fell the idea that the cold war was the cause of the proliferation of armed internal conflict. Various conflicts survived, among them the Colombian conflict with its historical roots still not eradicated. Inequality, poverty, crime, genocide and as much terrorism from the State as from factions, continued. The Colombian conflict not o­nly survived, but exacerbated, and the loss of the ideological legitimacy, as a plainly political conflict, was o­ne of the causes of the degradation.


With the triumph of the capitalist system, globalization entered with no obstacles accompanied by big economical changes like the disappearance of social welfare in the State which resulted in the widening of the social and economic gap between the rich and poor.


The continuity of international wars and internal conflicts, brings the concepts of “state of nature” (Hobbes 1980) and “anomie” (Durkheim 1993 and Merton 1980) back into the scene. The attention has returned to how order is possible (Parsons 1968), this time together with the question how society is possible (Giddens 1967). Other lines lead us to ask about the relations of domination (Bourdieu 2000), for those of exploitation (Marx 1980, 1981). The questions form a distinction when we make then from a national context in Latin American countries today.


International factors cited fall into the decomposition of the internal armed conflict in Colombia, but also played a strategic part in the inclusion of narcotraficking money in the 80s and the confrontation with paramilitary, allied with the narcotrafficking (Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris 2007). From this, the conflict goes back to transform, adapt and reconstitute itself.


Colombia has begun to convert itself into a context inclined to all types of violations to human rights and the International Humanitarian Law (ONU 2001, 2003 2004, 2005, 2009, AI 2008, HRW 2010,). The degradation manifests itself into the commission of thousands of massacres, selected assassinations, forced disappearances, the use of kidnapping, forced displacement and rape as weapons of war among other grave crimes against humanity.


The first among the keys to interpret the decomposition of the war is the triumph of the military conception inside the guerrillas (PNUD 2003) which transformed their revolutionary ideals and ideology to actions intended for the dispute for economical resources in order to continue (Kalulambi 2003, Colombia Internacional 2009) in an historical time of the disappearance of political crime all over the world. In second place the burden of the reason of State derived from the policy of national security of the United States since the end of World War II, under anticommunist campaigns and which brought the establishment, use and abuse called the state of exception” in Colombia, a mechanism of restriction in democracy and, finally, the entrance of the Colombian conflict in the dynamic of the new wars, (Kaldor 2001) or global wars, which coincided with the termination of the Cold War in 1989 and the establishment and expansion after 2001 of the United States politics heading antiterrorism (Sandoval 2003, 2010).


The investigation becomes an ethical responsibility with the country for academics, and a reason to investigate it, relates to the fact that for now negotiation is nowhere close to occurring with the insurgents. The lack of political will in this sense has turned into the motor of reproduction of the conflict and the gasoline to continue academic investigation which has been seen as ironically favorable for the situation, according to sociologist Fernando Cubides and investigator Mario Aguilera (Interviews May 10th 2010, 2010).


In this context it is not sufficient to do domestic investigation, it is necessary to look at the influence of international aspects o­n national o­nes; neither is it possible to continue to see the Colombian situation as an exception (Cubides 2003), after the conflicts in Africa (Médicos Sin Fronteras 1993, 1996), and in Europe (Kaldor 2001).


The majority of investigation o­n the Colombian conflict has made some think, like political scientist Oscar Mejía Quintana that we are over diagnosed (Intervierw May 13 2010), while others see needed investigations still unexplored (Aguilera, Rettberg, Cubides, Gallego, Múnera, Figueroa, Jimeno. Enterviews May 10-14 2010).


Topics of investigation needed like: memory, civil population, victims, relationship of the guerrilla-civil society, forms of recruitment. o­ne of the areas most ignored according to historian Mario Aguilera is how the State has managed the conflict (Inteview May 14 2010)


All of the unconscious mechanisms of the Colombian conflict are to be investigated according to psychoanalyst Mario Figueroa, the unconscious explains that they are not things o­nly psychological, but is connected to material and historical objects. It is necessary to approach how the subject is treated like an object by the armed and the consequences it brings. The problem with land also requires more investigation, given the transformations informed by the displacement and expropriation. Figueroa points out that o­ne should connect symbolic elements, psychics with the economic. In the same way, lacking inclusion in the law, the legality and illegality of the unconscious determinants. (Interview May 13 2010).


Others like political scientist Rettberg, mention it is necessary to understand the form of internal organization of the guerilla groups, of the paramilitaries, the attitude of the State towards these, the hierarchies, the relations of power and internal authority, the ways of financing and its differences by region. Rettberg outlines that they know little of the relationship between armed and unarmed actors, about the logic of the territorial dominion, the relation between conflict and the private sector and conflict and peace. They have not investigated thoroughly into the political economy of legal resources and the relationship with the conflict, in this way it is necessary to understand what is the relationship between armed conflict and petroleum, coal, emeralds, bananas, flowers and coffee, and in the end facilitate the comparison between regional dynamics of the conflict, the relation between legal and illegal economies, etc. The regional study of the armed conflict and, especially the relationship between economy and war are other important studies. The further investigation at the regional level of the relationship between victims of the armed actors and the demobilized together in the analysis of the process of demobilization is necessary in order to establish if there will be future cycles of revenge (Interview May 12 2010).




I consider it important to begin with the acknowledgement that the majority of sociological theory is a fundamental tool not for the explanation of the particularities of the Colombian conflict, but for orienting illuminating questions about our reality.


The end of the Cold War did not mean the end of internal conflicts nor of wars, but it did bring about the necessity of new distinct hypotheses. The origin and reproduction of the Colombian conflict needs another hypothesis different from the confrontation between East and West. Some concepts of the classical theories have been adapted to interpret its origins, however, its reproduction and especially degradation is not explained in classical and contemporary theories.


How do we create categories that explain acts like massacres, political genocide, forced disappearance, selective assassination, forced displacement, kidnapping, the use, apparently fruitless, of cruelty, like tools that produce more painful deaths like chainsaws, to explain the abuse and sexual violation of women by the armed actors against unarmed populations, and the use of landmines among other acts of barbary?


From the juridical standpoint categories exist like war crime and crimes against humanity, but from the stance of sociology these crimes are not categorized nor explained. This would imply the study of the executors (their motivations and reasons, etc.), and the acts and truths produced by the executors would need to be categorized later. A lengthy and time-consuming work, which has been started by specialists in diverse social sciences in Colombia, but still very far from converting itself into a theoretical paradigm.


Those who execute these acts could be categorized as psychopaths or crazy. Nonetheless, they are not. However, the constant exercise of causing death could turn them into psychopaths because the recruited are brainwashed, especially if the people are young. Many paramilitaries who turn themselves into the Colombian justice system seem like common people. For this, their behavior does not o­nly have a sociological explanation, but many social sciences are necessary to analyze and conceptualize the grey area sociologically called “normal” or “pathological” in the context of a violent conflict. The “pathological” under the violent conflict transcends the border of the sociological category of “anomie” (Durkheim1964 y Merton 1980).


In Colombia we find all of these problems at o­ne time: the inherent problems of poverty, the modernization forced by international dynamics and unresolved historical problems that are causes of our violent conflict that has existed for five decades, today deteriorated and converted into a constant part of everyday life.


In this context, everyday social life cannot be explained by theories that have been generated in societies below states of political and social normality. Not because they are not applicable, but because they are required to be distorted, crunched up, turned upside down, in order to find ways to comprehend and explain our inverted reality, where peace and social normality are exceptions while war and anomie are constant.


Numerous examples of adaptations and theoretical limitations exist, the theory of primitive accumulation of capital (Marx 1981), shows how o­ne could understand the violence in Colombia could be related to the process of terrorist (primitive) accumulation of capital (Sandoval 2003), the theory of anomie of Merton gives fruition to understanding the relationship between the medium and the goal, but his types are insufficient to explain war crimes and crimes against humanity (Merton 1980).

One example of the theoretical inversion could be the relationship Pierre Bourdieu establishes with the correspondence of the objective conditions and the subjective aspirations of the agents (Bourdieu 1998, 2006). In Colombia this ideal functions in an inverted manner. What exists is the lack of correspondence between the objective conditions and the subjective aspirations which explains the appearance of big and small mafias, white collar crime, how the patrimonial State survives, why guerillas who do not believe in the game of democracy exist, and yet play in the field of capitalism.


To apply the classical theories o­n the State results in us acknowledging that what we have in Colombia is the absence and weakness of the State (Cubides, Jaramillo 1986) and with this the impossibility to generate citizenship, which in its broadest sense means the impossibility of the effective use of rights.

The concept of power in Anthony Giddens, like the autonomous capacity to make a decision, to do something else or take another course of action (Giddens 2003), under circumstances of war disappear. To obey orders from armed agents and be submissive to strict controls and permanent terror is a form of force o­n the population to adopt an infantile conduct and dependence. Reflexive control nor power over the conduct can exist in the victims. A control by the victimario o­n the acts can exist but it would not be complete, since the obey orders. Under this perspective, the threats, death, persecution, loss of loved o­nes, economical loss and the necessity to confront social conditions completely different from its origens (forced displacement), is lost. Step by step the futureless sensation grows (Giddens 2003).


This loss in Colombia reinforces what has been named by me, quintuplet disappearance; how it grades the calculability of the armed actors behind their intentional actions such as the disappearance of people, disappearance of bodies, disappearance of the crime, disappearance of the memory of the crime and finally disappearance of the crime in oral memory (Sandoval 2010).



Phases and production of the investigation o­n the conflict


Leopoldo Múnera sees three phases of analysis of the armed conflict: the first summed up in the analysis of the violence: Germán Guzmán, Orlando Fals Borda and Eduardo Umaña Luna, saw the conflict as a prolongation of the violence (sociology of the violence). In the second, the analysis was predominately done o­n the guerilla organizations of the 70s to the 80s. From the 80s o­n they looked to analyze the effects of the armed conflict o­n Colombian society, analysis o­n human rights, IHL, memory, victims, responsibility, International Penal Court, and the law of justice and peace. In summary: 1) conflict and its relation with violence; 2) the conflict itself and 3) the conflict and its consequences o­n society (Interview May 13 2010).


From the 80s to the 90s they worked o­n ways to contribute to the escape of the conflict: Jesús Bejarano o­n the peace agenda and the investigation o­n post conflict which still does not exist in Colombia. Today the investigation is oriented more o­n the topic of peace.


In order to have an idea o­n the progression of the investigation about violence, the armed conflict, terrorism and peace in Colombia, I have created a chart based o­n the database of the Luis Ángel Arango Library, which has 2,500,000 volumes which include almost all Colombian published books between the 19th and 20th Centuries and continues through the 21st Century.






DECADE FROM 1950 – 1959

1960 – 1969

1970 - 1979

1980 – 1989

1990 - 1999

2000 – 2010












































Source: database of the Luis Ángel Arango Library in Bogota, which has 2,500,000 volumes that include almost all published books in Colombia during the centuries XIX and XX, the collections increase in size by about 120.000 a year, the thematic emphasis of acquisitions is predominately scientific and humanistic works,http://www.lablaa.org/historia/index.html


The data shows various key elements: the sustained growth of investigation o­n the topic, the concentration o­n the topic of violence in all decades, the greater multiplication of production at the end of the 70s to the 80s and later massed to 900 books in the last decade before 2000 and to 2010. This data collects all the production concentrated in this library, the largest in the country, and not o­nly from sociologists but also historians, political scientists, journalists, geographers, jurists, etc. These themes are subdivided in many others having to do with the inclinations of the investigators and with the most relevant truths of the nation as a whole (Nasi y Rettberg 2005). A correlation exists between the historical and analytical moments, for example, studies o­n terrorism triple between the end of the 90s to 2000- 2010, with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the political antiterrorist at the world level; studies o­n peace are multiplied by 4.6 between the 80s and the 90s, coinciding with the government of Andrés Pastrana when the chance of peace failed with the FARC and began to diminish after 2000 when hope for negotiation with the guerilla was lost.


The chart represents the support of the distinct disciplines of the Social Sciences, but it was the sociologists who initiated the work o­n violence. The contribution of sociologists has been significant and led the investigation for other Social Sciences (Interviews 2010) .


The investigation o­n the topic of the armed conflict in Colombia has been concentrated in the cities of Bogotá and Medellín, in the first, in the Universities Nacional y Los Andes; in the second in the Universidad de Antioquia. Inside the Universidad Nacional, the Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, IEPRI. This topic is also investigated in institutes such as the Center of Investigation and Popular Education, CINEP, Corporation Observatory for Peace, the Vicepresidency of the Republic through the Observatory o­n DDHH, the Andina Commission of Jurists, the Office of Human Rights and Displacement, CODHES, the Fundación Nueva Arco Iris and the Instituto Latinoamericano de Servicios Legales Alternativos, ILSA, the NGOs Defensa y Democracia e Ideas para la Paz, are among the most principal.


Conflict o­n investigation in Colombia


According to sociologist Fernando Cubides and economist and historian Mario Aguilera the conflict has been positive for the investigation due to the existence of a prolonged conflict which has made many convert into studies of the same, owed to the preoccupation of academics to contribute in some way to a solution (Interview May 10 2010). All the interviewed analysts consider that to investigate in Colombia is particularly risky if the objectives of the investigation require sources in the middle of the war. Various investigators have been assassinated in the process. Prejudice about who dedicates himself to investigate the armed actors exists (Interviews 2010). Jimeno states that the conflict has effected the investigation in a consistent basic form by capturing the attention in an excessive manner, against the generalized appreciation that there is a level of prohibition because of the risk. Jimeno points out a subjectively important fact that identifies the investigators with the rest of the society and that we are fascinated with the violence with the violent and ultimately with the victims of the violence (Interview May 13 2010).


On the other hand, the Uribe phenomenon, says that the psychoanalyst Figueroa has made certain academics feel ashamed to be located o­n the left, many academics feel guilty of having been part of the left and “….they made a sever turn to the right (…) today they do analysis which is clearly conservative, protected by scientific methodology to justify their rightist positions (…),. Figueroa states there has been a silence o­n the part of the intellectual o­n topics of authoritarianism and political messiahism; fear provokes silence, apathy and isolation (Interview May 13 2010)


As a compliment to the previous, Rettberg says that killing intellectuals was o­ne of the favorite jobs of the rightist extremists, which silenced many voices, the IEPRI, had grave security problems. The investigator should think about in which regions to investigate, about which topics to question, with whom to speak, etc. Investigation is a dangerous job in Colombia. The economist Jesús Antonio Bejarano was assassinated in September 1999; an attempt o­n the life of sociologist Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez in December 1999; sociologist Javier Darío Betancur disappeared in September 1999; sociologist Alfredo Molano was threatened in January 1999; anthropologist Hernán Henao was assasinated in May 1999; sociologist Alfredo Correa de Andreis was assasinated in September 2004 and sociologist Miguel Ángel Beltrán was imprisoned in May 2009.





§There is an incapacity in sociology to explain o­n its own the phenomenon of violence as a manifestation of conflict each time more degrading.


§The investigation o­n the conflict and violence is fragmented and disperse, ideologically polarized. Regional work compared to other countries is insufficient. The approach to the armed conflict has been exhausting, but has not exhausted all its dimensions, there are still many problems to study. The studies o­n the process of truth, justice and repair, lack depth, the cultural area has been barely discussed, and the role of emotions in social relationships has not been taken into account, points like forgiveness, quilt, impunity and forget, revenge and authoritarianism lack depth.


§Some objectives of investigation are in hardly accesible geographical areas for investigation (corruption, narcotraficking, forced disappearance). These objectives of investigation can put the life and physical integrity of the investigators in danger. Sociology and sociologists have also been victims of the repression unraveled by the armed actors. There have been threats, assasinations, and exiled intellectual critics of the government. Espionage has occurred by the State (Administrative Department of Security, DAS), o­n 57 investigators of social sciences, generating a debate o­n what is scientific and what is political (Radio news Caracol, May 4, 2010). Members of the institutes of investigation like IEPRI, the CINEP, the Universidad de Antioquia have been threatened. However, the intellectuals threatened are not always of the extreme left, those threatened include thinkers with central or rightest tendencies. Many intellectuals have distanced themselves or have opted for less radical standpoints. Others risk doing strategic investigations in order to understand the dynamics of the conflict and the logic of the armed actors, in the end overcoming false hypotheses, the superficialty of análysis, whose goal is to bring about valid tools to overcome the conflict.


[1] Interviews with professors: Fernando Cubides (sociologist), Leopoldo Múnera (political scientist), Oscar Mejía Quintana (philosopher, political scientist), Angélica Rettberg (political scientist), Carlos Medina Gallego (historian and Politólogo), Mario Aguilera (historian and economist), Mario Figueroa (psychoanalyst), Myriam Jimeno (anthropologist) May 10 – 14 2010.




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