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  • Author or Editor: Matthew Louis Bishop x
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This final chapter interrogates the two questions that have underpinned the book’s analysis: How are communities in Colombia seizing the initiative to build peace in the wake of the historic 2016 peace agreement? And, what can participatory research contribute to these efforts, both within and beyond Colombia? The chapter presents a synthesis of the book’s central empirical, theoretical and methodological insights, placing the findings from the two empirical cases in dialogue with one another and in relation to the wider story of the Colombian peace process. The chapter outlines key reflections for peace scholars and practitioners, making the case that DST is not only a concept describing a particular form of dialogue practice, but also a normative one which provides an entry point for PAR-based research to play a meaningful role in partnering with and supporting communities within and beyond Colombia to overcome the conflict(s) that inhibit their ability to live with dignity.

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This chapter explores the port city of Buenaventura as a site of experimentation for DST. The chapter looks at the multiple drivers of conflict in the city and its hinterland, including economic and racial marginalization, resource extraction and the influence of criminal actors, while also highlighting the ways in which local communities have taken action to defend their right to live in peace and with dignity. Showing how the government-sponsored post-agreement development plan was seen by communities as another iteration of planning for the reproduction of capital in the region, the chapter looks at participatory experiments for peace that emerged, drawing on indigenous and Afro-Colombian cultures and knowledges, and became powerful political forces for peace. Finally, the chapter looks at the roles played by PAR-based research in supporting and strengthening these processes.

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This chapter situates the emergence of new forms of community-led participatory peacebuilding in relation to the wider Colombian peace process. During the implementation of the peace agreement, shortcomings with the mechanisms that were designed to enable popular participation became increasingly apparent: they were top-down, their constitution and purpose was not always clear, and their outcomes often failed to live up to the hopes of those communities most affected by conflict. In response, many communities – including in the two regions examined in this book – seized the initiative, convening their own spaces for dialogue based on their own experiences, needs and aspirations.

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The first of the two empirical chapters, this chapter introduces the factors that have fuelled conflict in Catatumbo, showing how this unevenly developed region – frequently stigmatized as a lawless borderland – has been subject to multiple forms of state and para-state domination and violence, yet has also produced vibrant forms of collective action and resistance. The chapter examines the recent history of resistance, in particular the 2013 agrarian strike which sought to insert local concerns around land access, autonomy and alternative livelihood opportunities onto the national peace agenda. Describing local responses to the perceived failure of the peace process’s official participatory mechanisms, the chapter documents the emergence of locally driven dialogue processes, in particular focusing on the efforts of the riverside community of La Angalia to develop a regional environmental pact involving multiple communities across the Catatumbo River Basin, and the contribution of PAR to this process.

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This chapter outlines the Improbable Dialogues project from which this book emerges, situating it in the context of receding violence and increasing political optimism that at first followed the signing of the peace agreement. It explains the project’s roots in the Latin American tradition of PAR as developed in the pioneering work of Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda, and explains how these principles were applied critically in the project’s approach to community engagement. The chapter then sets out the concept of DSTs, a key analytical concept for the empirical discussions in Chapters Three and Four. Finally, the two processes of dialogue examined in detail in the book, in the Catatumbo and Buenaventura/Mid-Pacific regions, are introduced.

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Violence, Development and Dialogue in Colombia

What role does dialogue play in peacebuilding? How can community-based activities contribute to broader peace processes? What can participatory research methods add to local efforts to build peace?

In this book the authors examine these questions through their work with two different Colombian communities who have pursued dialogue amidst ongoing violence, environmental injustice and socio-economic challenges. By reflecting on what people in these contrasting places have achieved through participatory peacebuilding, the authors explore different forms of local agency, the prospects for non-extractive academic engagement, and practical and theoretical lessons for participating in peace in other conflict-affected settings.

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This chapter provides an introduction to contemporary Colombia and a brief history of the conflict, as well as an initial overview of diálogos socio-territoriales (socio-territorial dialogues; DST), which form the conceptual centrepiece of the book. The outline of the book is described and its key contributions explained.

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