Life Politics: Race, Ecology and Dissident Aesthetics in Colombia

Shepard, Mathilda, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Shepard, Mathilda, Arts & Sciences Graduate, University of Virginia

“Que la paz no nos cueste la vida”– May peace not cost us our lives. This slogan has become a mainstay of Colombian protests organized since the signing of the 2016 Peace Agreement. From the 2017 Buenaventura civic strike to the national uprising that swept across the country in 2021, demonstrators have expressed their outrage at the profound disjuncture between official post-conflict discourse and the rising body count of human rights defenders, environmental activists, and ex-combatants killed under the banner of peace. At one level their rhetoric invokes the most basic of human rights—the “right to life.” Yet “life” has also come to encompass political horizons that exceed the language of human rights. What does it mean to frame interrelated struggles against state violence, racism and environmental destruction in terms of life rather than peace, revolution or human rights? How are such appeals to life related to other languages of protest, and to what extent do they signal a political horizon beyond the human rights imaginary? These questions motivate Life Politics: Race, Ecology and Dissident Aesthetics in Colombia. Through a study of Colombian artists and intellectuals working within Afro-descendant, Indigenous and campesino movements from the 1970s to the present, I examine how this political orientation has been culturally mediated during a key period in the formation of both the global human rights imaginary and the epistemology of violence in Colombia. I use the term life politics to describe aesthetic interventions that problematize the racial, ecological and ideological exclusions generated by liberal human rights discourse Life Politics intervenes in critical debates over the possibilities and limits of human rights as a language of social justice, charting alternative ways of conceptualizing the intersecting politics of antimilitarism, antiracism and environmentalism.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Life politics, Colombia, Latin American cultural studies, Environmental humanities, Indigenous cultural production, Afro-Latin American cultural production
Sponsoring Agency:
American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)
Issued Date: