Past events

Research in Progress: Gwen Burnyeat
Friday 12 June 2015, 04:30pm
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Friday 12 June, 4.30 pm

Chocolate and politics: An ethnographic contextualisation of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

Gwen Burnyeat, National University of Colombia and Leverhulme study-abroad scholar.

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is a peasant farmer community in Urabá, North-West Colombia, who declared themselves ‘neutral’ to the five-decade armed conflict in 1997 as a self-protection strategy. They are well-known in Colombia and internationally, but mainly within the human rights sector, which tends to focus on this concept of neutrality, and the Community’s struggles with the ongoing conflict and human rights situation in the area. This sector receives, legitimates and reproduces the Community’s narrative of victimisation - which has had important achievements in terms of legitimation of the Community’s voice, but sometimes runs the risk of glorifying this somewhat essentialised notion of civilian resistance. On the other side of the political spectrum, the right tends to criticise the Community for wanting to become an ‘independent republic’; and political pragmatists in the middle often see the Community as having played an emblematic role historically, but being too radical and closed-minded in the current geopolitical climate in Colombia of the ongoing peace process between the government and FARC guerrilla. These approaches only look at the public discourse of the leaders of the Community in the political sphere, and their conflictive relationship with the Colombian state. There are other narratives present in the daily lives of the members, which do not have such visibility. This paper problematises the human rights frame and proposes looking at the Peace Community through a different frame, that of their production of organic cocoa, using a method I call ethnographic con-textualisation. In the history of cocoa production, the quotidian intersects with the political; it is a privileged site which discloses an organic narrative that illuminates the socio-cultural and historical con-text of the Community, and I argue that it contains the key to understanding what I call the Community’s proposal of society which is based on values of communal life and economics, and which connects with global discourses about ethical trade and ‘alternative’ development. This organic narrative does not usually reach public audiences; but I argue that in order to understand social movements as political actors, we must understand the cultural con-texts which engender their political discourse and practice. This paper is based on three years of ethnographic research with the Community.

All welcome to this unique cross-university seminar that gives early career anthropologists the chance to present their work in a supportive environment. Free tickets can be booked at:

Location 3