Scholarly article on topic 'Education and Sensitization on Violence: Seeking to Understand the Victims of the Colombian Armed Conflict'

Education and Sensitization on Violence: Seeking to Understand the Victims of the Colombian Armed Conflict Academic research paper on "Law"

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Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Yuber Hernando Rojas Ariza, Sandro Alberto Díaz Boada

Abstract We present a case study about how to bring university students closer to the problems of the social and armed conflict in Colombia. This study was carried out at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (Seccional Bucaramanga) in Colombia. We show the importance of “Thinking” about violence and its multiplicity. Moreover, the interviews of social and armed violence victims by students are presented as a valuable sensitization strategy. A deeper understanding about the violence caused by the armed conflict, along with the personal contact with victims, allowed students to become more aware of the concrete world and the life stories surrounding us.

Academic research paper on topic "Education and Sensitization on Violence: Seeking to Understand the Victims of the Colombian Armed Conflict"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 237 (2017) 562 - 567

7th International Conference on Intercultural Education "Education, Health and ICT for a Transcultural World", EDUHEM 2016, 15-17 June 2016, Almena, Spain

Education and Sensitization on Violence: Seeking to Understand the Victims of the Colombian Armed Conflict

Yuber Hernando Rojas Arizaa* & Sandro Alberto Díaz Boadab

aUniversidadPontificia Bolivariana, Bucaramanga, Colombia bUniversidadIndustrial de Santander, Bucaramanga, Colombia


We present a case study about how to bring university students closer to the problems of the social and armed conflict in Colombia. This study was carried out at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (Seccional Bucaramanga) in Colombia. We show the importance of "Thinking" about violence and its multiplicity. Moreover, the interviews of social and armed violence victims by students are presented as a valuable sensitization strategy. A deeper understanding about the violence caused by the armed conflict, along with the personal contact with victims, allowed students to become more aware of the concrete world and the life stories surrounding us.

© 2017 The Authors. Publishedby ElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of EDUHEM 2016. Keywords/Victims; Violence; Colombia; Sensitization; Education; University Students.

1. Introduction

The internal war in Colombia is Latin America's oldest armed conflict. Currently in Havana-Cuba, peace talks between the FARC guerrilla and the Colombian Government -two of the main actors in the conflict- are taking place. This negotiation framework originated the Historic Commission of the Conflict and their Victims (CHCV). From this commission emerged one of the most significant documents about violence in the country: Contribution to the understanding of the armed conflict in Colombia. Published in 2015, the book contains 12 essays written by 12 experts

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +57-76-329615; fax: +57-76-796221. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of EDUHEM 2016. doi: 10.1016/j .sbspro. 2017.02.107

in the subject. According to this compilation the decade of the 1950s was the time of violence 'época de la violencia'. The conflict between liberals and conservatives around this time gave birth to different guerrilla groups: National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), April 19th Movement (M-19), and Popular Liberation Army (EPL). Those years brought too the embryos of radical right-wing groups: the Chulavitas and Pájaros (Birds), who later evolved into groups like Death to Kidnapers (MAS), United Self-defense Groups of Colombia (AUC), and actually after the 2006 demobilization, the remaining groups are called Criminal Bands (BACRIM).

However, besides of the several paramilitary and guerrilla groups exists another performer that has been a major part in the armed violence: the national armed forces of Colombia, Army and Police. We couldn't apprehend the conflict without the protagonist role of the public forces. Why is it important to understand the part of this actor? Because the Colombian government has perpetrated systematical killings, like the infamous 'false positives', where innocent civilians were killed and then dressed up and showed as guerrilla fighters. This abominable military tactic was nothing else but government crimes: a deadly practice against civilians that revealed the complexity of war and the fragility of life in the oldest democracy in Latin America.

In such a complex context, a series of meaningful questions arise. Why the war is happening? How to understand the complexity of the Colombian armed conflict? And even more pressing: Does exist an alternative to this deadly dynamic? Without doubts the perspectives are desolating, however the work done by the CHCV is a great contribution. We need to understand the conflict from the civilian's perspective also, and one way to do it is from the academic and research exercise. Even more, the sense of college study and specially the sense of human sciences acquire their more meaningful work when they deal with the problem of armed violence in the classroom.

That's why amid this situation, several alternatives that led to overcome armed violence can be developed. Hence, the objective of the current text is to socialize a classroom experience designed to think about violence in Colombia. It is an appropriation exercise about violence that relays in the awareness process. In that perspective, from the learning process of the students of the course General History of Philosophy (2015-2016) from the Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB-Bucaramanga campus), we want to expose how the students understand the dimension of the conflict and assume a pro-active role wanting to create Historic Memory. To accomplish this, we are going to present the highlights points of the experience: i) the theoretical or interpretive review of violence studied in the course; ii) The relationship among the Violence, Victims, and memory triad; iii) How the students seize the process; and iv) the main conclusions from the experience.

2. Interpretations about the violence: some theoretical approaches.

The fundamental question of the course is: what sense has to think violence? Regarding this question exist several perspectives that allow possible interpretations. An important thing to say: much of the course has its basis in the Frankfurt school, in the Critical Social Theory. In that way, the studied authors provide us with multiple lectures about violence from the context in which they lived. Mainly it takes the symbol of the twentieth century: the Second World War, particularly Auschwitz. Here are some interpretations that arose from these authors and their contribution to think violence.

The first contribution comes from the German thinker Walter Benjamin and his essay For a Critique of Violence. The notion of justice, and his direct criticism of the natural and positive law (200, p. 38), clearly explains how they generate violence. This is key to understand the role of modern state and its direct link with violence: "The violence as a medium is always for create or preserve the law" (p. 32). Benjamin offers us a regard that discovers the dangerous positivist role of law when, for example, he mentions the "mythic violence" (p. 39). In its obstinate search for truth, the law criminalizes the lie, the human capacity for imagination, for fiction. With this, the answer is none other than violence. And most revealing: a violence sponsored by the modern state.

The second regard relates with another influential thinker of the social critical theory: Max Horkheimer. In particular we study the text Critic of the Instrumental Reason. From this work, the relationship mediums-endings is analized with the intention to understand the transformation process of the reason -both objective and subjective-. (1973, pp. 22-23) and how it has transformed the world into an instrument that also converts men in instruments of other men. "The reduction of reason to a mere instrument ultimately hurts even its own instrumental nature" (p. 64). With the criticism of Horkheimer of reason, is understood that the violence has its own means to materialize in the modern world.

The third theoretical perspective that marks the path of the course has to do with Primo Levi and his book The Drowned and the Saved. This text is part of the Auschwitz trilogy. In this volume the Italian thinker remarks the significance of the Second World War to understand the severe division between those to whom he refers as the fallen and the survivors of Lager. Based on this work, the importance of the relationship is recognized, for example, between victim and victimizer in the "gray zone" (2014, pp. 33-64) of the concentration camp.

Similarly, a fourth contribution relevant in the comprehension of the role of memory in its critical sense has to do with the Italian historian Enzo Traverso. We started to learn about his discerning on history and memory through the text History as battlefield, title accompanied by the following complement: To Interpret the Violence of the Twentieth Century. In the critical reading of history by Traverso four rules are described: Contextualization, Conceptualization, and Critical Historicism (2012, pp 25-26.). According to Traverso, they are not laws but rather rules, which offer a glimpse not only to the difference between memory and history but fundamentally to the role of victims in the twentieth century (pp. 283-315).

The fifth reading is the interpretation of Slavoj Zizek in his book On Violence: Six Marginal Reflections. The Slovenian thinker traditionally suggests the existence of two types of violence: the objective and subjective (2012, p. 12). The first is understood as violence emanating from the structural process of the capitalist system; and the second is defined as de facto violence, the kind that can be seen and felt. The first type of violence is expressed in systemic violence and it is the most difficult to "detect" socially because it is impersonal, i.e., it does not have a direct and tangible responsible. But in addition to the two types of violence exposed, Zizek talks about a third kind of violence: the symbolic violence (p. 22). This type of violence refers to the power of mass media and cultural imaginary to create hostility. With the viewpoint of Zizek, we get more elements of analysis about the complexity of violence today.

The sixth perspective is from Peter Sloterdijk, Air Tremors. It discusses the changes that have prevailed in technical and scientific terms and have resulted in the sophistication of war. According to Sloterdijk it has gone from a conventional war on earth to a sophisticated air war. Technical and scientific advances in areas such as biology, physics, and chemistry in particular have been applied to the development of lethal weapons that constantly become more deadly (2003, p. 72). That means that war in the Twentieth century has an explicit scenario: the environment. Sloterdijk investigates the sources of terrorism and names that transformation of the current terror with a clairvoyant word: Atmoterrorism (p. 79).

And finally, the seventh gaze on violence is from the book Colombia: Violence, Democracy and Human Rights by Estanislao Zuleta. From the sharp mind of the Colombian thinker, you can realize the fragility of Colombian democracy and its relationship with terrorism, especially drug trafficking: "a democracy authentically inhabited by terror (...)" (p. 115). Zuleta will focus his analysis on the events of the eighties, a decade plagued by the power of drug trafficking, government corruption, strengthening of the paramilitary groups, the systematic killing of the members of a major leftist political party called: Patriotic Union(UP), and a series of dreadful events on the national politics stage where the main victims were the citizens; an escalation of violence that ratified the infra-value of life and a systematic violation of human rights (1989, pp 113-138.).

However, a question that can be asked is: What is the purpose of these seven readings on violence? The fortunate answer has to do with the possibilities of understanding the transformation and diversification of violence. Indeed, students achieve to recognize that there is not one but several types of violence in Colombia. Of course, it is understood that armed violence is the major one, but it is also complex: there are sorts of techniques, methods, and ways of working that allow us to speak of multiple armed violence. The most remarkable education obtained by the students is their astonish at the variety of violence.

3. Making the invisible visible: the narrative of victims of violence.

Knowing about the diversity of violence is not enough. It is essential to comprehend the role of victims. The Violence-Victim-Memory-triad allows us to understand the need to focus on the role of the memory built by the Victims and not the one made by the perpetrators. Colombia's history has been written from a single perspective: the "official" government perspective. How can we make a history taking into account exclusively the memory of the entity that caused violence? The question invites to the construction of a history built by the memory of the victims beyond the Victims Act of 2011, and the commercial logic that reduces social and political troubles into an economic

issue. In effect, that means it's important to know the stories of characters of "flesh and blood", stories of those who survived the armed conflict to divulge what happened. In that attitude, transverse to the appreciation of the existence of different kind of violence is also necessary to recognize the most remarkable experience of the course of General history of philosophy: the fateful role of approximately 8 million victims of the armed conflict in Colombia that can also build multiple memories.

4. How to do it? Awareness from outside and towards inside

As we mentioned, is not enough with an extensive knowledge on the subject "violence". An educational process requires contrasts, tensions and relaxations. It requires identifying contexts and confronting texts. Moving from the books to the narratives of everyday life, of the ephemeral. Students in the course of General History of Philosophy manage to approach to the material conditions that origin violence: they come close to the narrators of the violence. How is it possible this step? In the last part of the course, based on the book Epistemological Foundations of Research and Research Methodology by professors Toro Jaramillo and Parra Ramirez two investigative techniques are used in the qualitative frame: the life story and the semi- structured interview or in-depth interview (2010, pp. 355-360). And also, the narrative method (p. 329) whose quality rests with the "act of listening" is employed in the investigation. Such a method allows digging and establishing a material encounter between the subject-tellers of violence and students of the course.

At that encounter, Life Story (Hernandez, Fernandez & Baptista, 2006, pp 619-620) becomes an important technique in the formative process, as we know, is part of the narrative method, of the event experienced. It is important to say that students implement this technique without ignoring its process, especially when you consider that the life history of the subject-narrator of violence (or interviewed) does not begin with a traumatic event. This means that the interviewed 's life story runs around the time of its existence; in turn, it means a wide range of time that is important to condense and be guided to the moment of the traumatic event. Consequently, knowing the meaning of the life history of the interviewed leaves in perspective to the research team the extent of the influence of the traumatic event in the life of the subject-narrator of violence. In short: it is understandable that there is a past before the traumatic event that cannot be detached from the vital process of personal memory. In other words, the life story becomes a very powerful instrument that enables consciousness and reveals the human face of the victims of the armed conflict, that is, the same subject narrator of violence.

Another investigative technique in the formative process of building memory is the semi-structured interview or in-depth interview. The students design a questionnaire, conduct and guide the interview and finally share the result. In the designing process, the protocol of personal security is respected, (Personal data and information management) and also the regulation of Colombian law on research related to the physical and mental health of the population (Resolution 8430 of 1993). In the design of the questions students take into account the main objective: to scrutinize the notion of violence emerged from a traumatic event that allows the construction of historical memory. When the questionnaire is ready the students conduct and guide the interview considering the possible psychosocial factors of the subject-narrator of violence. Following the recommendations of the text Remembering and telling the conflict (2013) by the National Center of Historical Memory (CNMH), the students have a deep respect for the pain of the victim and for his testimony. After the exercise of the semi-structured interview, the students share the results: in the classroom they tell about the stories narrated by the victims of the Colombian armed conflict.

But, after noticing the process obtained thanks to two research techniques, How can be identified the assimilation grade of the process by the students? Through the use of both techniques and research under the narrative method, students are able to build historical memory. The appropriation of the two techniques employed, life history and in-depth interview, is accomplished when the experience of knowing the narrative process of a event marked by violence exposes the faces of the victims of the Colombian armed conflict. Following this train of ideas, it means that the students move from the process of abstract interpretation of violence to a concrete process of subject-tellers who interpret multiple violence. Perhaps the most algid part of this process has to do with the method of awareness of the violence phenomenon. Particularly, both processes could not be supplemented without the (mediator) process of awareness.

The process is over when the narrative is told. It means that each group of three students tells to the other students the experience of the interview and therefore they narrate the experience lived by the victim of violence, by the

interviewed. This last exercise permit so identify the strength of the word and its capacity to generate different narratives for the construction of historical memory. Certainly, the result is amazing. We achieved to socialize interviews, ie the research exercise obtained as a process "from outside" that reaches the classroom. But to say "reaches" the classroom means not only pay attention to the socialized narratives; It means also to attend the awareness process in the classroom. The latter, of course, is not merely a physical problem, it is rather the most intimate process: individual awareness that each student goes through when confronted with the most terrible violence customary in Colombia: the anonymity of the Other, the elimination of reminiscence. In short, it is about recognizing the "government" of oblivion in the country of impunity, and yet recognizes also that there is historical memory as its antidote.

5. Conclusion

At the end, it is clear that the process of college education in Colombia requires more leadership by the social sciences and humanities. One way of achieve it is to open spaces that transcend the rigidity of educational schemes. The case portrayed is one of the many cases that could contribute to the contextual training in college. It is necessary a college that approaches and not refrains from the most pressing social problems. In that sense, here we have some conclusions to observe:

First. Think the context is fundamental. Predominantly from the social sciences and humanities, it is crucial that college students have the opportunity to approach social and cultural phenomena and consequently, they can contrast the multiple interpretations. For the case portrayed, it is important to think about violence. As a result, we obtained in the exercise of the course, perception of the multiplicity of violence and its relationship with historical memory. That meant recognize that there are multiple forms of violence, and for the Colombian case, the so-called period of violence cannot be taken as sole reference of the genesis of armed violence.

Second. It is vital to recognize the theoretical influences. It means that multiple interpretations of violence are narratives of subjects who have dared to think about the role of violence in relation to memory. In Colombia you cannot ignore the diverse reflections, discussions and contributions to the understanding of violence, especially after World War II: it is necessary to acknowledge and begin the arduous task of thinking about our process of violence.

Third. It is a priority to have referents for contrast. The multiple interpretations which students approach through readings are the model to contrast with the situation in Colombia. A significant point has to do with the notion of "victim" and its relation with the transformation of the violence in the twentieth century. With such reference, the students were able to contrast what it means to be a victim in (and of) Colombian armed conflict.

Fourth. It is important the confrontation with other versions about violence. After receiving some elucidations of violence and its contrast with the situation in Colombia, the relevant point of the course is the research exercise. The students were able to meet with victims of the Colombian armed conflict and recognized the narratives about the violence generated by war. Therefore, it was possible not only to recognize the multiplicity of violence but also the multiplicity of narratives that allow the construction of historical memory.

Fifth. The awareness process in college education is essential. The last part of the exercise allow us to recognize that awareness make students to interiorize the situation of the victims of the armed conflict. In other words, victims cease to be outside and away from the formative process to become narrative subjects in need of attention. The students acknowledge this when they socialize the interviews. Such recognition confronts students in a beautiful process from outside the classroom and oriented towards inside in training: a process that aims at the construction of historical memory from the investigative exercise. Concisely: an open struggle against oblivion and therefore against impunity in the recent history of Colombian violence.


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