Richard Georgi in “A paso de tesis…” on our Netcapaz platform
Continuing with the contributions of researchers who are finishing or have finished their PhD and Master’s theses and are registered on our Netcapaz platform, we are pleased to present the reflections of Richard Georgi, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, who recently finished his PhD and whose research topic and personal life were transformed while doing his thesis on the Colombian armed conflict.
How has your research topic transformed since the PhD programme began?
Richard Georgi. Netcapaz researcher
It changed a lot, and I think this is normal, if not absolutely necessary. In interpretive research on ongoing peace processes, the political dynamics and information gathered ‘must’ also surprise the researcher, and motivate him or her to revisit central concepts of his or her work.
I began by researching the impacts of human rights activism on the internal armed conflict and its transformation in the peace process. But I soon realised that “armed conflict” meant very different things to different people and was not an objective phenomenon. The conflict is constantly being reconstructed in different discourses in an attempt to explain the prevalence of violence.
I then turned my research towards the experiences of human rights defenders who seek to provide meaning to the violent realities they experience on a daily basis, and what this means for central research concepts such as peace, peace process, violent armed conflict, and transitional justice. Researchers often have predefined concepts (transition-post-conflict, local-international, war-peace, liberal-populist) into which they try to fit the testimonies they collect in their fieldwork. My task has been to deconstruct the dominant concepts and debates in human rights, peace, and conflict studies in order to reconstruct them from the experience of human rights defenders.
What specific issues related to the area of peace and conflict do you think your research contributes to?
I have reviewed a number of debates located at the intersection between human rights, conflict and peace, international relations, and transitional justice. In particular, I contribute to the conceptualisation of the politics of human rights activism, human rights as a discursive economy, and the understanding of armed conflict as a hegemonic discourse on violence. I also delve into issues such as peace processes understood as hegemonic crises, the deconstruction of the local-international divide in peacebuilding, geographies of peace, and populism and human rights.
Empirically, I draw attention to the experience of human rights defenders in a context of promises of peace and a better future without violence. My research question is: How do human rights defenders perceive and challenge the violent political realities that occurred during the 2016 peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP?
I dare to formulate a response that is not definitive: instead of a transition to a post-conflict era -long awaited by even the most pessimistic activists- the peace process was trapped in a political moment of violent confrontations over the past, present, and future, which, in the opinion of many advocates, reissues conflicts with the political right led by former President Álvaro Uribe under the aegis of the promised peace.
However, this promise, although postponed, was a game changer. It gave human rights defenders the opportunity to mobilise people who want to believe in a reality that goes beyond the demobilisation of a guerrilla whose presence in the territories has been rapidly and bloodily replaced by an amorphous set of armed actors. In this sense, the systematic attacks against activists, however atrocious and horrendous they may be, can also be interpreted as an initial sign of a new reality. A reality from human rights defenders that poses a real threat to the elites who profit from violence and whose hegemony has been undermined by the peace process.
What products from your research have been recently published?
My thesis was published by the University of Gothenburg (https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/70143) and consists of four research articles, three of which are published and one is under review.
The articles are:
- Georgi, F. Richard. Peace that Antagonizes: Reading Colombia’s Peace Process as Hegemonic Crisis. Security Dialogue (Online First).
- Georgi, F. Richard. 2022. The Popular Appeal of Human Rights Activism: Re-Imagining Transitional Justice as a Political Struggle. Global Studies Quarterly2 (3).
- Georgi, F. Richard. 2019. In-between Translation, Transformation and Contestation: Studying Human Rights Activism as Politics-as-Ruptures in Violent Social Conflicts. Millennium: Journal of International Studies48 (1): 3-24.
Alongside these articles, I wrote another one about my experiences during a ‘peace tribunal’ in El Tarra, Catatumbo:
I also participated in and gave numerous conferences on the subject, especially in Sweden. Towards the end of my PhD, I organised an online conference with two colleagues, where we brought together several Colombian human rights defenders, academics, and legislators: https://www.gu.se/en/globalstudies/imagining-peace-otherwise-five-years-of-the-colombian-peace-accords-experienced-from-the-margins
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