How to study a massacre? A methodological discussion
Paper short abstract:
Based on a study of a massacre in a Mayan village perpetrated by the Guatemalan Army in 1982, this paper discuss methodological problems of investigating mass violence that took place in the past. What are the limitations of methods like testimonies etc. and what could be an additional approach?
Paper long abstract:
Given the presence of multidisciplinary debates on Transitional Justice and how different societies come to terms with their violent past, which is evidenced by a high number of publications on the issue, it is surprising that methodological proposals for the refurbishment of politically motivated violence are relatively rare. Even most of the anthropological studies about concrete acts of violence do not go beyond interviews and testimonies. Frustrated by these methods in my own research, this paper aims to frame the limitations of interviews and testimonies as methodological tools to capture such a complex phenomena like a massacre. Based on a case study of a massacre in a Mayan village perpetrated by the army of Guatemala in 1982, I found it impossible to get a clear picture of what happened 30 years ago, the very particular historical and local context in which it took place, the multiple ways in which the massacre was experienced and the variety of relationships between the people involved in it. This paper proposes a reconstructive approach to the study of massacres, which does not want to replace interviews and testimonies but like to offer an additional tool by emphasizing methodologically the relationship between place and memory as well as the collective character of the experience and the historical process of which the massacre is part of. At this point, it does not exemplify a highly elaborated methodological tool, but can rather be considered a methodological attempt that should be developed further.
The massacre and its intimacy: violence among neighbors