Dr Gwen Burnyeat

Junior Research Fellow in Anthropology

I am a political anthropologist, and I have been working on peace and conflict in Colombia for over a decade as both an engaged scholar and peacebuilding practitioner, particularly on the recent peace process between the government and the FARC-EP guerrilla. I did my PhD in Social Anthropology at University College London (UCL) as a Wolfson Scholar, and before that lectured in Political Anthropology at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, where I also did an MPhil in Social Anthropology as a Leverhulme Study-Abroad Scholar. My work spans anthropology of the state and of politics, peace and conflict studies, political theory, and Colombian history, ethnography and politics. My research uses the Colombian case to contribute to urgent global debates on topics such as dialogue and reconciliation, political polarisation, so-called ‘post-truth’ politics, and the crisis of liberalism.

Research

My current project, ‘An Anthropology of Divided Societies: The Social Reproduction of Political Polarisation in Post-Peace Accord Colombia’, seeks to analyse how peace processes trigger and extend existing historical and cultural rifts, building a framework for comparative research on divided societies. I am also collaborating with Dr Miranda Sheild Johansson at UCL to build an anthropological approach to the social contract, as a window onto contemporary anxieties about state-society relations and the future of humanity.

I retrained as an anthropologist (my background is in literature studies) after working in human rights and conflict observation in Colombia. My first book, Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), based on my MPhil research, is about one of the most high-profile grassroots community attempts to build peace in the midst of a conflict zone, and is accompanied by my award-winning ethnographic documentary, Chocolate of Peace (2016).

My second book, The Face of Peace: Government Pedagogy amidst Disinformation in Colombia (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press), turns from victims of state violence to the state itself. Based on embedded ethnographic fieldwork inside the government department charged with negotiating, implementing and communicating the peace agreement to Colombian society, before and after a referendum which narrowly rejected the accord amidst a staunch disinformation campaign, it analyses the culturally liberal tendency of government officials to resort to rational explanations in reaction to emotive campaigning by the accord’s opponents. It offers insight from Colombia into the role of government-society relations in peace processes, and how liberalism responds to so-called ‘post-truth’ politics.

I am coordinator of the Laboratory for Anthropology of the State in Colombia, a transnational research network of anthropologists who study the Colombian state ethnographically. Between 2020-2022 I will be contributing co-editor to the Anthropology of Political and Legal Anthropology Section News for the American Anthropological Association’s members’ publication, Anthropology News. I also coordinate Embrace Dialogue Academia (EDA), a platform which brings together academics working on different aspects of the Colombian peace process aiming to bridge research with policy and practical impact.

My practitioner experience covers peacebuilding, human rights and dialogue facilitation, including with the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and Peace Brigades International (PBI); and I am a member of transnational civil society organisation Rodeemos el Diálogo (Embrace Dialogue) which supports peacebuilding in Colombia. As well as academic work I have also published articles on Colombia for the London Review of Books, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Americas Quarterly, The Conversation, Latin America Bureau, the LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre Blog, The Globe Post, and elsewhere.

Teaching

In 2021-22 I will be teaching the MPhil/MSc option module, 'Anthropology of Politics and the Political' at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Publications

Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia. London ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

The Envoy: A Government ‘Peace Pedagogy’ Session in Colombia’s Transition’. In Terrain (2020). https://doi.org/10.4000/terrain.20438

‘Peace Pedagogy and Interpretative Frameworks of Distrust: State-Society Relations in the Colombian Peace Process’ (2020). Bulletin of Latin American Research, 39: 37-52. https://doi.org/10.1111/blar.12885

‘‘Rupture’ and the State: the ‘Radical Narrative’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia’ (2017). In Antípoda: Revista de Antropología y Arqueología, 29: 17-40. https://doi.org/10.7440/antipoda29.2017.01

On a Peak in Darién: Community Peace Initiatives in Urabá, Colombia’ (2013). In Journal of Human Rights Practice, 5(3): 435-445.

Una barrera a la paz: polarización en el debate colombiano de víctimas’ (2010). In Revista Javeriana, 768: 30-43.

Reviews

Lesley Gill’s A Century of Violence in a Red City (2016): Contributions and Challenges to Future Scholarship on the Colombian Peace Process’ (2020). In A Contracorriente, 17(22): 294-304.

Forero Ángel, Ana María (2017). ‘El coronel no tiene quien le escuche: Una aproximación antropológica a las narrativas militares’ (2019). In Revista de Estudios Sociales.