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The Reconstruction of Community and Identity among Guatemalan Returnees ()


Kristi Anne Stølen

University of Oslo, NO
About Kristi Anne
Kristi Anne Stølen is professor of social anthropology at the Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo. She has written extensively on  gender, power and social change based on fieldwork in Argentina and Ecuador. Currently she is conducting research on the causes and consequences of violence in  Guatemala, seen through the eyes of returned refugees. Her recent publications  include ‘Constructing the Future: Experiences of Guatemalan Returnees’, which  she edited together with N. Shanmugaratnam and R. Lund, In the Maze of Displacement: Conflict, Migration and Change (2003, Kristiansand: Norwegian Academic Press), and ‘Contradictory Notions of the State: The Case of Returned Refugees in Guatemala’ edited by C. Krohn-Hansen, and K. Nustad (2004, State Formations, Anthropological Explorations, forthcoming).
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Based on anthropological fieldwork in the Petén,  Guatemala, this article focuses on the (re)construction of community and identity among returned refugees. With a past marked by armed  conflict and violence, flight and life in exile,  return and resettlement, the returnees are in the  process of developing a new multi-ethnic community based on their common experiences as  well as on new forms of cooperative organization  that incorporate solidarity and equality to prevent the recurrence of the injustices of the past. The  paper discusses how their encounters in exile with  other people from a variety of ethnic groups and  with the international aid and solidarity organizations influenced them in the development of a  new community that is quite different from the  ones the returnees had left behind in Guatemala. It  also explores the processes whereby social identities are shaped and reformulated and how they are  linked with struggles over power on the one hand  and with livelihood practices on the other.  

Resumen: La reconstrucción de la comunidad y de la identidad entre retornados  guatemaltecos

Con base en investigación antropológica realizada  en Petén, Guatemala, este artículo se centra en la  (re)construcción de las comunidades e identidades  de refugiados que han regresado a su lugar de  origen. Cargando un pasado de conflicto armado y  violencia, lucha y vida en exilio, los retornados  deben construir una nueva comunidad multiétnica, basada tanto en sus experiencias compartidas  como en nuevas formas de organización cooperativa que incluyen solidaridad e igualdad para  prevenir las injusticias del pasado. Este ensayo  debate sobre los encuentros de los retornados  durante el exilio con gente de otros grupos étnicos, con la ayuda internacional y organizaciones  de solidaridad, y sobre cómo esto los ha influenciado para desarrollar así una nueva comunidad  que es muy diferente a aquéllas que los retornados  habían dejado antes en Guatemala. También se  explora el proceso a través del cual las identidades  sociales son definidas y reformuladas, y cómo éstas están vinculadas a luchas de poder, por un  lado, y con las prácticas de subsistencia, por el  otro.  

How to Cite: Stølen, K. A. (2004). The Reconstruction of Community and Identity among Guatemalan Returnees (). European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, (77), 3–24. DOI:
Published on 15 Oct 2004.
Peer Reviewed


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