Thursday, May 16, 2019

Michelle Bellino writes about hope in postwar Guatemala for Anthropology News


In 2012, Professor Michelle Bellino was in Guatemala City, listening to a classroom activity and growing more curious about the extent to which Guatemalan citizens felt agency when it came to contributing to the peace and inclusion that they were promised after a postwar transition. She wrote about this experience in “Letting go and holding on, Documenting hope in postwar Guatemala,” an article published by the American Anthropological Association.

As an ethnographer, Bellino felt that her role “demanded careful attention to the everyday impacts of violence in a way that highlighted the toll it took on individuals’ well-being as their social and spatial mobility narrowed.”

She noted the ways in which violence impacted some people’s well being and social mobility. She also began to wonder how young Guatemalans defined themselves beyond the struggles and violence they experienced. “Grounding the study in an understanding of youth experiences also demanded attention to the ways that even the most marginalized assert themselves,” she explained.

One common theme in her conversations with young people is that hope felt risky for them when it was linked to expectations for their lives. Bellino reflected on critical questions like these as she wrote her book Youth in Postwar Guatemala: Education and Civic Identity in Transition, which was awarded the 2018 CAE’s Outstanding Book Award. She explains, “Hope was not easy to hold onto, its edges sharp. Occasionally, however, I saw hope in claims of impotence and indifference, even when these markers of optimism were not visible to young people themselves. The book ends by recognizing that doubt functions paradoxically as fatalism and hopeful anticipation. The refusal to praise small victories is one way of saying, We expect more. We are worth more. This is not enough.”

Michelle J. Bellino is Assistant Professor

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