My field research of twenty years in Colombia, Ecuador and Canada has explored questions of fear, everyday and political violence, historical memory and reconstruction of community among war survivors, refugees and internally displaced groups (Riaño-Alcalá 2008), and youth and marginalized communities in urban areas of Colombia (Riaño-Alcalá 2006). In 2009, I completed a three year SSHRC-IDRC funded comparative study on the Forced Migration of Colombians that was developed in collaboration with a Colombian based Non Governmental Organization, Corporación Región, the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso) in Ecuador and, with a network of local organizations of forced migrants in the three countries (Riaño and Villa 2008, Riaño-Alcalá 2008).
Pressing questions about how societies deal with a violent past are central to my work and have informed the creation of a methodological toolkit of interactive and participatory methods for historical memory work (Riaño-Alcalá 2009). I have used this methodological toolkit to train and work with memory workers, leaders, academics and research assistants in various regions of Colombia, in Ecuador, in Canada and in Uganda.
Currently I am an advisor to the Colombian Commission of Historical Memory in the area of Social Dynamics, Learning Processes and Memory Practices. I am currently exploring (with funding from a Hampton Research Grant), how participants in the sessions and activities organized by the Commission of Historical Memory understand the social functions of giving testimony and remembering in these public settings. In the Commission, I have documented two emblematic massacres in the Colombian conflict that also illustrate the strategies of gender and ethnic violence used by the armed actors and women’s strategies of resistance to violence (the massacre of Bahia Portete and the massacre of Bojaya) and have also worked in the documentation of two cases emblematic of the strategies of terror and internal displacement (San Carlos and Comuna 13). Additionally, I was one of the team members that produced the reports on women, war and resistance in Colombia (see publications).
This work, and my collaboration with Dr. Erin Baines on a research project examining community based strategies to document human rights abuses in Colombia and Uganda, inspires my recent writing on questions of witnessing, truth telling and commemoration (Riaño-Alcalá 2011), and the relationship between the documentation of atrocities, historical memory, and local, national and international justice. This collaboration with Dr. Baines and the growing work of a group of our PhD scholar gathered around the Transitional Justice Network (TJN) has led to the development of an international, interdisciplinary research, practice and learning project on memory, violence and justice after/during mass violence with three core components: a) an international research agenda to document and understand the ways people who live through violence cope, seek to redress, and realize social repair and justice, including: storytelling, creative arts, ceremony and ritual; oral histories, digital media, verbal and performative arts, memorialization and curation. This agenda has a particular focus on South to North collaboration; b) an educational and curricular project and, c) outreach and public pedagogy component.