Exile, Return, Record Exploring Historical Narratives and Community Resistance through Participatory Filmmaking in ‘Post-conflict’ Guatemala
Following previous experiences of violence and forced displacement, ‘the returnees’ from the Guatemalan campesino community ‘Copal AA la Esperanza’ are now defending their territory against the construction of a hydroelectric dam. The returnees unexpectedly mobilized me as a Belgian historian to ‘make’ their ‘shared history’ and produce a documentary about their past and present struggle. The aim of this article is to reflect on how and why I developed a participatory, filmmaking-based methodology to tackle this challenge. I focus on filmmaking, participation and knowledge production to demonstrate the epistemological and ethical benefits of a dialogue between disciplines and methodologies as much as between academic and community practices and concepts. As such, I exemplify my visual participatory approach through its engagement with post-colonial histories and the co-creation of shared knowledge at the intersection of community and research interests. Moreover, I demonstrate how filmmaking can be developed as a grounded, visual, and narrative approach connecting media activism with ‘performative ethnography’. Combining insights from participatory action research (PAR) with Johannes Fabian’s notion of ‘performance’, I argue for ‘nonextractivist methodologies’; ‘knowing with’ instead of ‘knowing-about’. From being a side project and a matter of research ethics, participatory filmmaking turned for me into an investigative tool to explore the collective production and mobilization of historical narratives. I argue that participatory research should not be limited to communities participating in research projects; researchers can equally participate in community projects without this obstructing scientific research. In sum, participatory visual methods challenge us to reconsider the role of academics in (post-conflict) settings.
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