Low intensities

Published

Journal Article

© 2019 by The University of Chicago. This essay opens with one of hundreds of massacres carried out in the early 1980s in Guatemala by agents of the military state. The killing was meant to depopulate the Rio Negro valley to make way for a hydroelectric dam. Like much of the violence of the 36-year conflict, it was low-tech and carried out by civil patrollers, which is perhaps why the Guatemalan civil war was considered a “low intensity conflict” by US Army definitions: “below conventional war… employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments.” I suggest that these instruments encompass what many anthropologists call culture. While beginning with a moment of spectacular violence, the essay then traces the mundane, everyday political and economic embeddings of militarism into Guatemalan social institutions, life, conditions of possibility, meaning systems, and abilities to affect and be affected. A history of the present, it traces the paramil-itarization of the army/government in the 1960s and 1970s via the development of death squads and other clandestine bodies and illicit networks that shape state functioning today. Yet it also explores the intensities of countercultures of militarism, the networks that have forced perpetrator accountability, reparations, and state recognition of Mayan peoples and their rights to defend their territories from accumulation by dispossession.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Nelson, DM

Published Date

  • January 1, 2019

Published In

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0011-3204

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1086/701040

Citation Source

  • Scopus