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The corner of the living : local power relations and indigenous perceptions in Ayacucho, Peru, 1940-1983


This microhistorical study examines the lived experiences and cultural understandings that shaped indigenous peasants' divergent responses to the Shining Path guerrilla insurgency in 1980s and 1990s Ayacucho, Peru. Situating the insurgency within a deeper history of power relationships, I argue that microlocal experiences and perceptions with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, and class conditioned Quechua-speaking highlanders' responses to the insurgency. Those who supported the rebels often did so because they hoped it would bring to justice local actors who had habitually violated morally, traditionally, and collectively-defined standards of conduct for members of their corresponding race, class, and/or gender. In communities where customary authority and justice had succeeded in curbing such deviant social behavior and preserving public order, indigenous peasants resisted the insurgency because they saw Shining Path itself as a threat to the local status quo. My comparative study uses the local experiences of two communities--one whose villagers initially supported the guerrilla movement, and another whose villagers violently opposed it--as a watershed for explaining large-scale responses to the insurgency. This approach allows us to appreciate the degree to which local histories of domination and conflict, together with the cultural meanings that villagers' took away from those histories, motivated indigenous actors on both sides of the conflict to turn to violence during the civil war. It can also be useful not only for broadening our understanding of the motives behind collective action, but also in identifying the historical intersections between power, culture, and violence

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