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Citizens' political apathy:

A genealogy of the Colombian case

Related to this project: 

Political apathy

Key words:  Colombia, research, conflict, identity, society, ideas, violence.

Due to other priorities, this project has been momentarily set aside. 



Colombia has experienced six decades of conflict involving different armed groups and the state itself. During this period, citizens have increasingly become less inclined to claim their rights and more prone to ‘voluntary obedience’ (Rodríguez, 2014). Additionally, during the last three decades, the Colombian population has experienced the rise of neoliberalism and the diminishing of people's social rights, from a Weberian perspective, through charismatic leaders (Rodríguez, 2014).


My research attempts to contribute to the current literature concerned with the implications of citizenship in conflict-ridden societies. And, particularly important, this research is relevant for an assessment of the quality of Colombia’s democracy in terms of weak oppositional movements. The hypothesis is that the stigmatization of leftist thought, in addition to a particular understanding of structural violence influenced by the existing conflict has an impact on citizens’ political subjectivity. In order to tackle the hypothesis, the proposal consider three sub-questions:


Has leftist thought been securitized and ultimately constrained citizens’ ability to claim their rights? Has the conflict been influencing citizens’ perspectives about being objects and subjects of violence? And finally, does the long history of brutal actions minimize the legitimacy to argue against structural violence circumstances by means of social protests summoned by common citizens?




In order to understand citizens' subjectivity and the historical confluence of power and knowledge permeating modern society, Foucault’s (2004) biopolitics is relevant to this proposal. As such, biopower is a means through which the state subjugates and controls its citizens. In line with Foucault, a citizen is a construction of forces external to himself: "The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces" (Foucault, 1980: 74).


On the same theoretical line, the Securitization Theory is proposed to understand the likelihood of leftist thought stigmatization. As Buzan et al. explains, security consists in a particular speech act aiming to bring an issue outside of normal politics (Buzan et al., 1998, p.32). As such, the securitizing actor uses a rhetoric of existential threat in order to persuade its citizens and justify new measures to combat the supposed danger. In the political context of a state at war with leftist guerrillas, the inter-subjective creation of an existential threat associated with the guerrilla groups can have an impact on citizens' ability and willingness to take to the streets for rights that can be associated to socialist causes.


The very same war rationalizaties, as suggested above, influencing citizens' political subjectivity are related to the understanding of violence. The understanding of violence is socially constructed, according to socio-political circumstances. For the purpose of this proposal, violence is understood in terms of Galtung’s structural violence, which occurs when societal circumstances do not allow citizens to realize their full potential  (Galtung, 1969, p. 171). Structural violence is related to harm produced by neoliberalism in terms of distribution of resources and it distinguishes itself from armed, physical or military violence. Both structural and armed violence are present within Colombian society and they can impact the understanding of legitimate and illegitimate forms of violence. The presence of armed violence could minimize the importance of structural violence and delegitimize forms of violence that, as Tilly suggests, are inherent to protests claiming the respect of social rights (Tilly, 1975, p.230) .


Through neo-liberalization, citizens have become increasingly defined as claim-making subjects, attaching subjective meanings to their actions (Isin, 2008). Likewise, Arendt’s understanding of citizenship relates to the political capacity to claim rights and the generalisation of obedience is a condition where disobedience is not possible (Balibar, 2007; ). For the context of this proposal, political subjectivity will be defined as pertaining to acts of citizenship and insurgent citizenship (Holston, 1999; Isin, 2008). This definition is related to the proposal's objective to understand the relative passivity of citizens toward life circumstances they consider unbearable. 




The research will adopt the genealogical method proposed in Foucault (1977) and Buzan’ s (1998) securitization theory. By studying how concepts have changed over time, post-structuralists seek to understand how those same concepts are understood in the present. The study will show how citizen’s political subjectivity is intertwined with the Colombian conflict, which has worked as a laboratory of power (Foucault, 1979) and constrained citizens’ ability to claim their rights.


Selected governments speech acts will be analyzed and a generational analysis (matching the selected governments) to observe political subjectivity evolution is suggested.




In order to isolate the subjectivity concerning structural violence and apathy from the many dynamics related to direct form of violence, this proposal suggests focusing on Bogotá and its natural citizens. Compared to other areas, Bogotá did not experience the conflict, however, the city has a great impact on the country political development.


Securitization Theory will be used over a determined period to understand Bogotá’s citizens’ apathy toward claiming their rights. Discourse analysis will focus on political speeches.


In addition, semi-structured interviews will be carried out with citizens belonging to different genetations in order to investigate individual’s subjectivity as well as patterns of change related to the understanding of leftist-associated actions and violence perception. These can be used to elaborate a questionnaire or survey to be distributed to a broader sample of citizens.


Securitization and generational analysis will focus on the same time frame.





Balibar E. (2007), ‘(De)constructing the human as human institution: a reflection on the coherence of Hanna Arendt’s practical philosophy’, Social Research, 74 (3), p 737


Buzan B., Wæver O., and Jaap D. (1998) 'Security: A New Framework for Analysis'. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.


Foucault M. (1977), ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ in Language Counter-Memory Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, D. F. Bouchard (ed), Ithaca: Cornell University Press


Foucault M. (1979), 'Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison', Harmondsworth: Penguin


Foucau!t M. (1980) 'Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972- -1977', Pantheon Books, New York


Foucault M. (2004) 'Naissance de la biopolitique. Cours au Collège de France (1978- -1979)', Seuil & Gallimard (Hautes Études), Paris


Galtung J. (1969) ‘Violence, peace and peace research’, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 167–91.


Isin E. F. (2008), ‘Theorising Acts of Citizenship’ in Acts of Citizenship, Isin, E. F. and Nielsen, G.M. (eds.), London: Palgrave Macmillan


Holston J. (2008), 'Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of democracy and modernity in Brazil', Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Rodríguez E. (2014). 'La protesta social en el primer gobierno de Juan Manuel Santos'. Jurídicas CUC, 10 (1), 233 - 281.


Tilly C. (1975), 'El siglo rebelde', 1830-1930; Prensas universitarias de Zaragoza, P. 230

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