Dr. Kimberly Theidon is a medical anthropologist focusing on Latin America. Her research interests include domestic, structural and political violence; gender studies; theories and forms of subjectivity; human rights and international humanitarian law; transitional justice; the politics of post-war reparations; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs for ex-combatants; and US counter-narcotics policy.
Dr. Theidon’s first book, Entre Prójimos: El conflicto armado interno y la política de la reconciliación en el Perú (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1st edition 2004; 2nd edition 2009) draws upon extensive qualitative research on political violence, trauma, religious movements and struggles over memory in post-war Peru. Her comparative community-based study of the micropolitics of reconciliation practiced at the communal and intercommunal levels identifies various factors that facilitate–or hinder–the reconstruction of social relationships and coexistence in the aftermath of fratricidal violence.
Entre Prójimos was awarded the Latin American Studies Association 2006 Premio Iberoamericano Book Award Honorable Mention for outstanding book in the social sciences published in Spanish or Portuguese. Additionally, Entre Prójimos served as the primary inspiration for the film La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow), Claudia Vargas Llosa’s award-winning movie about sexual violence, memory and the complicated issue of reconciliation in ethnically-divided Peru. More information.
Dr. Theidon’s second book, Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru (Studies in Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press 2012) focuses on the aftermath of Peru’s internal armed conflict, as well as the legacies of the truth and reconciliation commission that was established to investigate the causes and consequences of the war. Intimate Enemies explores post-conflict reconstruction, attuned both to devastation as well as to people’s tenacity for life.
At some point in reading accounts of mass violence, there is usually a moment in which the reader sets down the text, shakes his or her head, and wonders “how in the world did this happen?” How did people commit acts of lethal violence against individuals with whom they had lived for years? How could family members and neighbors become enemies that one was willing to track down and kill? Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru plunges the reader into the heart of Peru’s internal armed conflict in an attempt to answer those questions, and to pose a few more. One particularity of civil wars is that foreign armies do not wage the attacks. Frequently the enemy is a son-in-law, a godfather, an old schoolmate, or the community that lies just across the valley. There is no invading army that gathers up weapons and returns to some distant land. Not these wars. When the killing stops, people are left living side by side. What happens next? Drawing upon years of research with communities in the highlands of Ayacucho, Theidon examines how Peruvians are rebuilding individual lives and collective existence following twenty years of armed conflict. These efforts are relevant in many other contexts in which people strive to reinvent everyday life amid landscapes steeped in blood and memory, fully aware of the danger human beings pose to one another.
Intimate Enemies was awarded the 2013 Honorable Mention from the Washington Office on Latin America-Duke University Libraries Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America, and the 2013 Honorable Mention, Eileen Basker Prize for research on gender and health from the Society for Medical Anthropology.
Dr. Theidon is currently completing two book manuscripts. The first is Pasts Imperfect: Working with Former Combatants in Colombia (under contract, University of Pennsylvania Press). This book draws upon several years of research with former combatants from the paramilitaries, the FARC and the ELN. A key challenge following mass violence is what to do with the thousands of low-level perpetrators whose sheer numbers may overwhelm the legal system and whose return to civilian life may generate tremendous fear and resentment. In this book, Dr. Theidon discusses how these former combatants conceptualize not only killing, but also justice, reparations, and reconciliation — concepts that are central concerns to the growing field of transitional justice. Taking the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration program (DDR) as its point of departure, Pasts Imperfect explores the lives of these men and women, and the complicated social dynamics that ensue as they return to civilian life.
The second manuscript is "Speaking of Silences: Gender, Violence and Redress in Peru." This book explores how the victim-centric logic of transitional justice may silence other relationships people have with their pasts, particularly with regard to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence. Dr. Theidon analyzes interviews with women and men about their experiences of sexual violence, questioning certain common sense notions of gender and war. Speaking of Silences contributes to a new wave of research on the uses of sexual violence during armed conflict to generate both theoretical conversations as well as recommendations for future reparations programs.
I am an International Faculty Member in the Community Psychology Graduate Program at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
I also serve as a Faculty Mentor in the Security, Drugs and Democracy Program, sponsored by the Social Science Research Council and the Open Society Institute.
I am a member of the Editorial Board at the Journal of Human Rights.
At Harvard I am member of the Standing Committee on Ethnic Studies, the Committee on Degrees in Women, Gender and Sexuality, and the Policy Committee at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.
Dr. Theidon is the executive director of Praxis Institute for Social Justice.
More information, see www.kimberlytheidon.com
John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences
Department of Anthropology
William James Hall 406
33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
T | 617 495-3805
F | 617 496-8355
"My research past and present reflects what drew me into the field of medical anthropology: the power of critical theory to illuminate pressing social issues."
Praise for "Intimate Enemies"
"What is it like for ordinary people to live through revolutionary violence and the state’s repression of that violence? This stunning book offers amazing and troubling insight into the lives of peasants in highland Peru who endured the revolutionary and increasingly violent movement of the Shining Path and the onslaught of soldiers seeking to ferret out and destroy it. Kimberly Theidon describes vividly, through powerful stories and quotes, what happened to the people caught in the conflict. Her rich, ethnographic account also describes resilience in the face of suffering, moments of joy and caring, efforts to rebuild and to forget. This is not simply a story of human suffering, but also one of endurance and recovery."
— Human Rights Quarterly, February 2013, Sally Merry
Intimate Enemies is a tour de force: it seamlessly blends a profound analysis of extensive conversations, interviews and observations conducted over a period of more than 15 years in villages and towns in the department of Ayacucho, the “cradle” of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), with the existing comparative literature on transitional justice, collective violence and medical anthropology. This research is presented through the lens of Theidon’s personal experience of being an “engaged anthropologist.” It is very difficult to account for mass violence without erasing the grey areas that exist between perpetrator and victim. It is also very difficult to do research among a traumatised and partly complicit population that is also marginalised from national political narratives and practices. Because Theidon does both these things, and does them well, her book is a key contribution to the growing body of literature examining the Peruvian conflict. Moreover, Theidon is also a great storyteller, and she is able to make a good read out of a long and harrowing story. Theidon’s book is a “must read” for anthropologists and analysts of mass violence, but also for all those concerned with transitional justice processes.
– Journal of Latin American Studies, November 2013, Jelke Boesten
"Kimberly Theidon is an example of a new breed of anthropologist. Theidon’s interest in Shining Path began in 1987, when she first visited Peru as an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz. The war was raging and it was a time of hyperinflation, curfews and blackouts – Santa Cruz soon stopped sending its students to Peru. But Theidon stayed long enough to be able to frame what she sees as ‘deceptively simple questions’ about the conflict: ‘how do people commit acts of lethal violence against individuals with whom they have lived for years? How can family members and neighbours become enemies one is willing to track down and kill?’ When Theidon returned to Peru in 1995, she began working with Quechua-speaking communities, wanting not just to find the answers to her questions but to ‘explore how people reconstruct individual lives and collective existence in the aftermath of war’. Theidon found Quechua methods for dealing with the aftermath of violence in some ways more sophisticated than those pushed by the trauma experts. A number of the Ayacucho communities she worked with subscribed to a process known as pampachanakuy, a ritual setting aside of aspects of the past in which two parties negotiate an agreement, then metaphorically bury their differences. She contrasts this with what she considers an uncritically accepted bromide: ‘more truth = more healing = more reconciliation.’ Theidon characterises this as ‘the tyranny of total recall’ and contrasts it with the more nuanced Quechua approach, which she describes as ‘remembering to forget’."
— London Review of Books, Peter Canby
"Intimate Enemies is an exhaustive life’s work…Theidon, who has had ties to Peru since 1987, collaborated with the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PTRC) in order to understand the kinds of “memory projects” that transpired through the commission. Here Theidon explicates compelling points around narratives of violence, silence and locality. While acknowledging the potential value derived for the state and individuals of truth and reconciliation projects, Theidon nonetheless, with great care, considers the constraints that such projects institute – constraints that not only shape how one can speak of and to violence, but that limit the ways we might envision justice in the aftermath of violence. Intimate Enemies adds a much-needed contribution to scholars in political science, Latin American studies, and human rights. While her study is situated in the context of the Peruvian internal armed conflict, her conceptual contributions of rethinking truth projects, expanding justice, and re-evaluating the ethics of speech, narration and research extend well beyond Peru, truth commissions, and civil wars."
– Law Culture and Humanities, Oct. 2013, Julietta Hua
"In Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru Kimberly Theidon brings testimonies and narrations that speak about gender, ethnicity, illness and health, pain, sorrow, as well as truth and hope in reconciliation amidst violence, poverty, and social discrimination. These narratives show the intricate ways of how memory works and how memory is loaded with meanings that appeal to the senses in many different ways. Theidon pays close attention to the heterogeneity of voices that are part of the “gray zones” left in rural Andean villages turned upside down by a traumatic recent past that is marked by a distant, dense, and conflictive historical relationship with the Peruvian State. As a result, this book is an important effort to understand post-conflict societies and their intentions to rebuild their social fabrics."
— Anthropological Quarterly, Summer 2013, María Eugenia Ulfe
"Theidon takes as her subject the community psychology and individual experiences of villagers who survived the destruction only to find that they then faced the enormous challenge of reconstructing meaningful lives together, frequently alongside those who had perpetrated humiliation, torture, rape or killing against them or their loved ones. Theidon’s writing is evocative and accessible, but sensitive to the harrowing stories she describes. Intimate Enemies will be of interest to anthropologists and others working in post-conflict areas or on community reconciliation, whether in Latin America or elsewhere in the world."
— Anthropology in Action, Summer, 2013
“Kimberly Theidon explores the devastating impact of Peru’s prolonged civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, a conflict fought by Shining Path rebels, counterinsurgent state forces, and Andean peasants. Many Andean men and women participated in the Shining Path as militants, sympathizers, or forced recruits, while many others joined militarized peasant patrols to fight against the insurgents. Theidon examines community members’ experiences of extreme fratricidal violence, where perpetrators of political violence were often the brothers, cousins, and neighbors of their victims. She also explores the dynamics of communal reconciliation, investigating how community members have engaged local perpetrators of violence in the aftermath of the conflict. Theidon’s fine study is essential reading for scholars of Peru and for those interested in the legacies of political violence, truth commissions, and postwar reconstruction. Indeed, this study is one of the most important books in Andean anthropology published in the last decade.”
— The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History, vol 70(1), 2013. Jaymie Patricia Heilman
"What happened in Andean communities after the insurgency? Some community members, even those who had not fought with the Shining Path, had sympathized with it. Others, including army veterans and widows and orphans, had not. Kimberly Theidon, a medical anthropologist, describes their painful adjustments to coexistence. She shows that public confessions and apologies, healing rituals and storytelling, and degrees of punishment and reparation helped to "settle accounts." More than any other scholar of Peru's war, Theidon humanizes the legacy of the violence and indicates just how much the trauma still burdens Peru today.”
— Foreign Affairs, Feb 5th, 2013, Cynthia McClintock
"In her masterful ethnography of the legacies of violence in Ayacucho, Peru, Kimberly Theidon offers a critical intervention into discussions of post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice. Intimate Enemies exemplifies hauntingly the power of the ethnographic method and demonstrates eloquently what anthropology can offer contemporary debates. At a time when universities and in particular social science departments are coming under attack for their lack of demonstrable worth, this work makes a vital case for importance of long-term, extended fieldwork and reflection." — Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, November 2013, Winifred Tate