602.1 The language of human rights: Construction of memory and attitudes toward torture in contemporary Argentina

Friday, August 3, 2012: 2:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Barbara SUTTON , Women's Studies, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY
Kari Marie NORGAARD , Sociology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
The process of democratization after the last military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983) has been influenced by human rights organizations’ relentless efforts to bring about truth and justice and to keep the memory of human rights abuses alive. A key goal of these efforts is to ensure that state-sponsored atrocities (including torture, disappearance, and appropriation of children) are “never again” committed. Human rights advocacy and protest have permeated public discourse and influenced different democratic governments’ policies and initiatives (e.g. promoting human rights education, creating special commemoration days, joining the international convention against torture, bringing accused perpetrators to trial, supporting the creation of sites of memory, and sponsoring various cultural events). These actions and the ideologies that emanate from them contribute to the discursive context in which human rights violations are interpreted by individuals in contemporary Argentina.

This paper examines the importance of the language of human rights in shaping memory about the dictatorship and informing attitudes toward torture in Argentina. The analysis is based on twenty in-depth interviews (part of a broader cross-national study conducted during 2007-2010) with adult men and women from across the political spectrum in Argentina, who were members of diverse civic, religious, political, non-profit, and community organizations. No matter the political orientation (from the most radical to the most conservative), all of the interviewees condemned torture. Yet the language and frames they employed and the narratives surrounding political events varied. These accounts expose the conflicted terrain of memory construction: the rhetorical work of making sense of individual biography in relation to a disturbing political past, efforts to reconcile personal ethics and concrete responses to human rights abuses, and the persistence of core ideological values and discourses, some of which do not always smoothly fit with current expressions of human rights support and condemnation of torture.