UCL Institute of the Americas


Dr Daniel Willis

The Testimony of Space: Sties of Memory and Violence in Peru's Internal Armed Conflict


PhD completed in 2018 | > UCL Discovery - open access


Professor Paulo Drinot 

Dr Daniel Willis
This thesis sought to contribute to knowledge on Peru’s internal armed conflict (1980-2000), in which the insurgent group Shining Path attempted to destroy and replace the existing Peruvian state, by analysing the key themes of violence, culture and memory through the lens of space. By deploying this spatial analysis, the thesis demonstrates that insurgent and state violence were shaped by the politics and production of space, that cultural responses to the conflict have articulated spatialised understandings of violence and the Peruvian nation, and that commemorative sites exist within a broader geography of memory (or commemorative “city-text”) which can support or challenge memory narratives in unintended ways. Whereas previous literature on the Peruvian conflict, by Carlos Iván Degregori, Nelson Manrique and Peru’s Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, has emphasised the fundamentalist nature of Shining Path’s Maoist ideology, this thesis highlights the ways in which party militants interpreted this ideology in their own way and adapted it to local realities. I also argued that counterinsurgent violence was premised upon a spatialised understanding of Peruvian society which conflated indigeneity with Leftist radicalism. Using a broadly Foucauldian framework, I argue that the state created spaces of exception in order to eliminate political and biopolitical enemies. In approaching cultural responses to the conflict, I used the work of Butler on grievability to argue that the perceived non-grievability of insurgents and indigenous communities has been produced by the vast (and to some extent imagined) cultural distances which exist between Peru’s disparate communities. I also tie these issues of grievability to post-conflict memory practice, arguing that commemorative sites have not only been shaped by spatialised understanding of the conflict and by two distinct memory narratives in Peru, but also by the politics and production of urban space in which each of these sites has been created.