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Human rights politics and scaled performances of memory: conflicts among the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina

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This paper builds on the geographies of commemoration literature extending the scope of inquiry to consider the scaled performances through which the politics of memory unfold. I focus on an analysis of conflicts over the creation of memorial landscapes that emerge from the intricate ways in which representations of the past and the everyday politics of social movements intersect. The paper analyses the competing politics of memory of two groups of Madres de Plaza de Mayo (mothers of people who ‘disappeared' during Argentina's Dirty War). Their strategies underscore geographic dimensions of the politics of memory as the Madres clash over how to appropriately place memory in the landscape. While one group emphasizes making visible the events of the past to promote transmission of memory and to remember those who disappeared, the other group focuses on re-interpreting symbols about the past in an attempt to encourage future activism. Such conflicting strategies manifest spatially in a variety of ways, ranging from the creation of physical markers in the built environment to the performance of collective rituals that centre on activists' bodies as sites for either commemoration of the past or future activism. The Madres' conflicts highlight how different spatialities contribute to validate or condemn competing politics of commemoration.

Keywords: memory; performance; scale; social movements

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182‐4493, USA

Publication date: 2004-09-01

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