This thesis draws on a fieldwork carried out during spring 2010 with internally displaced people living in Medellín’s poor quarters, who have fled from the Colombian conflict that has ravaged the countryside for decades. The thesis explores how the internally displaced re-establish their lives in the aftermath of the expulsion from the rural areas in Antioquia and Chocó.
The establishment in the city involves multiple processes in which they reconstruct livelihoods, reconfigure citizenship and rebuild places. The processes are mediated by mechanisms of power relations between the displaced people, the state and the host community. The thesis shows that the most important factor in one’s economical and development strategies is not the governmental aid and subsidies, but the inter-household transfers and maintenance of social ties with others. Without denying that the internally displaced people are subordinated to certain power relations, the thesis acknowledges that they cannot simply be seen as victims of forces that are beyond their control. The internally displaced people are restrained by existing structures of power, but these structures also leave them in a space of action within which they are competent social agents capable of influencing their own lives. The process of establishment in the harsh environment brings forth acts of creativity from the displaced population.
The displacement implies not only a change of ‘territorial’ place but also a change of ‘social’ place. When they arrive in the city, they enter what may be seen as a void, excluded from the urban community. Focusing on the interaction between the internally displaced people and representatives from organizations and institutions associated with the state, the thesis seeks to analyze how the internally displaced people experience citizenship through the process of registering in the official register for internally displaced people (RUPD). In accordance with a growing body of literature from social sciences, I argue that citizenship cannot only be viewed as a legal status guaranteeing citizens equal positions in the society. Citizenship is more fruitfully understood as something that is produced and reproduced through social practice. Acknowledging this enables one to see that in practice there are several citizenships which are hierarchically structured.