The Social Meaning of Human Security in Medellin, Colombia: An Action Research Oriented Initiative

October 03, 2019

There are many perspectives around the meaning of human security in Medellin. In the past four years the local government has placed much of its efforts on the city’s security, and in so doing, it has set in motion citywide conversations about the very meaning of “security”. Some people interpret the message as one only concerned with policing and surveillance. Others talk about material security, such as financial stability and purchasing power; while others conceive security merely as their ability to move freely around their neighborhood and the city, given that Medellin has a history of “invisible borders” between gang territories that has limited people’s ability to move around.  

AC4’s Youth, Peace, and Security Program housed at the Earth Institute—Columbia University, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, and a local organization Son Batá, are joining capacities to identify and compile the narratives about the multiple meanings attached to human security in Medellin. The objective is to shed light on the effects of personal and social narratives about human security on processes that inhibit and/or reinforce patterns of conflict and peacebuilding. In short, what is the role of personal and social narratives in processes of social transformation? The idea flourished as YPS program director, Dr. Fisher-Yoshida and Son Batá’s director, John Sanchez, were having lunch in Comuna 13, while discussing the most pressing issues that affect the youth of Medellin and their leadership and transformative capacity.

Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Joan Lopez with community partner from Son Bata

While it is true that political and economic systems, infrastructure, and the environment, have profound effects on the lives of youth, through distinct iterations of mapping the dynamics of violence and peacebuilding with youth leaders, we’ve noticed that there’s another vital element in the system: personal and collective narratives, the stories people create and recreate about themselves and their communities. These narratives interact with the more overt elements of the system (political and economic systems, infrastructure, the environment, etc.) in a way that can either inhibit or reinforce patterns of conflict or peacebuilding.

The nature of the approach for this study will be systemic and action research oriented. Systemic because it strives to capture the complexity of the system and the interrelation of most of its elements vis-á-vis, social and personal narratives; and action research oriented because the data collection, analysis, and dissemination, will be participatory between members of the communities and academic researchers. Researchers from the three mentioned entities are assembling local action research teams who will work in partnership with local community members to collect the narratives of community members using the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) and Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) methods.

Joan Lopez and partners at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana

This initiative will be launched during the last week of October at UPB university in Medellin, where members of Son Batá and AC4’s Youth, Peace, and Security program will make a formal presentation about the nature and scope of the project.