Dignified Life: A Normative Horizon for Human Development in Rural Colombia

Mantilla, Juan Carlos (2016). 'Dignified Life: A Normative Horizon for Human Development in Rural Colombia' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract Dignified Life: A Normative Horizon for Human Development in Rural Colombia Keywords: Dignified Life, Peasant Reserve Zone, Cimitarra River Valley, Capabilities The objective of this research is to establish a theoretical dialogue between the capabilities and human development approach and the aspirational notion of dignified life defended by the Peasant Association of the Cimitarra River Valley, a social organization that promotes a project called peasant reserve zone in the central basin of the Magdalena River in Colombia. Formulated as a political theory problem, this research has involved fieldwork with leaders of the association, under the epistemological assumption of the validity of their worldviews as a source of political theory. The methodology under which the fieldwork is conducted and the data is interpreted is hermeneutic phenomenology. The theoretical dialogue established between the capabilities and human development approach and the aspirational notion of dignified life defended by the Cimitarra Valley Peasant Association has shown notorious convergences with some of the central capabilities of Nussbaum’s list. This conclusion might contribute to the debate about universalism in which the human development and capabilities approach has been involved.   The political argumentation of the Association is built upon an aspirational notion of dignified life for which full development should the reserve zone provide the conditions. The political claims that have motivated their social activism –involving agricultural strikes, political demonstrations, and permanent periodical peasant congresses- have been centered on this notion, which is claimed and insinuated but is not fully developed nor formulated in a theoretical way. In order to reconstruct this notion, several in depth interviews have been conducted with the leaders of the association, men and women that have been working with their community for more than two decades, and which life experience illustrates most of what they claim. Additionally, they have provided the research with several documents produced by the association itself or related institutions and people, like biodiversity research reports, music albums, and testimonial literature. These documents have notoriously supported the research.        After analyzing the interviews and the official documents using a phenomenological approach to reconstruct the aspirational notion of dignified life, I found that it has 4 elements, all of which can be related to one or more of the ten central capabilities that constitute the list proposed by Nussbaum as those which exercise over a certain threshold level define a life worth being lived by a human being.               The first element of the aspirational notion of dignified life is the political recognition of rural citizen’s agency, which implies the recognition of the legitimacy of the peasant economy as a valid alternative development model. This element relates directly to the capabilities of practical reason (6), which involves “being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s life” (Nussbaum, 2011),[1]and control of the own environment (10), which implies, when referred to the political rather than the material conditions, “being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life”[2].   The second element is the aspiration to the respect of life and physical integrity, which is a reaction against the violations of this rural citizen’s most basic human rights in the context of an internal armed conflict of which they are victims. In part, the association was created as a means of self-defense, to reject violence without becoming violent, using a strategy of public denouncing of violent situations. This element relates directly to the capabilities of life (1), involving “being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length” (Nussbaum, 2011)[3]and bodily integrity (3), implying “being able to move freely from place to place, (and) to be secure against violent assault”. (Nussbaum, 2011)[4]     The third element is the aspiration to solidary social and economic interactions, centered on cooperation instead of competition. This aspiration is actually a way of living that involves a “bank of working hours” for communitarian projects such as routes, bridges, water distribution, childcare, and the like, or even more private ones such as house construction, harvest recollection, or fence reparation. This kind of interactions is usually framed by “Cooperativas”, community based solidarity institutions that promote fair trade of basic goods, cattle raising, harvest transportation and commercialization, and even industrial processing of raw agricultural products such as rice or corn. This element relates directly to the capability of affiliation, which involves “being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interactions, (and) to be able to imagine the situation of another.” (Nussbaum, 2011)[5]. Moreover, the “Cooperativas” are precisely the kind of institution that constitute and nourish the respectful and dignifying forms of relating to others inherent to the capability of affiliation. This aspirational element is in fact as fertile as this capability is, for cooperative ways of relating to others support and promote the exercise of other capabilities, such as life, bodily health, bodily integrity, practical reason, and control of the own political and material environment.   Finally, the fourth element is the aspiration of a balanced and harmonic relationship between human beings and nature. This element is illustrated by the conservation project called “The Yellow Line”, by which this rural citizens intend to keep an area of 80.000 hectares of rainforest from any kind of human intervention, despite the proved presence of coal and gold. This element relates directly to the capability of other species, that implies “being able to live with concern for or in relation to animals, plants and other species” (Nussbaum, 2011). [1] Nussbaum, Martha C. Creating Capabilities. The Human Development Approach. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England. 2011. P.34. [2] Nussbaum, Martha C. Ibídem. P.34. [3] Nussbaum, Martha C. Ibidem. P.33 [4] Nussbaum, Martha C. Ibidem. P.33. [5] Nussbaum, Martha C. Ibidem. P.34.

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