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About

Dr Gwen Burnyeat is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science, and winner of the 2023 Public Anthropologist Award. She is a political anthropologist and peacebuilding practitioner who studies peace, conflict and polarisation in Colombia and Britain, and is currently Principal Investigator of the ERC-selected research project ‘Stories of Divided Politics: Polarisation and Bridge-Building in Colombia and Britain’ on the role of stories in political divisions, with an ethnographic focus in both countries on the people and organisations who seek to build bridges across complex political divides. Her work spans anthropology of politics and the state; peacebuilding, transitional justice and reconciliation; political theory; disinformation, ‘post-truth’ politics and the global crisis of liberalism; and storytelling and creative ethnography.

 

She is also a writer, and uses fiction and narrative to explore the human experiences of political processes. Her creative work has appeared in Critical Muslim, The Dublin Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere.

Full Bio

Gwen’s background is in literature (she holds a BA from the University of Leeds and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge), and she retrained as an anthropologist after working in human rights and conflict observation in Colombia. She did an MPhil in Social Anthropology as a Leverhulme Study-Abroad Scholar at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, where she also lectured in Political Anthropology, then a PhD in Social Anthropology at University College London (UCL) as a Wolfson Scholar. Before joining Edinburgh, she held a postdoctoral position as Junior Research Fellow in Anthropology at Merton College, University of Oxford, and taught there in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Gwen has worked for over fourteen years on peace and conflict in Colombia as both a scholar and a peacebuilding practitioner, particularly on the recent peace process with the FARC-EP guerrillas and the political divisions left in its wake. Her first book, Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, also available in Spanish, Editorial Universidad del Rosario, 2022), based on her MPhil research, focusses on one of Colombia’s most high-profile grassroots community attempts to build peace in the midst of war. This book is accompanied by her award-winning ethnographic documentary, Chocolate of Peace (2016).

Her second book, The Face of Peace: Government Pedagogy amid Disinformation in Colombia (University of Chicago Press, 2022; Spanish translation forthcoming, Editorial Universidad del Rosario 2024), is an ethnography of the Colombian government officials responsible for negotiating the 2016 peace agreement and communicating it to society before and after a polarising referendum which narrowly rejected the accord. It offers insight from Colombia into the role of government-society relations in peace processes, and the ways in which liberalism responds to disinformation and so-called ‘post-truth’ politics. The book is based on her PhD thesis, which co-won the 2021 LASA/Oxfam America Martin Diskin Dissertation Award.

Building on these themes in politics, liberalism and state-society relations, Gwen co-guest edited a special issue together with Dr Miranda Sheild Johansson (UCL) on “An Anthropology of the Social Contract: Interrogating Contractarian Thinking in State-Society Relations(Critique of Anthropology, 2022). Other collaborations include coordinating the Laboratory for Anthropology of the State in Colombia, a transnational research network of anthropologists who study the Colombian state ethnographically.

As a peacebuilding practitioner, Gwen’s experience covers human rights, dialogue facilitation, peace processes and transitional justice, including with the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and Peace Brigades International (PBI), and she is a member of Anglo-Colombian peacebuilding organisation Rodeemos el Diálogo (ReD, or Embrace Dialogue). As well as academic work she has also published articles on Colombia for the London Review of Books, the Los Angeles Review of BooksAmericas QuarterlyThe ConversationLatin America Bureau, the LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre Blog, The Globe Post, and elsewhere.

Books and Film

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