SPIRe Seminar Week 9: ‘The Struggles for Memory and Justice in Post-dictatorship Argentina’

SPIRE’s week 9 seminar will feature Dr. Cara Levey, Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, University College Cork on The Struggles for Memory and Justice in Post-dictatorship Argentina Thursday 21st November.

Venue: A106 Newman Building

Time: 13:00-14:00


Since the mid-1990s, Argentina has experienced an upsurge in the mobilisation of civil society, notably human rights, relatives’ and survivors’ organisations who have  called for perpetrators of human rights violations committed during the most recent dictatorship (1976-1983) to  stand trial, and undertaken many projects related to both truth-seeking and commemoration. It is in this context in which I examine the societal struggles  for memory  and justice in post-dictatorship Argentina, exploring a range of commemorative initiatives in Buenos Aires. First, I consider initiatives to recover sites associated with the dictatorship, notably the many former clandestine detention centres such as the ESMA, Orletti and Club Atletico where so-called “subversives” were held and tortured and from where many were forcibly disappeared. The struggles to recover these sites for societal projects are arduous and complex, mobilising both state and societal actors and raising questions about the way in which the past has been addressed more broadly by successive post-dictatorship governments.  In the second part of the paper, I consider H.I.J.O.S (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence) – a group made up of children of Argentina’s disappeared –  who have, since 1995, employed the” escrache” to contest the impunity characteristic of post-dictatorship Argentina. “Escraches” are somewhat controversial acts of public shaming during which 300 to 2,000 people invade neighbourhoods and identify the homes and workplaces of “represores” (perpetrators of dictatorship-era crimes), to expose their identities, challenge their anonymity and publicise the crimes of which they stand accused in order to produce moral and social condemnation as a counterpoint to judicial investigation into the past.

This paper argues that the “escrache” and the recovery of sites of repression are used to critique not only the human rights violations committed during the last dictatorship, but to shape collective memory in contemporary Argentina.  Moreover, I demonstrate that the struggles for memory and for justice are intertwined. The paper will thus explore the initiatives and their engagement with the political and judicial spheres and potential for challenging impunity in the post-dictatorship period.


Cara Levey is a Lecturer in Latin American Studies at University College. Her main research area is human rights and memory in the Southern Cone and she has published a range of articles on cultural memory in Argentina and Uruguay. Her AHRC-funded doctoral research (completed in November 2010) explored contested commemorations of human rights violations in Argentina and Uruguay and she has published a number of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on this topic. She is currently working on her monograph, entitled “Commemoration and Contestation in Post-dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay: Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity”. Her next major research project is an exploration of the politics of memory of the Falkands/Malvinas conflict, which in particular examines commemorative initiatives and narratives undertaken in the UK since 1982. She is a regular contributor to Al Jazeera English. She holds a PhD from the University of Leeds and MA from the Institute for the Study of the Americas.


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