Pilar Riaño-Alcalá

Wall Associate




School of Social Work and the Social Justice Institute





Geographic Location

Pilar Riaño-Alcalá

Pilar Riaño-Alcalá (PhD in Anthropology) is a professor at the School of Social Work and the Institute for Social Justice, and faculty fellow in residence at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Canada. She is also a researcher with the Colombian Commission of Historical Memory, working for the last four years in documenting emblematic cases of war related to violence in Colombia (gender violence, forced displacement, massacres, land grabbing). Pilar has also led the development of a methodological strategy and resource material for the documentation of historical memory in zones of armed conflict and from a victim-centred perspective. She has trained memory workers, researchers and academics on these methodologies in Colombia, Uganda and Canada.

Pilar’s scholarly work is primarily concerned with three broad themes: the lived experience of violence and displacement, the politics of memory, and the ethnography of social repair. Pilar’s work also explores how ideas of community are negotiated and contested in contemporary societies, and how individuals construct their memberships as citizens, community members, refugees, immigrants or across transnational borders through social struggles and creative processes. She is the author of Dwellers of Memory. Youth and Violence in Medellin, Colombia (Transaction Publishers, 2006), among many others articles and co-authored books and reports.

Primary Recipient Awards

Erin Baines – International Research Roundtables – 2017

Memory and Civic Responsibility During and After Mass Violence
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Pilar Riaño-Alcalá, School of Social Work, UBC; Dr. Erin Baines, Liu Institute for Global Issues, UBC

During and following periods of mass violence, confusion arises over who did what and why, as well as who is responsible. Memory projects address questions of responsibility through the documentation of facts, recognition of loss, contesting denial and assigning blame. Official, often state-created or endorsed memory projects include trials, truth commissions, national inquiries, commissioned works of art or monuments, and the creation of museums or archives. Such projects exist alongside unofficial, often victim-led and community-based memory projects, such as the creation of public shrines or tributes to the dead, large-scale marches, sit-ins, protests and demonstrations, creative works such as memory quilts, public art installations or music. Combined, these initiatives usher into public debate the question of a) who is responsible, politically, legally and morally for mass violence, and b) what responsibility does one hold toward another to resist or denounce violence?

The Roundtable “Memory and Responsibility During and After Mass Violence” brought together an interdisciplinary group of twenty-four artists, community leaders and scholars to consider how and why people forget, deny or remember responsibility for mass violence.

Pilar Riano-Alcala – Wall Solutions – 2017

Exhumations and Reburial in Colombia: Strengthening forensic practices through knowledge transfer

Principal Investigator: Dr. Pilar Riaño-Alcalá, Department of Social Work, UBC

Partner Organization: Jose Valencia, Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, Colombia

During and after mass violence, how can we advance the proper exhumation, identification and reburial of dead bodies in ways that draw on the knowledge of indigenous communities and are respectful of their worldviews? This project takes place in Colombia where between 2006 and 2016 alone, 5,267 mass graves were found and 60,699 persons were identified as missing in the context of a war spanning five-decades. A disproportionate number of these victims were from Indigenous and Black communities. Today, leaders from these communities are leading processes on the rightful ceremonies and practices to exhume, identify, and rebury their dead, at times clashing with forensic scientific teams. This project proposes an innovative approach towards a better understanding of locally grounded meanings and practices surrounding exhumations. UBC researchers will work with the Committee for the Rights of the Victims of Bojayá and the National Center for Historical Memory to document the process of exhumations and reburial, collect information on lessons learned, and produce a best practices toolkit and knowledge transfer outputs (life histories and video letters) to be disseminated at local, regional, national and international levels.

Pilar Riano-Alcala – Exploratory Workshops – 2011

This workshop was held Feb 23-24, 2012.

Violence ruptures social relations between intimate others: neighbours turn against neighbours; teachers betray their pupils; clergy transgress their congregations; mothers doubt their sons, nephews fight their uncles. How do people, families and communities restore their relationships when the bases of ‘the social’, ‘family’, and ‘community’ have been frayed? What does social repair mean in these everyday contexts and within the extraordinary circumstances of displacement, separation, war and disappearance? How can the field of transitional justice consider these everyday processes to better their theoretical and practical approaches?

To address these questions, this exploratory workshop brings together leading UBC, national, and international scholars from Law, Anthropology, Political Science, Social Work, Indigenous Governance Studies, History, Performance Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and Regional and Community Planning. The academic objectives of the workshop are threefold: 1) to conceptualize micro-level memory and reconciliation practices, and performances of social repair; 2) to develop a framework of how such micro-level practices interact with national and international processes of transitional justice and; 3) to examine the implications of these ideas to the field of transitional justice.

The workshop brings into conversation different disciplines to examine micro-level practices enacted by survivors and witnesses of mass violence. Taking these practices as an epistemological axis for the development of a theoretical and practice framework, and bringing together scholars from various regions of the world, collapses the South-North divide characteristic of the transitional justice field to date (wherein transitional justice scholars and practitioners are largely Western, and the countries and subjects of study are largely ‘non-Western’). Theoretically then, this workshop is an important challenge to the dominance of transitional justice by Western scholarship, and a critical advancement in the study of the micro-level processes and performances in the field of transitional justice.

This exploratory workshop features two public events and four private working sessions. It will work towards the publication of a Special Issue of the International Journal of Transitional Justice, will develop the Liu Institute’s for Global Issues’ Transitional Justice Network, and will lay a strong foundation for the development of a Peter Wall Major Thematic Grant.