Profile: Isaias Rojas-Perez

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Faculty
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Global Urban Studies/Urban Systems Ph.D.

Anthropological theory and methods; anthropology of violence; anthropology of the state; anthropology of law; human rights; transitional justice and post-conflict; Latin American studies; Andean anthropology.  

I am associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers-Newark. My research interests include a variety of topics in social and cultural theory, focusing on sovereignty, governmentality, violence, rights, time and memory, the materiality of politics and the politics of materiality, and the ritualization of death in Andean Peru. These research interests draw from my previous long term work as professional human rights activist in Peru, during the worst moments of the 1980s and 1990s armed conflict between the Peruvian military and the Maoist Shining Path, as well as several years of fieldwork in former worn-torn areas of rural Andean Peru.

My recent book is Mourning Remains: State Atrocity, Exhumations, and Governing the Disappeared in Peru’s Postwar Andes (Stanford University Press, 2017). Focusing on the Andean region of Ayacucho, Peru, Mourning Remains examines the attempts to find, recover, and identify the bodies of the disappeared during the 1980s and 1990s counterinsurgency campaign in Peru's central southern Andes. The book looks at the ways elderly Quechua mothers engage forensic exhumations of mass graves as part of their longtime struggle in search for their missing loved-ones. Of the estimated 16,000 Peruvians disappeared, by mid-2016 only the bodies of 3,202 victims had been located, and only 1,833 identified. The rest remain unknown or unfound, scattered across the country and often shattered beyond recognition. I examine how, in the face of the state's failure to account for their missing relatives, the mothers rearrange senses of community, belonging, authority, and the human to bring the disappeared back into being through everyday practices of mourning and memorialization. Mourning Remains reveals how this collective mourning unsettles, and becomes an alternative to, the state's project of securing the future of the body politic by means of governing past atrocity.

I have written various articles and chapters of books on violence, post-conflict, forensic exhumation of mass graves, and the impact of US drug policies on democracy and human rights in Peru. Currently, I am working on ethnographic projects in Lima and Ayacucho, Peru, on textuality, the material culture of violence, ritual, and the interplay between the materiality of memory and the memory of materiality.

  • Associated Programs

    Associate Member Graduate Faculty, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

    Graduate Program in Peace and Conflict Studies, Rutgers University-Newark.

    Graduate Program in Global and Urban Studies.

    Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights.

    International Institute for Peace.

  • Courses Taught

    Graduate Level

    Transitional Justice, Recovery and Legacies of Atrocity.

    Undergraduate Level (At Rutgers-Newark)

    • Women in Anthropological Perspective.
    • Peoples and Cultures of Latin America.
    • Anthropological Theory and Methods.
    • Anthropology of Power.
    • Human Rights in a Global World.
    • Seminar in Anthropology: Materiality, Agency, and Anthropology.
    • Introduction to Cultural Anthropology.  

    Undergraduate Level (At Johns Hopkins University)

    • Pro-seminar “Human Rights and Anthropology.”
    • Cinema, Expression and Social Life in Contemporary Latin America.
    • Coca, Cocaine, Demons and Wars.
    • Intimacy and Political Violence in Contemporary Latin American Cinema.
    • Human Rights in Latin America.
    • Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Latin America.
  • Education

    Ph.D. Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, 2010

    M.A. Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, 2006

    Special Diploma in Sociology, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 1994

    B.A. Electrical Engineering, Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Peru, 1987

  • Publications

    Single-Authored Books

    2017. Mourning Remains: State Atrocity, Exhumations, and Governing the Disappeared in Peru’s Postwar Andes. Stanford University Press.

    Articles and Book Chapters

    2015. “Unearthing Ongoing Pasts. Forensic Anthropology, State Making and Justice Making in Post war Peru.”  In Disturbing Bodies. Anthropology and the Remains of the Dead, 41-62. Edited by Zoe Crossland and Rosemary Joyce. Santa Fe, NM: School of Advanced Research.

    2015. “Death in Transition. The Truth Commission and the Politics of Reburial in Post-conflict Peru.”  In Necropolitics. Mass Graves and Exhumations in the Age of Human Rights, 185-212. Edited by Francisco Ferrandiz and Antonius Robben. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.  

    2013. “Inhabiting Unfinished Pasts. Law, Transitional Justice and Mourning in Post war Peru.” Humanity, An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development 4(1):149-170.  

    2008. “Writing the Aftermath. Anthropology and Post Conflict in Latin America.” In A Companion to Latin American Anthropology, 254-275. Edited by Deborah Poole. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

    2005. “’Ahorita lo solucionamos’. Guerra, Intimidad y Corrupción en Peru.” In Vicios Publicos, Poder y Corrupción, 161-195. Edited by Oscar Ugarteche. Lima, Peru: Fondo de Cultura Economica and SUR.

    2005. “La Crisis Colombiana y Perú.” Colombia Internacional, 1: 60 (Bogotá, Colombia: Centro de Estudios Internacionales, Universidad de los Andes)

    2004. “Peru: Drug Control Policy, Human Rights, and Democracy.” In Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy, 185-230. Edited by Coletta Youngers and Eileen Rosin. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

    2003. “The Push for Zero Coca: Democratic Transition and Counternarcotics Policy in Peru”. The Drug War Monitor, February 2003. Washington, DC: Washington Office for Latin America.

    Coauthored Articles

    2011. “Memories of Reconciliation. Photography and Memory in Post war Peru.” (Co-author with Deborah Poole) e-misferica 7(2); NYU, February 2011. http://hemi.nyu.edu/hemi/en/e-misferica-72/poolerojas.

    2011. “Yuyanapaq: Fotografia y Memoria en el Peru de la pos Guerra.” (Co-author with Deborah Poole)  In Gisella Canepa (ed.), Imaginación Visual y Cultura en el Peru. Lima, Peru: Fondo Editorial PUCP.

    Reports and Other Publications

    2010. “La Matanza de Accomarca. Peritaje Antropológico de Parte Sobre las Secuelas Socio-Culturales de la Matanza y Posibles Vías de Reparación.” Report submitted to the Sala Penal Nacional, Lima, Peru, on behalf of the plaintiffs in the trial on human rights violations in the case of the 1985 massacre of Accomarca carried out by the Peruvian military.    

    Works in Progress

    “Hand-Writing” the Aftermath. Towards an Anthropology of the Disappeared (article intended for American Ethnologist)

  • Research Initiatives

    I am currently developing plans for my second and third books in which I will continue my study of the complex relationships between sovereignty, governmentality, violence, material culture, and collective action in modern Peru. One will offer an ethnography of how a Peruvian Andean Quechua-speaking village inscribes the memory of mass death in the landscape and how, in turn, the state writes a memory of mass death for the village through its legal and forensic practices. The said village is Accomarca, in Ayacucho, Peru, in which the Peruvian army massacred 69 Quechua speaking peasants in 1985, during the counterinsurgency campaign against the Maoist Shining Path. This carnage has been usually portrayed in mainstream media as the Andean version of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. I have written an expert report for the Peruvian courts on the socio-cultural impact of the mass killing. Also, two chapters of my book Mourning Remains draw heavily from my ethnographic work in the village. However, I have left most of the collected material for further elaboration in a book specifically focused on this event of state atrocity. I want to elaborate on the how objects, landscapes, and texts interact in these Andean communities’ efforts to constitute memory as a form of political weapon in their long-standing attempt to secure a relation of coexistence with an ever threatening and mercurial state-power.

    The other book project, which I tentatively entitled “The Last Age of Innocence: Democracy, State Violence, and Human Rights in Neoliberal Peru,” is an ethnographic history aimed at documenting the ways contemporary human rights regimes have moved away from their origins in oppositional politics to become a political technology of “governmentality” invested in informing, measuring, monitoring, and advising state practices. As such, from the perspective of Quechua-speaking people, rather than emancipatory mechanisms, human rights appear to them as yet another civilizing project through which (Spanish-speaking) state power has historically sought to govern and uplift “unruly” indigenous subjects. In Peru, this transition started to occur early on during the internal armed conflict but intensified on the heels of the military defeat of two guerrilla groups (the Shining Path and the MRTA) and the neoliberal reforms of the early 1990s implemented by the regime of former president Alberto Fujimori. For this book, in addition to an interviews with former and current human rights activists and fieldwork among people who were “beneficiaries” of state-sponsored human rights policies at the time, I plan to draw from my previous experience as professional human rights activist in Peru.

    In the long term, I plan to complete a research project in the field of anthropology of law that seeks to expand my inquiry into the work of international human rights case law on cases of desaparecidos in Latin America.  By looking at the rulings of the Inter American Court of Human Rights, I am interested in understanding how practices of state terror and notions of national sovereignty have been reconciled in international human rights jurisprudence. Similarly, I seek to understand the legal languages through which the missing body is spoken of as well as how culturally situated categories such as “proper burial” are legalized through languages of international human rights law.

    Finally, I also expect to start soon new projects in two areas of anthropological research I have been interested in for a long-time. The first is in the field of visual anthropology. Here, I seek to understand how Latin American cinema has dealt with the problem of representation of violence, terror and suffering. I am interested in exploring the ethnographic possibilities of feature films in terms of their potentiality for connecting everyday life, fiction and major historical events through the circulation of ordinary languages and epochal conversations through which people tell their experience in their world. In theoretical terms, I am interested in the problem of the intersections between image and perception, particularly in relation to the question of trauma and mechanical repetition of violence.

    The second project deals with the impact of the “war on drugs” on Latin American democracy and human rights. I have written extensively on this topic in the past and have conducted preliminary fieldwork among the Apurimac River Valley coca growers in the Amazonian region of Ayacucho, Peru, in the early 2000s. I am interested in studying the intersections between the regimes of law, violence, and human rights in the production and circulation of suspicion as the defining form of presence of, and relation with, the state in its margins.