A Sacred House for the Lost: Chile's New Museum of Memory and Implications for Human Rights Today
Mosqueira, Ursula Maria
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This thesis investigates the creation of collective memory by exploring the case of a new government-sponsored Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Chile. The exhibit commemorates human rights violations perpetrated by the State during the country's dictatorship (1973-1990). Being the first government-sponsored memorial of its kind and magnitude, the exhibit speaks to Chile's post-authoritarian democratization efforts and to the multiple challenges still facing memory-making today. Remembering traumatic events, which defy and often threaten a social group's core sense of collectivity, can be a taxing and daring task. Memory-makers or "carrier-groups" that framed this trauma narrative for others to use were faced with difficult questions when attempting to tell a story about controversial and painful events. The way the museum's narrative is framed also carries implications for human rights and for the quality of democratic development today. To better understand this case, the thesis asks (1) how were individual stories transformed into a collective representation?; (2) given that defining memory is often polemical, how is this representation sustained as legitimate?; and (3) what are the implications of this official portrayal of national memory for human rights and democratic development in Chile today? Negotiation and mythification are identified as two processes by which memory-makers transformed individual accounts of the past into a legitimate and single collective representation. My analysis shows the museum chose to focus its narrative on honoring dictatorship victims (of forced disappearance and extrajudicial executions). It does so through a Catholic narrative of salvation, whereby victims are provided a sacred space for reverence. While this myth helps establish a broadly recognized symbolic grave for dictatorship victims, it also depoliticizes and dehistoricizes Chile's authoritarian period. The narrative helps secure the Chilean State as a guarantor of civil and political rights, but of social, economic and cultural rights, which have become prominent in democratization agendas since the 2000s and whose inclusion in the exhibit would allow for a deeper interrogation of the past in light of current social challenges.
- Sociology