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Family socialization amid forced displacement: between affection, fears, and guilt

Although for decades the phenomenon has been amply researched in Colombia, there are still questions of what this implies for people, their relationships and identities, passing through a painful experience such as forced displacement.
 

The research project 1 proposed trying to understand the socialization processes transformations mothers and children in displacement situation endure, concerning the experiences lived in their families and municipalities of origin.


According to researchers Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann 2 socialization is “[...] the ample and coherent introduction of an individual in the objective world or a sector of it”. In other words, it is the process through which by the interaction with other people, we become cognizant of the world –or parts of it – and we acknowledge being part of, the place we occupy and how to perform in it, meeting the socio-cultural particularities of every context. This is a process that occurs throughout life and in which, at first family is essential, as first socializing agents, as also the first reference for a child, to know how to live or play, among others.
 

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Life, school, peer groups, or working activities are the scenarios for socialization –known as secondary socialization– this complicates our understanding of the world and our participation in it. “The socialization process makes the encounter between society and people possible, the integration of the individual with culture and the development of subjectivity” 3. What happens when it is necessary to integrate and integrate our children into a new culture, an unknown context, such as a city and “city culture” for many displaced families?


For the research project, they wanted to answer this question by rebuilding the stories of mothers and their children speaking about their socialization experiences in their municipalities of origin and with their families and how this process had been after being displaced to Bogotá, identifying the transformations, permanence, and updating of these experiences in the relationships they currently endure.


According to Berger and Luckmann4, human actions are significant in the context of daily life and therefore cannot be understood through causal schemes or as abstract phenomena. They opted for a multiple case design –three cases–, of three family groups in displacement situations coming from the provinces of Cesar, Arauca, and Tolima, that are currently living in Bogotá.


The participating families all have in common what researchers Fernando Arias and Sandra Ruiz (2000, 46) call the “stabilization stage,” characterized by being a moment when the victims of displacement can assess their experience as the “process, acknowledging the change, self-reflecting, and analyzing the process of relating with others.”


In total they interviewed nine people, the mothers and two children per family, rebuilding in the voices of both generations, the socialization experiences endured by mothers in their childhood in the places of origin and then with their families before, during, and after forced displacement, semi-structuring interviews with an open end, life stories, and participating observation.
 

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For primary and secondary socialization –for example, the gender socialization and the affection within families– the research project showed that in the socialization process of these three families there are still idiosyncrasies linked to cultural or regional structures to where they belonged, but also many others are re-evaluated from their biographic experiences of mothers and children. Among the conclusions, we will highlight some gathered in the article entitled: “Entre afectos, miedos y culpas. Socialización familiar en medio del desplazamiento forzado5 (Amongst affections, fear, and guilt. Familiar socialization amid forced displacement), which emphasizes the affections and emotions, as some categories allow observing the effects of forced displacement in family socialization from new perspectives.
 

Fear and guilt


Months and years before displacement, families endured the fear of war, such as death and forced recruitment of their sons or daughters, which broke the trust and solidarity relationships they had with their neighbors. These fears are transformed into new fears that are shared with all the family when they arrive in the city. The main fear expressed by children is their security –specifically an insistent fear of theft and urban violence– and the consumption of drugs. It is difficult to know if these fears are effectively linked to what they live in their neighborhoods or also what they hear from their mothers. In any case, this fear acts upon them, affirming the need to be confined, be accompanied, and the difficulty to mobilize within the city with confidence.

The mothers expressed their fear to lose custody of their children due to the socio-economic conditions they were left with after displacement, employment instability, and precariousness of their living conditionsthat often expose families to greater supervision and control from infant care and protection agencies. Until they achieve stability, fear of losing custody of their children to institutions persists by not being able to guarantee their rights.
 

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These circumstances enhance the contradictions of the state action that, although do not warrant the rights of the families victims of forced displacement nor offer effective repair processes, it does demand guaranteeing the rights of children.


Another emotion they discovered as the main element in the stories of mothers was guilt. They take responsibility for the effects displacement had on their lives, like depression, impoverishment, instability, and absence, besides the effects in the socialization process of their children, hunger, and abandonment.
 

In different reports and studies on the processes of psychosocial care with victims of forced displacement, they emphasize the need to uninstall on people the responsibility for victimizing acts; these findings reiterate this need, stressing not only the importance for families to acknowledge that they were not the causing agents of such displacement, or responsible of the consequences of the displacement of its members, as they are not opportunely and adequately assisted by the government, the main party responsible for their comprehensive repair.
 

Emotions such as fear and guilt that accompany family socialization processes, although emerging categories, suggest the need to acknowledge the impact of forced displacement, in scenarios as complex as ignored such as socialization. This supposes the need to evidence these emotions from social workers and in general, to social and human sciences professionals that accompany psychosocial care processes.


In reference to guilt, they call to question not only those responsible for the victimizing facts, but also to question the responsibilities behind the instability, absence, or poverty conditions they endure after forced displacement and that end up eliciting an emotion of guilt in mothers. The precariousness of the conditions of life, the ignorance and the fears of the city, forge a segregation process that is structured with socialization, as from these family stories, fear is the basic element structuring relationships:  with the territory, —neighborhood and city— and with others —neighbors, peers—. Fear turns essential both in practices such as in the socialization content that displaced families build when they reach Bogotá.

 


1 Universidad Nacional de Colombia Social Work master’s degree thesis research, entitled “Certidumbres en lo desconocido. Socialización en familias en situación de desplazamiento forzado” (Certainness of the unknown. Socialization of families in forced displacement situation).

2 La construcción social de la realidad (1968) p. 164. https://papers.uab.cat/article/view/v1-crespan

3 “Sentí́ que se me desprendía el alma: análisis de procesos y prácticas de socialización”. Juanita Barreto y Yolanda Puyana. Indepaz: Programa de Estudios de Género, Mujer y Desarrollo, Departamento de Trabajo Social, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1996.

4 Research is qualitative and is registered in social constructivism through the work of Berger and Luckmann.

5 Published in number 22(2) of the journal Revista Trabajo Social del Departamento de Trabajo Social. Facultad de Ciencias Humanas de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

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