Guerilla Warfare and the Use of New (and Some Old) Technology - Lessons from FARC's Armed Struggle in Colombia

Débora de Castro Leal
Débora de Castro Leal
Max Krüger
Max Krüger

CHI, pp. 5802019.

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Keywords:
appropriation infrastructure political conflict war
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The term describes the phenomena in this account, but builds on other accounts within the HCI and CHI canon. It traces the development of forms of technology appropriation in a variety of conflictual and post-conflictual situations and attempts, over time, to find a conceptual fr...

Abstract:

Studying armed political struggles from a CSCW perspective can throw the complex interactions between culture, technology, materiality and political conflict into sharp relief. Such studies highlight interrelations that otherwise remain under-remarked upon, despite their severe consequences. The present paper provides an account of the ar...More

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Introduction
  • Computers and information communication technology (ICT) have become a crucial component of the infrastructure of conflicts around the world: the Islamic State had an extensive social media strategy [39], for example, using it for recruitment purposes [8].
  • Over the past decade or so these specific usages of digital and information communication technologies have received increasing scholarly attention, especially from within the CHI and CSCW community [6, 42]
  • Such studies show that the use of these technologies is embedded in complex interactions between culture, political conflict, materiality, other technologies and existing social practices.
Highlights
  • Computers and information communication technology (ICT) have become a crucial component of the infrastructure of conflicts around the world: the Islamic State had an extensive social media strategy [39], for example, using it for recruitment purposes [8]
  • Over the past decade or so these specific usages of digital and information communication technologies have received increasing scholarly attention, especially from within the CHI and CSCW community [6, 42]. Such studies show that the use of these technologies is embedded in complex interactions between culture, political conflict, materiality, other technologies and existing social practices
  • Our study demonstrates that technology usage in conflict situations and its effects need to be considered as embedded in a complex network of interrelations between culture, technology, geographical location and social practices
  • While this is arguably always true, specific relationships in the context we describe, in our view, are best understood through the lens of 'attritional infrastructure' and 'counter appropriation,' so as to distinguish it from contexts where there is a more symmetrical access to given technologies, or from other less conflictual situations
  • The term describes the phenomena in this account, but builds on other accounts within the HCI and CHI canon. It traces the development of forms of technology appropriation in a variety of conflictual and post-conflictual situations and attempts, over time, to find a conceptual framework which accounts for shifting patterns of use
  • In line with these previous studies our account shows that counter appropriation of the use of technologies is a common phenomenon in conflict situations
Methods
  • The research methods employed by the authors consisted of an exploratory analysis of observations and unstructured and narrative interviews.
  • In August 2018 author one returned to Bogota and the specific ETCR, followed by authors three and five to collect further data
  • During this journey she spent several days in Bogota, again interviewing people whose lives were entangled with FARC-EP and the conflict.
  • She travelled to the ETCR, followed by authors three and five, where they spent 7-8 days
  • During this time the authors interacted with the camp inhabitants, consisting of former FARC-EP combatants as well as their family members and friends.
  • The authors make no judgements about the political positions of protagonists
Results
  • The FARC-EP operated mainly in the vast and often remote Colombian countryside
  • Their distributed units were mobile and would move around regularly to control their territory and engage in combat with the Colombian army as well as paramilitaries.
  • As a result of the rapidly evolving technologies employed by the Colombian national army, the FARC-EP was forced to develop strategies to deal with this use, even if the technologies at their own hands were much less advanced.
  • The authors will end with a description of how learning was organized as a prerequisite for their adaptation and adoption of new technology
Conclusion
  • In this paper the authors present a unique account of a guerrilla army's efforts to use old and new information technology for their own aims, while at the same time counteracting the enemy's employment of much more advanced technology against them.
  • The authors will discuss how FARC-EP managed to employ the rather simple technology at their disposable to achieve coordination of distributed groups over a large terrain.The authors' study demonstrates that technology usage in conflict situations and its effects need to be considered as embedded in a complex network of interrelations between culture, technology, geographical location and social practices
  • While this is arguably always true, specific relationships in the context the authors describe, in the view, are best understood through the lens of 'attritional infrastructure' and 'counter appropriation,' so as to distinguish it from contexts where there is a more symmetrical access to given technologies, or from other less conflictual situations.
  • The Colombian conflict was shaped by the involvement of many different actors, and the authors lack an understanding of the actual functions of the technologies the authors mention here, processes of appropriating these technologies on the side of the army, or their relation to any other involved parties such as paramilitaries, other leftwing rebels or crime syndicates
Summary
  • Introduction:

    Computers and information communication technology (ICT) have become a crucial component of the infrastructure of conflicts around the world: the Islamic State had an extensive social media strategy [39], for example, using it for recruitment purposes [8].
  • Over the past decade or so these specific usages of digital and information communication technologies have received increasing scholarly attention, especially from within the CHI and CSCW community [6, 42]
  • Such studies show that the use of these technologies is embedded in complex interactions between culture, political conflict, materiality, other technologies and existing social practices.
  • Methods:

    The research methods employed by the authors consisted of an exploratory analysis of observations and unstructured and narrative interviews.
  • In August 2018 author one returned to Bogota and the specific ETCR, followed by authors three and five to collect further data
  • During this journey she spent several days in Bogota, again interviewing people whose lives were entangled with FARC-EP and the conflict.
  • She travelled to the ETCR, followed by authors three and five, where they spent 7-8 days
  • During this time the authors interacted with the camp inhabitants, consisting of former FARC-EP combatants as well as their family members and friends.
  • The authors make no judgements about the political positions of protagonists
  • Results:

    The FARC-EP operated mainly in the vast and often remote Colombian countryside
  • Their distributed units were mobile and would move around regularly to control their territory and engage in combat with the Colombian army as well as paramilitaries.
  • As a result of the rapidly evolving technologies employed by the Colombian national army, the FARC-EP was forced to develop strategies to deal with this use, even if the technologies at their own hands were much less advanced.
  • The authors will end with a description of how learning was organized as a prerequisite for their adaptation and adoption of new technology
  • Conclusion:

    In this paper the authors present a unique account of a guerrilla army's efforts to use old and new information technology for their own aims, while at the same time counteracting the enemy's employment of much more advanced technology against them.
  • The authors will discuss how FARC-EP managed to employ the rather simple technology at their disposable to achieve coordination of distributed groups over a large terrain.The authors' study demonstrates that technology usage in conflict situations and its effects need to be considered as embedded in a complex network of interrelations between culture, technology, geographical location and social practices
  • While this is arguably always true, specific relationships in the context the authors describe, in the view, are best understood through the lens of 'attritional infrastructure' and 'counter appropriation,' so as to distinguish it from contexts where there is a more symmetrical access to given technologies, or from other less conflictual situations.
  • The Colombian conflict was shaped by the involvement of many different actors, and the authors lack an understanding of the actual functions of the technologies the authors mention here, processes of appropriating these technologies on the side of the army, or their relation to any other involved parties such as paramilitaries, other leftwing rebels or crime syndicates
Related work
  • TECHNOLOGIES OF CRISIS AND WAR

    For several years now, research has examined the role of technology and especially digital media in politically contested and conflict-laden situations or in cases of political activism. Studies have for example examined the role of IT applications in the European Social Forum [29]. The political uprisings that have been summarized under the rubric, “Arab Spring,” have drawn scholarly attention to the use of social media in conflictual situations [6, 19, 22, 28]. These studies have looked, for instance, at how platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been used during protests in Tunisia and Egypt [6, 19]. Many of these studies relied on the analysis of online data such as Tweets or blogs to understand how activists have utilized these media in their protests. This approach enabled the study of potentially dangerous contexts in relative safety. Using online surveys, Kavanaugh et al [18] studied how young Tunisians used media during the Tunisian Revolution in 2011. Ban Al-Ani et al (2012) [6] investigated the use of blogs during uprisings in Egypt in the same year. Using both quantitative and qualitative analysis of posts made by Egyptian activists, they were able to identify counter-narratives Egyptian bloggers created in protest against the government of Mubarak. Similarly, Mark et al [23, 24] focused on the study of “war diaries” that Iraqi bloggers published during the war in Iraq. Their study examines the relationship between war-related posts and other topics, such as posts about daily routines. Exemplifying a quantitative approach to the study of social media in protest, Zhou et al (2010) [45] analyzed 3 million tweets made in Iran during post-election protests in 2009. Their account provides insights about how information spreads, specifically on Twitter. While such online studies shed light on digital technology and media in potentially dangerous contexts, they tell us less about how these technologies are used on the ground. Several studies have tried to engage activists and participants directly and investigate the actual practices. Using telephone interviews, Semaan and Mark (2011) have studied how ICTs help Iraqi citizens deal with breakdown of infrastructure during the second Gulf War and maintain a sense of normalcy in new social arrangements[34] as well as build trust and collaborative practices [33]. Only few studies have investigated the role of digital technologies in conflict on the ground, for understandable reasons. Focusing on the protests in Turkey in 2013, Tufekci [40] explored how political activists were using social media, exhibiting a high level of creativity in their practices to escape known surveillance efforts by the government. Wulf et al [43] investigated how activists in Tunisia used social media platforms to organize protests, share news and mobilize support. In this study they also examined how social media use interacted with more traditional media such as TV, and how both offline and online networks were influential in organising the protests. A similar co-evolution of online and offline practices was observed in a study on the role social media played in Palestinian protests against the wall built by Israel [42]. These studies show how mobile phones and social media are used advantageously by activists in the organization of political protests and the dissemination of information about them. They also shed on light on how these infrastructures enabled increased surveillance of activists by government actors, and the creative practices actors employed to escape this surveillance. Relatively few qualitative studies investigate the role of digital technology in the context of open warfare. Rohde et al (2016) [28] have studied the role of digital media and mobile phones in the Syrian civil war by interviewing protesters and members of the Free Syrian Army. Their data provide further examples of how actors creatively escape surveillance, but also show the need actors face to devise strategies to deal with disrupted digital infrastructure. Shklovski and Wulf [35] have investigated the use of digital media by civil actors as well as combatants in the Ukrainian-Russian war. Their study shows how mobile phones have become a crucial component of the infrastructure of the war, but also how combatants are forced to mitigate the risks phones pose for their lives by enabling localization through enemy soldiers.
Funding
  • The work was supported by National University of Colombia and a grant for early career female researchers from the University of Siegen
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