[Thesis] Sigrun Schaumburg-Müller: “Present Pasts and Projections for the Future”

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While conflicts are per definition characterized by conflicting interests and interpretations of the current state of affairs, the memories of past conflicts and their resolution may be just as contested. Different factions will often try to promote their narrative of the past and this may in turn make for new conflicts

Sigrun Schaumburg-Müller investigates how different groups in El Salvador are promoting their narratives of the civil war of 1979-1992. Through a number of primarily narrative concepts, Schaumburg-Müller investigates how transitional justice has been and is currently being framed, and how various groups use narratives of the civil war to project their visions for the future.

The thesis can be accessed here.

Sigrun Schaumburg-Müller holds a Master’s degree in International Studies from Aarhus University. She has travelled throughout Latin America, and worked with the Salvadoran NGO CRIPDES in 2015. She earned her bachelor’s degree in comparative literature at Aarhus University. Sigrun currently lives in Bogotá, Columbia, where she follows the country’s transition to peace.


Sigrun Schaumburg-Müller’s thesis investigates the role of memory narratives in transitional justice as they have evolved in El Salvador in the aftermath of the country’s civil war. The transition from conflict to a peace encompasses various elements, one of which is the search for the truth of what happened. This is often a challenge in transitional societies, as different groups in the (former) conflictual society are likely to have different understandings of the past.

Sigrun Schaumburg-Müller investigates different understandings of the past in El Salvador through Francesca Lessa’s term of memory narratives, focusing on narratives stemming from official bodies, as well as one that has emerged as a counter-memory to these.

To analyse the different narratives, Schaumburg-Müller borrows Greimas’ actant model from narrative analysis, supported by elements from Fairclough’s discourse analysis. The sources of analysis include the 1993 Truth and Reconciliation Report From Madness to Hope, The Salvadoran History book Historia de El Salvador II, monuments found in San Salvador, and the narrative that emerges in the department of Chalatenango through looking at murals, interviews, as well as a yearly commemoration of the victims of a massacre that was executed in the area of Las Aradas in 1980.

Schaumburg-Müller concludes that the different narratives promote the same vision for the future: Democracy, peace and human rights adherence. However, they constitute different ideas as to how to achieve the goals. The Truth Commission report supports an approach that ensures two-sided recognition of the crimes committed during the war as a way to further reconciliation. The state-promoted narrative of the 1992-2009 period favours forgetting to further peace, while the civil society in Chalatenango consider projects that decrease social inequality and poverty as the most essential in obtaining a just transition. Thus, the thesis demonstrates how memory narratives establish projections for the future and directly affect which transitional justice measures are implemented on both local and national level in the relevant society.

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