Understanding how conflict-induced displacement shapes human agency and aspirations: a case study in Colombia

  • Maria Bohada Rodriguez

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract The University of Manchester María del Pilar Bohada Rodríguez Doctor of Philosophy Understanding how Conflict-induced Displacement Shapes Human Agency and Aspirations: A Case Study in Colombia 2021 The study of how migrants and displaced populations deploy agency has received considerable attention in contemporary research. Questions of how displacement affects people’s agency and their opportunities to pursue their aspirations, and the temporal dynamics between displacement, agency and aspiration, however, are still under-researched. By overlooking the dynamics between displacement, agency and aspiration, conflict-induced displacement research has not only failed to understand the ways people’s plans and hopes for the future are affected by conflict and displacement but also how displaced people exert agency to rebuild their lives and achieve their aspirations. In order to address these limitations, this thesis looks at how conflict-induced displaced people exert agency to navigate the multiple barriers they encounter in their new place of settlement in order to pursue their aspirations. Drawing on Emirbayer and Mische’s (1998) notion of agency, the thesis examines aspirations before and after displacement, and how the research participants deploy the multiple temporalities of agency to navigate the multiple barriers encountered in their community of origin and new place of settlement, in their attempt to attain these aspirations. Drawing on contemporary academic debate on displacement as well as the narratives of internally displaced people in Colombia, I develop a twofold argument: firstly, conflict-induced displacement disrupts an individual’s agency and aspirations. Secondly, over time, those displaced are able to exert agency in order to begin to navigate the multiple negative impacts of displacement, with the aim of reconstructing their lives and achieving their aspirations. In developing these two aspects of my argument, I contend that displacement entails material, spatial and temporal dispossession. The findings show that rather than a temporary ‘crisis’, material, spatial and temporal dispossession often add up to becoming a protracted, often disorientating situation affecting everyday life and the attainment of aspiration. Most displaced people struggle for years to meet their basic needs and to overcome the sense of being out of place, often finding their aspirations either on hold or frustrated for years. However, and without underplaying the multiple negative impacts of displacement and the structures that constrain or enable agency, the thesis also shows that displaced people exert agency at all the different moments and stages of displacement. By questioning the framing of displaced people as individuals perpetually living in crisis, unable to manage their lives or to envisage a future with hope, this research adds to scholarship that conceptualises displacement as a transformative experience. There is no doubt that displacement brings about a sense of loss and of destitution, and that it hurts the body and the soul. However, there is also the potential for it to bring opportunities for change and emancipation. Overall, by looking at how displaced people experience loss and dispossession and how they use their agency to rebuild their lives, this research contributes to unpacking the temporal dynamics between displacement, agency and aspiration.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorUma Kothari (Supervisor) & Tanja Bastia (Supervisor)


  • Colombia
  • Temporality
  • Time
  • Agency
  • Conflict-induced displacement
  • Aspiration

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