Honorable Mention, 2019 Distinguished Book Award, given by the Sex & Gender Section of the American Sociological Association
Honorable Mention, 2019 Marysa Navarro Book Prize, given by the New England Council of Latin American Studies (NECLAS)
A profound reflection on state violence and women’s survival
In the 1970s and early 80s, military and security forces in Argentina hunted down, tortured, imprisoned, and in many cases, murdered political activists, student organizers, labor unionists, leftist guerrillas, and other people branded “subversives.” This period was characterized by massive human rights violations, including forced disappearances committed in the name of national security. State terror left a deep scar on contemporary Argentina, but for many survivors and even the nation itself, talking about this dark period in recent history has been difficult, and at times taboo.
For women who endured countless forms of physical, sexual, and emotional violence in clandestine detention centers, the impetus to keep quiet about certain aspects of captivity has been particularly strong. In Surviving State Terror, Barbara Sutton draws upon a wealth of oral testimonies to place women’s bodies and voices at the center of the analysis of state terror. The book showcases poignant stories of women’s survival and resistance, disinterring accounts that have yet to be fully heard, grappled with, and understood. With a focus on the body as a key theme, Sutton explores various instances of violence toward women, such as sexual abuse and torture at the hands of state officials. Yet she also uses these narratives to explore why some types of social suffering and certain women’s voices are heard more than others, and how this can be rectified in our own practices of understanding and witnessing trauma. In doing so, Sutton urges us to pay heed to women survivors’ political voices, activist experiences, and visions for social change.
Recounting not only women’s traumatic experiences, but also emphasizing their historical and political agency, Surviving State Terror is a profound reflection on state violence, social suffering, and human resilience—both personal and collective.
"Torture survivors are witnesses. Many people do not want to hear their voices. Barbara Sutton has listened to scores of Argentinian women who survived to detail the misogynist lengths to which a military junta will go to stay in power. Sutton reveals how our listening to these women is crucial for sustainable democracy." ~Cynthia Enloe,Author of The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging the Persistence of Patriarchy
"Through the connecting thread of the body and embodiment, Sutton delivers a complex, creative, and powerful analysis of gender-based violence in Argentinas clandestine detention centers. The author masterfully reveals intersections of state terror and gender ideologies with clear relevance across space and time. A must read" ~Cecilia Menjívar,Author of Enduring Violence: Ladina Women’s Lives in Guatemala
"By amplifying the voices of women who endured state violence in Argentina, Sutton demonstrates the social dimensions of collective memory, the archive, and the capacities of societies to attend closely to a range of voices who have been targeted for state violence. The significance of excavating such narratives is underscored by both the parallels of state violence to the many forms of gendered violence women face daily and the impunity many torturers and state officials continue to enjoy in the aftermath of state violence. … Sutton powerfully demonstrates that state violence is at once the exception and, at the same time, is the rule." ~Amina Zarrugh, Sociological Inquiry
"Surviving State Terror nos conecta con unas utopías que son quizás más frágiles y precarias que las que conformaban el horizonte político de futuro de los setentas. Pero son utopías que se toman en serio la derrota, el dolor y la pérdida. En un momento político que invita constantemente al optimismo banal o al pesimismo rotundo, resulta profundamente esperanzador leer un libro que no le teme a la palabra utopía y que establece una relación crítica con el pasado para ayudarnos a imaginar que, a pesar de todo, el presente no está clausurado." ~Nayla Luz Vacarezza, Corpus
"Sutton’s work is both timely and pressing, illuminating how state violence is not simply a matter of perpetrators and victims but is connected to persistent discourses and practices of violence aimed at turning captive people into humiliated, objectified, and sexualized bodies, stripped of identity and rights. What is at stake are lessons ... that move between the past and the present and across geographical boundaries to connect gender discourse to materiality, survival to resistance, and embodied memories from survivors to memories about the body that are culturally produced." ~Jennifer Earles, Gender & Society
"How history is told is political. Who tells it is political. How the voices of those telling it are portrayed is political. Barbara Sutton makes clear choices in this powerful book to bring forward the voices of powerful women. Yes, women who have been tortured in ways that are unfathomable, and still their stories reveal their power." ~Marina Sitrin, NACLA Report on the Americas
"[B]y accessing these voices the archive in question plays an important role through which testimonies are not only stored, but are performed. In opening the potentially ‘inert’ archive, Sutton’s work is relevant for those beyond Argentina, and indeed Latin America, who are interested in violence, testimony and women’s resistance, and in the connection between sexual and political violence and resistance." ~Cara Levey, Oral History
"The last military regime in Argentina (1976–1983) ended over 35 years ago. Yet, like many countries that have gone through periods of gross human rights violations under authoritarian regimes, the country still struggles with how to remember what happened and ensure that it never happens again. Barbara Sutton’s book Surviving State Terror: Women’s Testimonies of Repression and Resistance in Argentina makes an important contribution to these scholarly and practical efforts toward transitional justice and collective memory." ~Michelle D. Bonner, Contemporary Sociology
"Las historias que Bárbara Sutton despliega con detalle y sutileza en su libro no cuentan circunstancias individuales, 'aunque individuos remarcables emergen de la historia de las luchas por los derechos humanos', sino que en su ejemplaridad establecen legados activistas que nos permiten 'imaginar de otro modo' formas de solidaridad para continuar el trabajo de fortalecer la memoria y buscar la verdad y la justicia para las futuras generaciones." ~Claudia Bacci, Revista Transas