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Alexander Fattal

Associate Professor

Alex Fattal is a visual and multimodal anthropologist whose scholarly and creative work has focused on the Colombian armed conflict and efforts to forge a less violent future in that Andean nation. His work spans traditional academic publications, books and peer-reviewed articles, as well as community-based photography work and experimental non-fiction filmmaking. He is interested in questions of spectacle, capitalism, social media, ethnographic theory, Latin American cinema, experimental documentary, and political conflict, a diverse but connected set of subjects that coalesce around the politics of visual representation.

His first book Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia (Chicago 2018) chronicles the Colombian military’s efforts to lure rebels in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) out of the insurgency with a combination of public relations campaigns and military intelligence operations and the growing convergence between emergent forms of branding and militarism in the twenty-first century. The book won the Sharon Stephens Prize from the American Ethnological Association and the book award of the Global Communication and Social Change Division of the International Communication Association and was also recognized by Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology book award. The book has been extensively reviewed, including by the New Yorker, and has been translated into Spanish and Turkish (in process).

His second book explores a community-photography project that he started in Altos de Cazucá, in the hills southwest of Bogotá where those who have been displaced by the conflict and are drawn to the economic prospects of the capital migrate. The book — Shooting Cameras for Peace: Youth, Photography, and the Colombian Armed Conflict / Disparando Cámaras para la Paz: Juventud, fotografía, y el conflict armado Colombiano (Peabody/Harvard 2020) — is a bilingual photo-ethnography that examines the program’s ten year history, celebrating the students’ works while also submitting the project to critical analysis by reflecting on the dynamics and limits of “participatory” media. The book received the John Collier Jr. award from the Society of Visual Anthropology and was recognized by the Visual Culture Section of the Latin American Studies Association and the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

His film Limbo (Cinema Guild 2019) profiles a guerrilla fighter who deserted from the FARC. The entire film takes place in the payload of truck transformed into a giant camera obscura, an oneiric, psychoanalytic space where up and down are unmoored and the protagonist must wrestle with his dueling identities as a perpetrator and a victim, conflicts that manifest in his devilish dreams and can only find some resolution with the help of indigenous medicine from Putumayo. The film has screened at Cinema du Reel, Sheffield DocFest, among other festivals, and has won awards and honorable mentions at the Latin American Studies Association Film Festival, BOGOShorts, and Panorama du Cinema Colombien.

Fattal’s first film Trees Tropiques (Berkeley Media 2009) offers a portrait of a family living in the mouth of the Amazon River, where sweet and salty waters mix and the crop of açai is increasingly replacing old-growth forests amid illegal small scale deforestation. The film plies the overlapping ethics of cutting trees and documentaries and has screened at numerous festivals and universities. The film was produced in Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, which Fattal has mixed feelings about.

Currently, Fattal is working on two books about the politics of Colombian photography, one historical and the other contemporary, and pursuing a family-oriented documentary. The latter project is about his uncle Eli, who was likely kidnapped as part of a phenomenon known as the “Yemeni Children Affair” in which Jews from the Middle East arriving to Israel in the late-1940s to mid-1950s had newborns, infants, and young children taken from them and given to Jews of European descent. Often nurses or other hospital officials informed the parents that the children had died but never allowed them to see their child’s dead body.

Fattal has held or continues to hold leadership positions in the Society of Visual Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association, the Visual Culture Section of the Latin American Studies Association, and the AjA Project, a San Diego-based media arts non-profit that he helped to launch in 2002 that supports immigrant, refugee, and transborder youth.

Fattal received a BA with honors in “Comparative Area Studies” from Duke University and his PhD from Harvard University, with a secondary field in Critical Media Practice, in 2014. He has held a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center and was an assistant professor at Penn State University before arriving to UCSD.

Here is a list of Dr. Fattal’s publications (July 2023), PDFs of many of which can be found here. You can also visit his personal website here.


  • Submitted with Andrés F. Caicedo Sierra, “The Necropolitical Image: Banditry in Colombia, 1958–1964”
  • In press “Between Guerrilla Warfare and Media Warfare: The Last Days of Insurgency at the FARC-EP’s Tenth Conference (La Décima),” Current Anthropology, photo-essays.
  • In press “The Moral Vision and Moral Performance of Jesús Abad Colorado,” Colombia Revisited, Vol. II, published by Routledge
  • In press  with Julián Mejía Villa “Imágenes Encontradas: Foto-historias de exguerrilleros de las FARC tomadas en el Camión Cámara,” in Utopías Emergentes
  • 2023 “On Design, Evidence, and X-Ray Vision in ‘Contradesaparecido’ in Writing With Light, Issue1,” Cultural Anthropology, Visual and New Media
  • 2022 “Guests of the Guerrilla: Integrated Spectacle and Disintegrating Peace, An Ethnographic Analysis of the FARC’s Tenth (and Final?) Guerrilla Conference,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 54(4):
  • 2021 Review of: Verde by Federico Rios Escobar, Afterimage 48(4): 67–74.
  • 2020 Shooting Cameras for Peace: Youth, Photography, and the Colombian Armed Conflict / Disparando Cámaras para la Paz: Juventud, fotografia, y el conflicto armado Colombiano, Peabody Museum Press/Harvard University Press, Photographs by the youth of Altos de Cazucá, translated by María Clemencia Ramírez and Andrew Klatt, afterword by Doris Sommer.
  • 2020 “Pacifista, between Vice and Virtue: Funding Digital Journalism for a ‘Generation of Peace’ in Colombia,” Anthropology Now, 12(3): 74–88.
  • 2020 “Transitar hacia la paz. Entre la promesa y la ilusión (1953-2017)” with Jefferson Jaramillo and Érika Paola Parrado Pardo, Signo y Pensamiento, 39(77).  
  • 2020 with Julián Mejía Villa, “War Through the Looking Glass: Portraits of Former FARC Guerrillas in the ‘Truck Camera,’ Anthropology Now, 12(2): 70–79.
  • 2020 Review of: Gorgeous War: The Branding War between the Third Reich and the United States by Tim Blackmore, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 97(4): 1153–1154.
  • 2020 Review of: Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic by Narges Bajoghli, American Anthropologist 122(4): 975–976.
  • 2020 Review of: Chocolate, Politics, and Peace-building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia by Gwen Burnyeat, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 26(3): 680–681.
  • 2019 “Subir las noticias al bajar del monte: El experimento de las FARC en Cuba con la televisión en línea 2012–2016,” Boletín de Antropología, translated by María Clemencia Ramírez and Andrew Klatt, 34(57): 194–221.
  • 2019 Guerrilla Marketing: Contrainsurgencia y Capitalismo en Colombia, Editorial Universidad del Rosario, translated by María Clemencia Ramírez and Andrew Klatt. Reviewed by: Revista de Estudios Colombianos (Colombia), Campos (Brazil), Pacifista (Colombia) review. 
  • 2019 Review of: The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television (2nd edition) by Tricia Jenkins, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 123–127. 
  • 2019 “Target Intimacy: Notes on the Convergence of the Militarization and Marketization of Love,” Current Anthropology, 60: S49–S61.
  • 2018 Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia, University of Chicago Press Reviewed by: New Yorker, ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America, Cultural Anthropology Visual and New Media Review (Book Forum, five reviews), Journal of Latin American Studies, Journal of Anthropological Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Latin American Politics and Society, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, American Ethnologist, Communication Review, Journal of Legal Anthropology, Latin American Research Review, Visual Anthropology Review. Awarded: Book Award of the Global Communication and Social Change Division of the International Communication Association (2020), Sharon Stephens Biennial Book Prize of the American Ethnological Society (2019); Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Book Prize, honorable mention (2019).
  • 2018 “Definition: Counterpublic” International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Wiley Online Library, July 25.
  • 2017 “Uploading the News after Coming Down from the Mountain: The FARC’s Uncanny Experiment with Online Television, in Cuba, 2012–2016,” International Journal of Communication, 11: 3832–3856
  • 2016“Participatory Realism: Photographing the Precarity and Resilience of Childhood in South Africa,” Transition, 121: 40–48.
  • 2016 Review of: Savage Frontier: Making News and Security on the Argentine Border in Culture, Media and Society by Ieva Jusionyte, Culture, Media & Society, 1–3.
  • 2014 “Hostile Remixes on YouTube: A New Constraint of Pro-FARC Counterpublics in Colombia.” American Ethnologist, 41(2): 320–335. Reviewed by Anthropology Now.
  • 2014 Guerrilla Marketing: Information War and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels in Colombia. PhD Dissertation for the Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, May 13. Winner of the 2015 LASA/Oxfam America Martin Diskin Dissertation Award from the Latin American Studies Association.
  • 2014 Dreams from the Concrete Mountain. A 30-minute film in fulfillment of the capstone requirement for the secondary field in Critical Media Practice at Harvard University, May 13.
  • 2013 Review of The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis. “Reinventing Documentary.” Public Books, an online supplement to Public Culture, August 20.
  • 2013 “Los Traumas Pos-Conflicto”: Líneas de Fuga y Sueños para Interpreter. Sextante, 2.
  • 2012 “Facebook: Corporate Hackers, A Billion Users, and the Geo-politics of the ‘Social Graph.’” Anthropological Quarterly, 85(3): 927–956.
  • 2012 “Introduction: Social Buzz, Political Boom? Ethnographic Engagements with Digital Militancy.” Anthropological Quarterly, 85(3): 885–892; guest editor of special collection, “Ethnographic Engagements with Digital Militancy,” pages 885–955, with Charles Hirschkind and Rebecca Stein.
  • 2012 Review of Under the Men’s Tree. “The Quick: David MacDougall and Reflections on Relative Speed.” Sensate (an online, peer-reviewed, multimedia journal), electronic document,
  • “Cinema in Latin America”
  • “Spectacle and the Global War on Terror”
  • “Media Arts/Activism”
  • “Photography: Between Social Media and Social Change”
  • “Covid-19 Photo-Diaries”
  • “Introduction to Communication”
  • “Communication Research as an Interdisciplinary Activity”