Youth violence

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Youth violence at the urban margins

Ongoing projects

University of Oxford

postdoctoral project

Project title: Co-designing a participatory project on urban peace in Medellín, Colombia

Grant: £ 14,381, awarded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund

Supervisor: Dr. Annette Idler, Director of the Changing Character of War Programme

I am currently a Postdoctoral Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. Building on my PhD findings, I am working with the Medellín office of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the local NGO Corporación Convivamos to develop a series of youth violence prevention activities in the peripheries of Medellín, Colombia. The overall aim of the project is to strengthen my relationship with these organisation in order to facilitate future engagement and collaboration.

Details on project outputs to follow (get in touch if interested).

University of Oxford



Thesis title: ‘We Are the Nobodies’: Youth violence, marginality and social cleansing in Colombia

Grant: over £ 37,000, awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council

Supervisor: Prof. Fernanda Pirie, Professor of the Anthropology of Law

I have recently completed my PhD (awaiting viva examination) at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford. My research ethnographically explores adolescent trajectories into organised crime at the peri-urban margins in and around Medellín, Colombia. I have also been a Junior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, and a Visiting Scholar at the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the University of Antioquia in Medellin. 


Colombia’s ‘transition to peace’ faces various challenges. One is the activity of drug- related criminal organisations, which use adolescents to carry out low-level tasks. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this thesis explores the lives and perspectives of a group of adolescents who are starting to engage in criminal activities and the violence associated with them in the town of San Carlos and in close-by city Medellín. Informal conversations with these youths and regular observation of their activities, as well as engagement with their families and communities, reveal aspects of their lives that mainstream discourses and statistics about violence cannot account for. The central question I ask is why and how some youths engage in organised crime and violence, despite the enthusiasm for peace currently permeating their country. I propose that these youths’ involvement in crime and violence is shaped by the precarity and ontological insecurity that characterise their lives. First, this thesis describes the process whereby these youths are progressively marginalised and come to be conceived as worthless and killable, through a number of practices ranging from stigmatisation and corporal punishment to police harassment and social cleansing. It then explores how they react to marginalisation by both embracing an oppositional identity and striving to overcome it. Having been made to feel like ‘nobodies’, they see joining a criminal group as the only way of ‘becoming somebody’, in social, economic and moral terms. However, I also show that the process of deciding to engage in crime and violence is experienced with a great deal of ambivalence and hesitation, as evidenced by these youths’ contradictory moral discourses about violence. By contextualising these findings within Colombia’s political juncture, this thesis questions clear-cut distinctions between conflict and its aftermath, and points towards further transformations that need to take place for peace to last.

RELATED publications

Butti, E. (2018). Involving Non-Organised ‘Outcast’ Youths in Peacebuilding: Existing Challenges and Lessons Learned in the Colombian Case. A contribution to the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security mandated by Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015).

Butti, E. (2016). The Invisible Violence behind the Legal Façade: Challenges of and Strategies for Conducting Research in High-Risk Settings in Transitional Colombia. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Issue 1.


Photo series: Growing up at the margins. Medellín and San Carlos, Colombia, 2016.