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Title: 'We are the nobodies' : youth violence, marginality and social cleansing in Colombia
Author: Butti, Elena
ISNI:       0000 0004 8507 0090
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2019
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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 the 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.
Supervisor: Pirie, Fernanda Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Anthropology ; Socio-Legal Studies