From Family to Franchise? Friendship, Individualism, and the Marketization of the Colombian Youth Gang

Event date
14 November 2023
Event time
16:15 - 17:30
Oxford week
MT 6
HYBRID SEMINAR - Criminology Seminar Room

Dr Elena Butti (Research Fellow, Centre on Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding, IHEID Geneva)

The surge of transnational illicit economies has led to important transformations in gang structures and cultures. From locally-bound, solidarity-driven institutions, gangs have morphed into globally-connected, market-driven ones. But how has this change affected the way young gang members relate to each other? In this talk, based on her current book project, Dr. Elena Butti explores this question in the case of Medellín (Colombia), based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork with adolescents working at the low ends of narco-gang. It traces the evolution of gangs from the 1970s galladas – groups of kids who sought to support each other – to today’s pandillas – ruthless and profit-driven groups that operate as the local franchises of larger criminal organizations. She argues that the co-optation of youth gangs by transnational organized crime has drastically reduced the sense of protection, inclusion, and belonging that gangs provide to their youngest members. It has also hampered the role of gangs as institutions of resistance and critique.


Dr. Elena Butti is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding of the IHEID in Geneva, and a Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of the Americas of University College London. Her ethnographic research explores the lives of adolescents who deal drugs for criminal groups in the Colombian urban periphery, as well as instances of youth-led resistance and peacebuilding. Her current book project, titled We Are the Nobodies: Adolescents’ first steps into crime in Colombia, ethnographically explore the experiences of low-level drug dealers in Medellin, Colombia’s second biggest city. has collaborated with several international organisations on matters related to the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda. She is also an amateur film-maker and has carried out participatory film-making projects with youth in Colombia.

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