Elena Butti smiles at camera


SNSF Research Fellow
Spoken languages
English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
Areas of expertise
  • Youth livelihoods
  • Organized crime, criminal governance
  • South-South migration
  • Ethnographic fieldwork in high-risk settings
  • Participatory film-making
  • Urban margins
Geographical Region of Expertise
  • Latin America


Elena Butti is an urban anthropologist, humanitarian practitioner and participatory film-maker interested in youth, crime, activism, and migration in Latin America. She holds a PhD and a Post-Doc from the University of Oxford, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow (Marie Curie equivalent) at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. 

Elena’s doctoral research explored the dynamics of entanglement of adolescents in Colombia’s criminal economies. The results of this work, based on more than 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork, are contained in her forthcoming book ‘We Are the Nobodies: Adolescents’ first steps into organized crime in contemporary Colombia’. 

Her current project looks at the new wave of Venezuelan migration in the country, seeking to understand how young Venezuelan migrants in Colombia’s urban peripheries relate to the organized criminal structures which are already active in these areas. 

Before joining the Graduate Institute, Elena has worked for several years in the humanitarian sector, collaborating with organizations such as the UN, UNICEF, the ICRC, and War Child on matters related to the Youth, Peace and Security agenda. She is also the author of several participatory films co-created with young people. More details can be found on 

Selected publications 


Work in progress

Butti, E. We Are the Nobodies: Adolescents’ firs steps into crime in Colombia. Book manuscript R&R with New York University Press.

Peer-reviewed articles

Butti, E. 2022. From Family to Franchise? Friendship, individualism and the marketization of  the Colombian youth gangYouth and Globalization, Special issue Gangs and Globalization, edited by Carles Feixa and Jose Sánchez-García, 3, 308-331.

Chávez, C. and Butti, E. 2020. ‘If You Don’t Have an Education, You Are No One’: Understanding the School Experiences of Youth involved in Drug-Related Crime in Mexico and ColombiaJournal of Education in Emergencies, Special Issue Education and the War on Drugs, edited by María José Bermeo and Diana Rodríguez Gómez, 6(1), 148-174.

Butti, E. and McGonigle, B. 2019. Intersectionality and Transformative Reparations: The Case of Colombian Marginal YouthsInternational Criminal Law Review, Special Issue The Ethnography of Armed Conflict, edited by Noha Aboueldahab, 19(5), 753-782. 

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.

Book chapters

Butti, E. [forthcoming 2024] Safe and Ethical Ethnography: Looking Inwards. The New Ethnographer, edited by Caitlin Procter and Brawen Spector. London: SAGE.

Butti, E. 2022. Reflections on Youth, Norms, and Violence in Colombia’s Criminal World. Violence and Justice in Latin America, edited by Carlos Solar and Carlos Perez, pp. 25-43. London: Routledge.

Commissioned reports

Butti, E. 2019. El uso y utilización de menores de edad por parte de los grupos armados en Granizal. International Committe of the Red Cross – Medellín Sub-Delegation [internal report].

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. 2015. El enfoque diferencial de niñez en la Ley de Víctimas: Marco normativo e implementación. International Center for Transitional Justice – Bogotá office [internal report].