Sarah Parry began her undergraduate degree in Hispanic Studies at the University of Liverpool in 2005, where she later stayed on to obtain an MA (Distinction) in Modern Languages, with a dissertation on Masculinity and Violence in Colombian testimonios. She is now in her third year of a PhD in Hispanic Studies, and her thesis is entitled ‘Commodifying Masculinity & Urban Violence in Colombia’. Sarah tells us more about her research:
I have an interest in the increasingly derogatory ways in which young people in cities are represented and perceived. We see this all over the world, where young people, especially marginalised young men, are stigmatised through many media, including sensationalist media reports. My research focuses on this phenomenon in Colombia, in the fifteen year period between 1990 and 2005, when the country was recognised by many as the most violent in the world. During this time, drug barons and their hired assassins (sicarios) waged war against the state, before the drug barons were captured and killed, and remained in the public mindset as young men to be feared. The young men were predominantly recruited from the marginal neighbourhoods from the edges of the city.
I analyse four different cultural products (a fiction film, novel, documentary and non-fiction testimonio) from this period which both chart and critique the development of these perceptions. The texts focus on the underlying structural causes of poverty, and the lack of resources and employment opportunities which led to the growth in the practice of young men acting as hired assassins. The texts also focus on the divisions within Colombian cities, whereby they highlight a clear divide between the location of the audience (or reader) in the central city, and the protagonist of the narrative at the margins. In addition to focusing on the narratives, I also analyse paratexts used to market the products, which usually undermine the very criticisms that the texts make. In this way, my research shows that although Colombian cultural products aim to debunk myths and stereotypes surrounding young people, they can also end up reinforcing them.