Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper presentation explores vulnerable entanglements and power relations when conducting research in “hot zones” in San Salvador. The relationships with people at the front lines of conflict in war zones have been the focus of much politically engaged scholarship (Berry et al 2017, Hale 2001, Sandford and Angel-Ajani 2006, Speed 2008). Many of these researchers have drawn our attention to the need to grapple with pressing social issues in Latin America’s post-Cold War setting. In present-day El Salvador, this involves contending both with youth gang violence and state violence. Deborah Levenson (2013:2) suggests that studies on youth gangs should consider how from the perspective of the state youth no longer signify the hope of the future but a “radically dangerous present, chaos and death, an obstacle to the future.” How does the state’s discourse on gang members as criminals shape the experiences of the researcher? What are the vulnerable entanglements confronted by the researcher working in a war zone characterized by political, racialized and gendered violences? How does working in dialogue with those generally considered criminals shape knowledge production? I explore these questions while drawing on my field experiences as a Salvadoran woman who grew up during the 1980 – 1992 Civil War, an immigrant to the US, and anthropologist working in collaboration with a group of female relatives of rival Mara Salvatrucha and Pandilla 18 gang members in a hyper-masculine domain in post-Peace Accords El Salvador.