To Stay or Flee? Displacement due to Gang Violence in Medellín, Colombia


This dissertation examines the causes of forced displacement—the phenomenon wherein individuals leave their homes due to violence—within and from cities in the Global South. Non-state armed groups force residents to flee for collaborating with a rival, for breaking community norms, or to turn a profit by selling off residences. Urban displacement is not uniform, however. Armed groups—such as militias, organized crime, and terrorist networks—may expel residents today but tomorrow provide them goods and services. Moreover, the majority of households remain in conflict settings, despite sharing similar histories and socio-economic characteristics with those who flee. The focus here is on displacement at the hands of criminal gangs in Medellín, Colombia. The primary research questions are: Why might some gangs wield displacement? Where displacement is underway, who stays and who flees? And, how do those residents who remain manage to do so? After defining conflict-induced urban displacement and laying out common determinants of flight, I argue that criminal gangs use displacement as a tool to pursue profit and governance. This argument helps explain gangs’ contradictory behavior of expelling residents from the same communities where they provide goods and services. The residents able to stay, despite being targeted for displacement, are those with connections—either to the gang itself or an important figure in the community. I contend that, through their connections to others, some individuals, simply “regular people” in all other respects, are able to stand up to much stronger armed groups. Finally, I show that residents use coping strategies, such as keeping to themselves or hiding wealth, to remain in their homes despite violence. I conducted interviews and participant observation in Medellín, including living and volunteering in displacement-affected neighborhoods, to document forced flight and generate hypotheses to explain it. I then carried out a survey and survey experiment in that city to test these hypotheses and gather more data on the experiences of both people who flee and those who remain despite violence. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of the causes of forced displacement, while also shedding light on gang behavior, urban violence, and human rights.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Brown University, 2019


Marston Jr., Jerome F., "To Stay or Flee? Displacement due to Gang Violence in Medellín, Colombia" (2019). Political Science Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.