‘(Young) Men With Big Guns’: Reflexive Encounters with Violence and Youth in El Salvador



The phenomenon of youth gangs has emerged as one of the most visible and feared expressions of violence in El Salvador in recent years. This article explores the process of researching violence associated with gangs from a feminist perspective, focusing on the challenges presented by conducting research in a context where popular perceptions of violence often reflect wider hegemonic social discourses concerning gender and youth, and where there exists a gap between actual violence and its representation. The article addresses the tensions that can emerge between the research process and popular conceptualisations of violence through an exploration of issues of researcher identity, subjectivity and constructions of ‘other’. It documents a research process that came to be shaped – theoretically and practically – by both individual and collective representations of violence, and shows how youth violence and youth gangs, in particular, concretely come to provide a central epistemological axis for societal fears and insecurities.