Dr Sonja Marzi



In my research I overall follow two lines of inquiry with a focus on Colombia:

  1. Women’s resistance to different forms of violence and their activism to build emancipatory urban futures, and the gendered right to the city and aspirations of how this right can be fulfilled in the future.
  2. Methodological research: feminist (remote/hybrid) participatory action research and co-production of knowledge

Co-producing knowledge about the impacts of emergencies/pandemics: Developing remote participatory visual methods using smartphones – funded by the ESRC

In 2020 I received an ESRC grant to respond to the challenges of methodological co-production and participatory action research – which are almost always conducted in person face-to-face – that arise during emergencies by developing an innovative remote participatory visual method using smartphones.

In collaboration with displaced women in Colombia, and researchers and filmmakers in the UK and Latin America, we co-develop a novel and pioneering remote participatory visual method for co-production researchers by applying participatory audio-visual methods and filming remotely to investigate displaced women’s empowerment, resistance and activism in face of multiple forms of violence.  

The project started in January 2021 and is hosted by LSE Latin American and Caribbean Centre in partnership with LSE Department of Methodology. The UK-based team offers expertise in geography, sociology, international development, and participatory, visual, and digital co-production methodologies: the project’s co-investigators are Professor Rachel Pain and Dr Jen Tarr (both Newcastle University), with Professor Cathy McIlwaine (KCL) and Professor Gareth Jones (LSE) acting as advisers.

The project co-produced a participatory film with 24 displaced women in Medellin and Bogota called ‘Volviendo a Vivir’. With this film they provide an account of their experiences, learning, perseverance and empowerment from moments of displacement, in the defence of their rights in the cities of Medellín and Bogotá, up to current negotiations and aspirations of their urban futures. By sharing their pasts and urban presents, they aim to unite their voices to show the reality of many Colombian families with the hope that their (her) stories will not be repeated in next generations. 

“Migrant women in Medellín and their right to the city”
(https://futurosurbanosdesd.wixsite.com/futuros-urbanos; migrantwomenrttc.com)

Funded by a Fritz-Thyssen Research Project Grant (€42 713) on which I am P.I, my research asks: “How do migrant women in Medellin, specifically mothers and heads of household, negotiate their ‘right to the city’? Medellin, Colombia’s second city, is labelled as a ‘model’ city in terms of its participatory community development that addresses exclusion and spatial immobility of its poor communities (for example through infrastructural developments, such as cable cars). Migrant and displaced women are a particularly disadvantaged group in poor neighbourhoods in Medellin because they lack support networks, experience greater insecurity and (gender based) violence, and face challenges of spatial and social mobility, particularly if they are caregivers and head of household (reference person in the household). For example, preliminary research suggests that migrant women in Medellin tend to avoid spaces of the city, are spatially immobile and suffer from fear of crime and feelings of insecurity. In addition, city officials, urban planners, and development practitioners often ignore migrant women’s contributions to cities’ development and prosperity as well as their needs for wellbeing (Chant and McIlwaine, 2013, Chant and McIlwaine, 2016). This highlights the need to understand the gendered dimension of the right to the city – the right to being able to fully ‘use’ the city, and have access to its resources and the right to shape and change the city (Fenster, 2005; Harvey, 2012; Bastia, 2017) in the future and according to its inhabitants aspirations.

I analyse migrant women’s place-making strategies and their everyday socio-spatial mobilities to explore their access to public goods and resources, and how they manage their private and economic lives while living in violent areas of the city. I do so by using an action research design and collecting data through workshops, interviews and participatory research activities. This research aims to produce important knowledge about migrant women’s needs and aspirations in relation to the use of urban space and to generate vital insights for future city planning and future urban development from a gender perspective.

Reinventadas: the realities of women in Medellín during the pandemic (2020-2021) (reinventada.org)

Due to the strong focus on co-producing knowledge in my research, I also have successfully received an LSE Knowledge Exchange and Impact grant (£51 050). This KEI project was supposed to produce a participatory video project with the migrant women in Medellin about their gendered urban challenges they experience in their daily realities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I had to quickly redesign this project. As a result, my research shifted its focus to research the impact of COVID-19 on women’s daily realities and in this process I developed a research methodology that responds to current research challenges where face-to-face research becomes impossible. I am, therefore, developing an innovative remote participatory video research design where participant women use their smartphones to film different aspects of the impact of the pandemic on their everyday urban lives.

Young People’s aspirations and socio-spatial mobility

The primary aim of my PhD research was to explore young Colombians’ aspirations and socio-spatial mobility in Cartagena from a geographical and sociological perspective. This research enhances our understanding of how young Cartagenians negotiate pathways towards their desired futures. Based on an ethnographic approach, I combined conventional qualitative methods with participatory visual methods including participatory mapping, photography and filming. Theoretically my research draws on Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and capital, Vigh’s concept of social navigation, and the neighbourhood effects literature. I argue that structural and contextual constrains, reinforced through the intersections of class, race, gender and place, impact significantly on young people’s ability to achieve their aspirations and change their social conditions.

This research has contributed in three key ways to knowledge of young people’s attempts to formulate aspirations and navigate their way towards upward social mobility within a global South and violence affected setting. First, it shows how young Colombians do have high aspirations, opposing a discourse that a lack of aspirations is the reason for low social mobility. Second, the stigma associated with belonging to disadvantaged and violent neighbourhoods influences young people’s opportunities for social mobility. Third, poor young Colombians’ navigation towards upward social mobility depends on the relationship between aspirations, belonging, spatial mobility and opportunity structures.

© 2024 Dr Sonja Marzi