The Politics and Hierarchies of Victimhood

Principal Investigator: Dr Roxani Krystalli

Project Overview: “This is the era of the victims,” declared the High Commissioner for Peace in Colombia in his June 2014 address to the Colombian Senate. Yet, not all victims are created equal. Victimhood does not merely describe an experience of harm; it is also a political status and a site of power that shapes claim-making, relationships, and experiences of justice during transitions from violence. During my decade of work as a humanitarian practitioner in Colombia and elsewhere, I observed a tension between two narratives about victimhood. On the one hand, “the victims” are often imagined as a monolith, an undifferentiated collective. On the other hand, those who identify as victims (or vie for recognition as such) refer to themselves and others as good victims, invisible victims, forgotten victims, privileged victims, or (un)desirable victims. In this second narrative, victimhood is always modified by an adjective.

In this research project I ask: What does it mean to be a “good victim”? How is victimhood produced and performed—by representatives of the state and those who identify as victims alike —in order to be legible in the context of transitional justice processes? And what are the implications of these constructed hierarchies for theories and experiences of justice during transitions from violence? Drawing from 15 months of in-depth fieldwork in Colombia, I focus specifically on the bureaucratic production of hierarchies through state mechanisms of transitional justice. I also explore the ways in which those who identify as victims challenge, subvert, or reinforce these dynamics.

This interdisciplinary project is grounded in anthropological literature on suffering, complemented by insights from the fields of transitional justice, feminist theory, and critical humanitarianism. I theorize the political, material, and emotional stakes of victimhood and illustrate how hierarchies shape interactions with the state and experiences of justice during transitions from violence. 



Research for this project has been possible thanks to generous funding support in the form of grants and fellowships from the following sources:

  • United States National Science Foundation (DDRIG)
  • Social Science Research Council (IDRF and DPDF)
  • United States Institute of Peace
  • Henry J. Leir Institute
  • The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • World Peace Foundation



Krystalli, Roxani. “Narrating victimhood: Dilemmas and (in)dignities.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 23, no. 1 (2021): 125-146.
This paper was selected as the runner-up for the Cynthia Enloe prize​.

Krystalli, Roxani. “Attendance sheets and bureaucracies of victimhood in Colombia.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review ​10 (2020).

Krystalli, Roxani. “When humans become data.” Companion on Field Research in Peace and Conflict Studies, edited by Roger Mac Ginty, Roddy Brett, and Birte Vogel. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. 

Cronin-Furman, Kate and Roxani Krystalli. “The things they carried: Victims’ documentation of forced disappearances in Colombia and Sri Lanka.European Journal of International Relations 27, no. 1 (2021): 79-101 [open access]. 

Krystalli, Roxani, and Enloe, Cynthia. “Doing feminism: a conversation between Cynthia Enloe and Roxani Krystalli.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 22, no. 2 (2020): 289-298.

Krystalli, Roxani. “Narrating violence: Feminist dilemmas and approaches.” Handbook of Gender and Violence, edited by Laura J. Shepherd. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019. Preview here.



Krystalli, Roxani. “Women, Peace, and Victimhood.” Global Observatory, International Policy Institute, 2020

Krystalli, Roxani. “The politics of noticing.” Symposium on Gender, (In)Security and Temporalities of Violence, 2020.

Krystalli, Roxani. Demilitarizing Masculinities and Femininities: Gender and Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration in Colombia, Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights, 2018:

Krystalli, Roxani. “Three lessons from Victims’ Day in Colombia.” Political Violence at a Glance, 2018.

Krystalli, Roxani. “The Colombian peace agreement has a big emphasis on the lives of women. Here’s how.” Washington Post, 2016.
Krystalli, Roxani. “Why free love in the FARC isn’t so free.” Washington Post, 2016.
Krystalli, Roxani and Kimberly Theidon. “Here’s how attention to gender affected Colombia’s peace process.” Washington Post, 2016.
Theidon, Kimberly and Roxani Krystalli. “Getting to yes in Colombia: What it would take to reintegrate the FARC.” The Conversation, 2016.

Roxani Krystalli. Narratives in Conflict, TEDxGuatemalaCity, 2014: