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Political anthropologist, writer, storyteller, peacebuilder

Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Social Anthropology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh; winner of the 2023 Public Anthropologist Award; Principal Investigator of ERC-selected research project ‘Stories of Divided Politics: Polarisation and Bridge-Building in Colombia and Britain’

I am a political anthropologist, and I have been working in Colombia on peace, conflict and politics for over fourteen years as both a scholar and a peacebuilding practitioner. I am now beginning comparative research on political divides in my own country, Britain, building on my experience in the Colombian peace process. I also write fiction, which is one of my ways of being a public anthropologist. I believe in an engaged anthropology that does something in the world, and in storytelling as a political intervention.

Drawing on material from my three research projects, I have published two academic monographs on Colombia, both available in English and Spanish, as well as articles in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters, and book reviews. Topics include anthropology of the state and of politics, conflict and peacebuilding, transitional justice, state-society relations, political polarisation, disinformation, the global crisis of liberalism, storytelling and creative ethnography, and Colombian history, ethnography and politics.

Fiction has always been my way of making sense of the world, both reading and writing it. Before becoming an anthropologist, I studied literature. This background informs my academic work, and conversely, my research experiences in Colombia and elsewhere have transformed and influenced my creative writing and storytelling. Anthropology and literature have much in common; both draw from and speak to the variety of human experience, and both transport us to other ways of living and seeing—more crucial than ever in a politically divided world.

I am currently researching stories and experiences of polarisation in Colombia and Britain, and the strategies used by people and organisations to build bridges across difficult political divides, with a focus on storytelling. 

Previous research projects include a study of Colombian government officials attempting to counter disinformation about the peace process with the FARC guerrilla in a context of historic distrust in the state, before and after a divisive referendum, and a study of cocoa-farmers in a conflict region in Colombia who declared themselves neutral to the armed conflict and build peace in the midst of violence.

Write to me here if you would like to get in touch:

John Paul Lederach, emeritus,

University of Notre Dame

“A riveting inside story of the interface between government and the public with an extraordinary breadth of empirical data and a rich resource of lessons learned about countering disinformation. A must-read for all who seek to build better, more holistic narratives of peace in the current context of toxic polarization.”

Leigh A. Payne,

University of Oxford

“This brilliant first-of-its-kind anthropological study of peace pedagogy draws lessons for lasting peace even in deeply polarised societies such as Colombia. It is highly recommended to those familiar with Colombia’s peace process and those considering how to adopt effective peace processes in other countries.”

Jonathan Spencer,

University of Edinburgh

“This remarkable book combines sensitive ethnography, brave and imaginative analysis, and considerable passion to tell a story for our times about the failures of liberal peace-making in Colombia and the seemingly unbridgeable divide between the state and ordinary people. Its brilliant analysis of liberalism’s limitations provides sparks of hope for a more humane political future.”

Ethnographic documentary ‘Chocolate of Peace’ / ‘Chocolate de Paz’ (2016), co-directed by Gwen Burnyeat and Pablo Mejía Trujillo about the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a community of cocoa-farmers in a conflict region in Colombia who declared themselves neutral to the war.


It has won numerous festival awards, and continues to be used as a pedagogical tool by organisations and individuals worldwide to teach about human rights, peacebuilding, memory, and global food chains. It has been translated into English, German, Italian, Dutch, French and Polish.

My practitioner experience as a peacebuilder spans human rights, dialogue facilitation, peace processes and transitional justice. Find here information about my public engagement in policy and peacebuilding, as well as policy publications and briefs.

I write regularly for media outlets including the London Review of Books, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Americas Quarterly, The Conversation, The Inter-American Dialogue, Latin America Bureau and elsewhere, on Colombia, peace, anthropology, and other topics. Find my media archive here together with interviews, podcasts and assorted video materials.

“It matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with …

It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.” 

Donna Haraway

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