MSc Student Spotlight: Julián Gutiérrez-Martínez

MSc Student Spotlight: Julián Gutiérrez-Martínez

Part of Wolfson College, Julián is currently undertaking his MSc in Sociology, supervised by Professor Leigh Payne. Previously, he studied Law at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, specialising in Constitutional Law.
Image of Julián Gutiérrez-Martínez

Why do you study Sociology?

As a public university-trained Colombian lawyer, I have always been interested in integrating social research, strategic litigation, and human rights activism.

To a certain extent, I have “flirted” with sociological issues such as poverty and socioeconomic inequality, social movements and collective action, or socio-environmental conflicts in indigenous territories in Latin America. That is why I became interested in sociology, particularly on the problems of social and environmental justice.

What first attracted you to the MSc in Sociology?

My primary motivation was to work with my tutor, Professor Leigh Payne. I got to know her academic work when I was a researcher at Dejusticia, a non-profit organisation promoting human rights and the social rule of law in Colombia. I was excited by the opportunity to learn about her work on human rights, social movements, and transitional justice in Latin America.

What do you enjoy about living in Oxford?

This is the most fantastic experience I have ever had!

Coming from a never-sleeping city like Bogota, Oxford is the equivalent of living in a movie, far from the capital's noise, speed, and lights, with a small community entirely dedicated to making the student experience unforgettable.

Julián Gutiérrez-Martínez stands outside with two colleagues during a fieldwork trip to Colombia

Julián undertaking fieldwork with the Muisca indigenous community in Sesquilé, Colombia

What have you enjoyed most about studying in Oxford?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the community of international students that make up the Sociology Department and the multiple topics and methodologies in which they are engaged.

At the same time, I particularly enjoyed Hilary Term when I did my Sociology of Latin America and Political and Civil Conflict optional papers.

Thanks to the Department I have also had great academic opportunities. For example, presenting part of my master's thesis progress at the Seventh Conference for Junior Researchers of the Law and Society Association at Stanford Law School in May 2023.

Where do your research interests lie?

My research lies within social movement studies and the legal mobilisation of indigenous peoples in Latin America, particularly in how they fight for social justice before the courts and the strategic decision-making process to bring the promises of structural human rights decisions to reality.

Through a multi-layered ethnography, my thesis seeks to understand how the Wayúu indigenous movement in the Colombian Guajira region makes strategic decisions for collective action before the Constitutional Court of Colombia and why they reframe their discourse on human rights to confront the non-compliance of the State with a historic human rights ruling from 2017.

Thus, through the voices of its protagonists, I seek to understand, at a micro-sociological level, the indigenous movement's strategic decision-making process and its pursuit of ethnic and social justice.

Julián presents his work in front of an audience at Stanford University

Julián presents his research at Stanford University

Has any of your research been published? 

I would like to highlight the work we did at Dejusticia. In 2023, I led the writing of a book titled Territorio Wayúu: entre distancias y ausencias, on the relationship between drinking water, food, and geographic distribution of inequality in Wayúu schools in La Guajira, Colombia.

Who is your academic hero?

The first is Rodrigo Uprimny, the most salient Colombian constitutionalist, university professor, and absolute genius of law and social justice in Colombia. From him, I learned about the academic work committed to social transformation.

The second is my supervisor, Leigh Payne, whom I admire for her passion and commitment to thinking "from below," from the Global South, but always with a global, sociological perspective.

What do you hope to do when you finish your course?

I want to continue working between academia and social activism and, from there, think about my next big academic project for the DPhil, which will surely come in a few years. I will definitely go back to Latin America in the short term to engage in more experience from the social movement.

What piece of advice would you give to prospective students?

I would suggest contacting previous students via the Department or social media.

Oxford is a vibrant community where there is always something going on - to get the whole experience, it's better to have as many conversations as possible before coming here.

You can get in touch with Julián via email.