UCL Anthropology


Charles Beach

Charles Beach

UCL Email: charles.beach.16@ucl.ac.uk
Year of Start: 2017
Supervisors: Dr Lucia Michelutti, Dr Rebbeca Empsom
Subject: Social Anthropology
Fieldsite: The Colombian border-city of Cúcuta and the surrounding Colombo-Venezuelan borderlands.
Website: ucl.academia.edu/CharlesBeach
Twitter: @Anthro_Beach
Instagram: instagram.com/charles_beach_anthro/

PhD Research

Frontera Combustible: Conceptualising Sovereign Powers Through the Experiences of Petrol Smugglers on Colombia's Border with Venezuela (working title)

Cúcuta is a Colombian city that sits on the Colombo-Venezuelan border and has three bridges that cross the River Táchira into Venezuela. A mixture of Venezuelan corruption and heavily devalued goods in Venezuela leads to a vibrant smuggling trade, attracting armed gangs from all over the region. Colombian and Venezuelan gangs operate with near impunity across the unstable border. This has implications for the Colombian peace process. Despite the FARC currently demobilising, it is other guerrillas such as the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) or para-militaries and gangs like Clan de Golfo who are fighting for territory in the border regions.

Currently the border has been shut by the Venezuelan president as a way of preventing smuggling. Only one of the bridges has been left open to foot passengers during the day time. According to the Colombian authorities this did nothing but enable gangs who run the illegal crossing routes who have escalated their violence.

These conflicts caused by the rewards of smuggling leave many internally displaced Colombians with no option other than to try and make money selling smuggled petrol in Colombia for which there is a high demand. There are several informal trade unions for petrol vendors that aim to protect themselves from para-military extortion and as well as what they see as unfair police clamp-downs on the most vulnerable actors in the supply chain. These petrol vendors named Pimpineros (named after the gallon jugs called pimpinas) form an ethnographic prism from which to view the various refractions of state sovereignty.

Research interests

  • Anthropology of Sovereignty
  • Smuggling and Small-Scale Trade
  • Borders and Borderlands
  • Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Colombian and Venezuelan Studies

Panels and Presentations

  • (April 2019) De lo ilícito a lo legal: cómo se utilizan las cooperativas y el sindicalismo como medio para resocializar a los ex contrabandistas en las fronteras colombo-venezolana. Panel: Dimensiones Frontera  global y local, ¿oportunidades o crisis? III Congreso Internacional y VI Nacional de Trabajo Social: Nacional Desafíos y Propuestas para la Intervención Social en Contextos de Frontera. Universidad Simón Bolívar, Cúcuta, Colombia
  • (November 2018) Petrol Smuggling and Insurgent citizenship in the Colombo-Venezuelan Borderlands. Panel: Not-War-Not-Peace: Micropolitics of Change (Un-)Management from the Colombian Peace Process. American Anthropological Association 117TH Annual Meeting San Jose, California
  • (June 2018) Perspectivas Antropológicas. Panel: Foro de Investigación Acción Participativa: Desde el Pensamiento de Orlando Fals Borda. Universidad Francisco de Paula Santander, Cúcuta. Colombia
  • (August 2017) Frontera Combustible: Conceptualising Sovereign Powers Through the Experiences of Petrol Smugglers on Colombia's Border with Venezuela. Panel: Border practices of inclusion and exclusion. Peace and Conflict Studies in Anthropology (PACSA) biannual conference at the University of Amsterdam.
  • (June 2017) Proyectos Arquitectónicos Modernistas en Latinoamerica desde una Perspectiva Antropológica. Departmental Seminar. Departamento de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo, Universidad Francisco de Paula Santander, Cúcuta, Colombia
  • (March 2012) The Spatialisation of Knowledge: Cities, Buildings & Statecraft. Panel: Statecraft. Breaking Bubbles: Anthropology for our Future. Royal Anthropological Institute’s First Undergraduate Conference, University of Kent

Journal Publications

  • (September 2018) Frontera Combustible: Conceptualising the State Through the Experiences of Petrol Smugglers in the Colombian/Venezuelan Borderlands of Norte de Santander/Táchira Journal of Extreme Anthropology, Issue 2, Volume 2 – University of Oslo



  • Visiting Researcher – March 2018 – Present. Departamento de Humanidades, Universidad Francisco Paula de Santander, Cúcuta, Colombia
  • PhD Candidate, Social Anthropology – September 2017 – Present. University College London
  • Research Masters, Anthropology – September 2016 - August 2017. University College London
  • BA (Hons) First Class (1:1), Social Anthropology - September 2009 - June 2013. University of Kent at Canterbury, UK
  • Cambridge English Level 5 Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA) - March – April, 2014. Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College


  • English Instructor, June 2015 – December 2015. Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (SENA), Ministry of Work, Bucaramanga, Colombia

Funding and Awards

  • (September 2017) 3 year PhD Studentship, Economic and Social Research Council. UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership
  • (Summer 2013) Hugh Brody Prize for Visual Anthropology. Awarded by Hugh Brody on behalf of University of Kent Visual Anthropology, for short film ‘Cathedral Tryptic’

Research Networks