Adam Ellis

Assistant Professor
Dr. Adam Ellis

Contact information


PhD Criminology and Sociolegal Studies (University of Toronto)
MA Immigration and Settlement Studies (Ryerson University)
BA Criminology (York University)

Research and Teaching Areas:

Research areas:

  • urban marginality, youth mental health and ‘crime’
  • the socio-psychological impact of colonialism and the ‘justice’ industrial complex
  • collective memory and street-related violence
  • street indoctrination
  • the criminalization of disability/mental health
  • the medicalization of street-related violence (i.e., the impact of the public health/cure violence models)
  • vicarious trauma and frontline work
  • anti-colonial criminology and decolonizing/arts-based research

Teaching areas:

  • Urban Violence/Street Organizations
  • Criminological/Sociological Theory/Trauma Theory 
  • Trauma, Mental Health and Crime
  • Youth Subcultures
  • Race, Racism and Crime
  • Transnational Organized Crime
  • Qualitative Methods/Decolonizing Methods/Methodologies
  • Anti-Colonial Criminology

Current Research

Overall, my research program seeks to humanize the ‘streets’ in general, and the lives of ‘gang’ involved peoples more specifically. My interest in researching the streets is rooted in my own lived experience growing up on the margins, being involved in street subcultures and having been harmed by the colonial systems of control.

My research program is divided into three sections which include: 1) exploring the streets, including the intersection between memory, trauma and ‘crime’, b) shifting the lens and shedding light on the colonial institutions that harm and give rise to street groups as a means of protection/survival and c) exposing, challenging and disrupting colonial and Eurocentric ‘truths’ about the streets, including gangs.

I am currently writing my monograph entitled A Cold World. This book explores, from a first-person perspective, how the colonial institutions of power have harmed racialized/marginalized communities; how young people survive and navigate the streets; how they remember their experiences; and how the institutions of power have criminalized marginalized youth and their communities as a means to remove them from society.

In 2020 I completed my co-edited text entitled Thug Criminology: A Call to Action. Thug Criminology is a research network and social movement that seeks to challenge the traditional methods/methodologies and scholarship on (thugs) gangs and their behaviours. Drawing on decolonizing methods/methodologies our work seeks to centre the voices of scholars who have lived a “street” or gang life. In this context we are able to reclaim the terms thug/gang/gang member as a way to reconstruct the narrative around “street” involved youth – seeing them not as criminals but rather survivors of historical oppression/trauma. Our ground-breaking work is rooted in a bottom-up research philosophy where former ‘gang’ members turned academics are able to provide a deeper and more accurate picture of a street-life. Beyond challenging the colonial structure of criminology (and other disciplines that focus on street-crime), we also seek to develop new methods and scholarship in this area.

Pedagogy outside of academia

In 2021 I founded The Street Institute. The Street Institute is an international collective of critical scholars and community activists – with direct knowledge and experiences of life on the ‘streets’ – whose research interests and advocacy focuses on the structural factors that impact and manifest in the psycho-social harms and wellbeing of marginalized communities. Our work draws on participatory, community-driven research as a tool to drive social and political change. We are committed to transforming mainstream knowledge about the streets by drawing on, and utilizing, decolonizing/arts-based methods/methodologies as a mechanism to centralize the voices of those who are often silenced by the systems of control. As our work primarily focuses on community-based research projects we also seek to train/employ marginalized and criminalized youth as researchers, where we may also have the opportunity to mentor them toward an academic life.  Through this work we also support and mentor college/university students through field placements and volunteer opportunities.

Select Publications

Edited Books

Ellis, A., Marques, O., and Anthony Gunter. (2022). Thug Criminology: A Call to Action. (Manuscript accepted) University of Toronto Press: Toronto, ON


Ellis, A. (2022). A Cold World: Street Trauma, Colonialism and Resistance. University of Toronto Press. (Under Consideration).

Recent Articles

Ellis, A., Marques, O., & Gunter, A. (2022). The Advancement of Thug Criminology: Towards the Decolonization of ‘Street’ Research and Pedagogy. Decolonization of Criminology & Justice. (Under Consideration—revisions submitted)

Ellis, A. & Gojer, J. (2021). The Reenactment of Gang-Related Violence: Exploring the Case of the Eaton Centre Shooter. Journal of Gang Research, 28(2), 29-54.         

Ellis, A. (2020). Memories of Urban Warfare: Trauma, PTSD and Gang Violence. Journal of Community Corrections, 2(26), 1546-7627.

Gojer, J., & Ellis, A. (2013). PTSD and the Refugee Determination Process in Canada: Starting the Discourse. UNHCR: New Issues in Refugee Research, 270, 1-26.

Recent Book Chapters

Wortley, S., & Ellis, A. (2019) Organized Crime and Gangs. In Boyd, N. (eds.), Understanding Crime in Canada: An Introduction to Criminology, Second Edition. Toronto: Edmond Montgomery Publications.

Government Reports

2022    Ellis, A. (w/ TNT Consulting). Youth Service Officer Review. Report to be submitted to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services..

2020    Ellis, A., & Berardi. L. Street Organization Transformation Model: The Foundation. A report submitted to the City of Toronto’s Youth Development Unit.      

2016    Gojer, J., & Ellis, A. The Eaton Centre Shooting Trial. A report submitted to the legal team for Christopher Husbands

Other Publications

Op Ed’s

2019    Will a public health approach reduce violence? Toronto Star Op-ed, Senior Writer, January 9.

2019    Take it from someone who has been in a gang: tackling the symptoms won’t fix the problem. CBC Op-ed, Senior Writer, January 14.


2022    Youth Violence in the GTA. CBC News, February 10.

2021    Durham’s new Black-owned non-profit helps formerly incarcerated. Clarington This Week, August 19.

2020    Toronto police announce ‘neighbourhood teams’ in new gun violence plan, conceding years of major gang sweeps have been ineffective. Toronto Star, October 22.

2020    'You had to pick a side': Growing up in gangland., June 3.   

2019    Canada election brings call to arms against gun violence, AFP News. October 20.         

2019    Researching the root of gun violence. Breakfast Television, August 9.    

2019    The Year of the Gun. CBC Documentary, n.d.                           

2018    Gang Violence in Toronto. Guest, CBC Documentary, n.d.                                            

2014    Refugee Resettlement-Cambodia. Advisor, Phnom Phen Post, n.d.

Select Awards and Grants

2019 Student Choice Award (nominee)

2019 Tony Doob Doctoral Award, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

2018 SSHRC-Storyteller-Top 25, SSHRC Storyteller Competition, Regina, Saskatchewan

2017 John Beattie Award, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

2016 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship-SSHRC, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

2016 SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Scholarship (turned down for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship)

2016 SGS Conference Grant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON

2015 University of Toronto Fellowship, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON  

2009 Ryerson Graduate Fellowship, Ryerson University

2007/2009 Millennium Scholarship Award, York University

2007-2009 Faculty of Arts Sessional Academic Achievement List/Dean’s Honour Roll, York University, Toronto, ON        

2008 Kenaidan Contracting Award, York University, Toronto, ON

2007 Provost Entrance Scholarship, York University, Toronto, ON     

2007 First Generation Award, York University, Toronto, ON 

2006 Ontario Association of Corrections/ Criminology, Centennial College, Toronto, ON