Space of Detention

The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador

Space of Detention

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: Published: November 2011

Author: Elana Zilberg

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Latin American Studies > Central America

Space of Detention is a powerful ethnographic account and spatial analysis of the “transnational gang crisis” between the United States and El Salvador. Elana Zilberg seeks to understand how this phenomenon became an issue of central concern for national and regional security, and how La Mara Salvatrucha, a gang founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles, came to symbolize the “gang crime–terrorism continuum.” She follows Salvadoran immigrants raised in Los Angeles, who identify as—or are alleged to be—gang members and who are deported back to El Salvador after their incarceration in the United States. Analyzing zero-tolerance gang-abatement strategies in both countries, Zilberg shows that these measures help to produce the very transnational violence and undocumented migration that they are intended to suppress. She argues that the contemporary fixation with Latino immigrant and Salvadoran street gangs, while in part a product of media hype, must also be understood in relation to the longer history of U.S. involvement in Central America, the processes of neoliberalism and globalization, and the intersection of immigration, criminal, and antiterrorist law. These forces combine to produce what Zilberg terms “neoliberal securityscapes.”


Space of Detention is an important book, one based on a fascinating and extremely impressive body of ethnographic work… [T]he book succeeds in so many ways that it merits a wide audience.” — Joseph Nevins, Journal of American Studies

“Her analysis has much to offer geographers interested in policy transfer and harmonization…. Zilberg is able to offer a rich analysis of the intersections of Cold War militarism, transnational migration, urban restructuring, criminalization, and postconflict governmental reform in a predominantly ‘sending country’. — Lauren Martin, Environment and Planning D

“Elana Zilberg’s book contributes to emerging scholarship making the important connections between the war on gangs, the war on drugs, and the war on terror as a continuation of US empire…. This book provides important empirical evidence to tracing the origins of post-9/11 anti-terror legislation, acts, and attitudes while providing the reader a point from which to analyze the militarization of public space today. Overall, the book is a wise choice for graduate and undergraduate courses and scholars concerned with security states and subject formation.” — Cristobal Valencia, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Zilberg endeavors to uncover realities normally obscured, and to situate anti-gang discourse and policies within a broader framework than hegemonic discourse allows.” — Steve Herbert, Theoretical Criminology

“Zilberg’s audiences have waited a long time for this book, and it will not disappoint. Even as it refuses to be the exposé on gangs that some may expect, it offers a powerful and original account of interlocking global processes of capitalism and criminalization.” — Ellen Moodie, Anthropological Quarterly

“This incredibly compelling ethnography bristles with insights into such matters as the integrated landscapes of San Salvador and Los Angeles, the nature of the ‘community’ on whose behalf post-riot Los Angeles was rebuilt, and the ways that anti-gang strategies paradoxically produce and reproduce gangs. Elana Zilberg’s discussion of how policing strategies feed into and take on the characteristics of gangs is superb. Space of Detention is a significant contribution to scholarly understandings of security, space, and movement, and it is fascinating reading, based on years of complicated and original ethnographic research.” — Susan Bibler Coutin, author of Nation of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in El Salvador and the United States

“This is a viscerally powerful read that will be a revelation for anyone who lives with a constant background of gang violence in Los Angeles. Shifting focus between media images and vivid ethnographic material—from sustained, recursive fieldwork conducted during a turbulent period in the recent history of American empire—Elana Zilberg achieves both the most intelligent and the most charged application of Benjamin’s method of dialectical images in the annals of contemporary ethnography.” — George E. Marcus, co-author of Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elana Zilberg is Associate Professor of Communication and Associate Director of the Center for Global California Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Neoliberal Securityscapes 1

Chronology. The Divided Ends of Peace 25

Part I. Los Angeles

1. Latino Looter: Law of Place 53

2. Street Hoodlum: Topographic Reform 75

3. Criminal Cop: Spatial Justice 101

Part II. San Salvador

4. Criminal Deportee: Transnational Space 129

5. Gang Peace Activist: The Space of Civil Society 151

6. Soldier Cop: Remilitarized Space 177

Part III. A Disturbance in Time and Space

7. The Gang-Crime-Terrorism Continuum 207

Conclusion. Hall of Mirrors 233

Epilogue. Impressions from a Political Present 241

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 259

Bibliography 301

Index 333
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4730-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4713-2
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