Violent Democracies in Latin America

Violent Democracies in Latin America

The Cultures and Practices of Violence

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 2 tables, 5 figures Published: March 2010

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Politics

Despite recent political movements to establish democratic rule in Latin American countries, much of the region still suffers from pervasive violence. From vigilantism, to human rights violations, to police corruption, violence persists. It is perpetrated by state-sanctioned armies, guerillas, gangs, drug traffickers, and local community groups seeking self-protection. The everyday presence of violence contrasts starkly with governmental efforts to extend civil, political, and legal rights to all citizens, and it is invoked as evidence of the failure of Latin American countries to achieve true democracy. The contributors to this collection take the more nuanced view that violence is not a social aberration or the result of institutional failure; instead, it is intimately linked to the institutions and policies of economic liberalization and democratization.

The contributors—anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and historians—explore how individuals and institutions in Latin American democracies, from the rural regions of Colombia and the Dominican Republic to the urban centers of Brazil and Mexico, use violence to impose and contest notions of order, rights, citizenship, and justice. They describe the lived realities of citizens and reveal the historical foundations of the violence that Latin America suffers today. One contributor examines the tightly woven relationship between violent individuals and state officials in Colombia, while another contextualizes violence in Rio de Janeiro within the transnational political economy of drug trafficking. By advancing the discussion of democratic Latin American regimes beyond the usual binary of success and failure, this collection suggests more sophisticated ways of understanding the challenges posed by violence, and of developing new frameworks for guaranteeing human rights in Latin America.

Contributors: Enrique Desmond Arias, Javier Auyero, Lilian Bobea, Diane E. Davis, Robert Gay, Daniel M. Goldstein, Mary Roldán, Todd Landman, Ruth Stanley, María Clemencia Ramírez


Violent Democracies in Latin America is a welcome addition to cross-disciplinary studies of Latin American politics. . . . Violent Democracies forces the readers to consider each case study in its specificity and the common problems of the region as a whole, which is, I would submit, the only way to address the problem of violence in today’s Latin American states.” — Isabel DiVanna, Canadian Journal of History

Violent Democracies in Latin America presents a nuanced study of the interactions between trade liberalization, neoliberal economic systems,
and the political environment of post-authoritarian Latin America that subverts many of the previous ideas on the democratic transition and offers useful insights for scholars into the political economic context of the period. As contributors include an anthropologist, several historians, a political scientist, and a sociologist, the volume will reach a wide audience and contribute to the growing dialogue on contemporary Latin American politics.” — Irene Depetris Chauvin, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[T]his book presents a new research agenda on the problems of governance, democracy, and security in Latin America. The concept of violent pluralism that it advances requires a precise examination of the existing connections between different forms of violence, as well as a deep understanding of the autonomy that certain forms of violence might have with respect to others.”
— Hugo Frühling, Latin American Politics and Society

“Contributors to the volume Violent Democracies in Latin America do an excellent job of opening new paths for exploring this abiding question. . . . This edited volume is remarkably coherent and the chapters fit together nicely. . . . [E]ach chapter makes a unique contribution to the interdisciplinary conceptualization of violent pluralism.” — Kedron Thomas, Anthropological Quarterly

“The case studies are uniformly good—well researched and written on important and interesting topics. . . . Violent Democracies makes an important contribution in focusing our attention on the perpetuation of violence as Latin American countries continue in their democratization process.” — Charles D. Brockett, A Contracorriente

“The studies presented here suggest that there is no simple route by which Latin American political democracies could become less violent, because violence has not only been institutionally integral to the way state power is exercised and class privileges are maintained within the region, but has also been exacerbated by its insertion into a neoliberal capitalist international
system.” — John Gledhill, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Arias and Goldstein have compiled an excellent series of cases that collectively argue in support of their main thesis…. Arias and Goldstein offer an alternative, sophisticated understanding of the multiple and tactical uses of violence that keep a disenfranchised citizenry under control." — James H. McDonald, Ethnohistory

Violent Democracies of Latin America superbly captures the on-going tensions between security and insecurity, on the one side, and pressures for social change and participatory democracy, on the other. Contributors provide multiple insights into how these tensions clash, interface, and then meld into a ‘violent pluralism’ of new Latin American democracies.” — Martha Huggins, Charles and Leo Favrot Professor of Human Relations, Tulane University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Enrique Desmond Arias is Associate Professor of Political Science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and in the Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Daniel M. Goldstein is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Violent Pluralism: Understanding the New Democracies of Latin America / Enrique Desmond Arias and Daniel M. Goldstein 1

The Political and Economic Origins of Violence and Insecurity in Contemporary Latin America: Past Trajectories and Future Prospects / Diane E. Davis 35

End of Discussion: Violence, Participatory Democracy, and the Limits of Dissent in Colombia / Mary Roldán 63

Maintaining Democracy in Colombia through Political Exclusion, States of Exception, Counterinsurgency, and Dirty War / María Clemencia Ramírez 84

Clandestine Connections: The Political and Relational Makings of Collective Violence / Javier Auyero 108

"Living in a Jungle": State Violence and Perceptions of Democracy in Buenos Aires / Ruth Stanley 133

Organized Violence, Disorganized State / Lilian Bobea 161

Toward Uncivil Society: Causes and Consequences of Violence in Rio de Janeiro / Robert Gay 201

Violence, Democracy, and Human Rights in Latin America / Todd Landman 226

Conclusion: Understanding Violent Pluralism / Enrique Desmond Arias 242

References 265

Contributors 299

Index 301
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4638-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4624-1
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