News & Events

1 September 2018
APSA Panel on Criminal Governance in Comparative Perspective

Members of the Urban Violence Research Network were well-represented at the 114th APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Boston.  One panel looked specifically at criminal governance, with papers offering a comparative perspective. 

Panel Abstract:apsa2018
Research on political violence focuses primarily on inter-state war and civil conflict. But recognition of the complex challenges that criminal violence poses for development and democracy is fuelling a proliferation of research on the politics of criminal violence. The central objective of this panel is to build on this emerging research by bringing together empirically grounded and theoretically innovative analyses of different forms of governance under criminal rulers. In parallel with recent findings from research on “rebel governance,” a key assertion of this panel is that settings of intense criminal violence are not necessarily anarchic. These spaces can instead exhibit diverse relations between criminal actors, social groups, and state authorities that collectively shape and sustain surprisingly robust informal institutional arrangements of governance. The panelists interrogate puzzling variation in the nature of these forms of criminal governance across distinct empirical settings and their equally differential implications for a range of outcomes, including political order, economic development, and citizenship.

Holland analyzes gang violence in Southern California using a novel computational model and rich qualitative data from in-depth process tracing. The resulting analysis both engages and challenges prominent assumptions in the literature on ethnic violence by showing how a focus on the structure of social networks can offer new insights into the conditions under which interethnic conflicts lead to violence. Kim and Tajima shift the focus to the governing arrangements that criminal actors build to facilitate illicit trans-border trades across the Burmese, Thai, and Chinese borderlands as well as the border between the provinces of North Sumatra and wartime Aceh in Indonesia. The paper illuminates how criminal actors, at times in coordination with state actors, leverage variation in regulatory regimes across borders to govern illicit economies. Turnbull takes up the critical question of why some armed groups opt to build governing institutions in local communities whereas others do not. To tackle this question the paper offers a structured comparative analysis using interviews conducted during fieldwork, primary materials, and an original survey to explain variation in the governing arrangements that armed groups in Nigeria have constructed over time. Moncada rounds out the panel with a study of social resistance to criminal protection rackets that draws on data collected through focus groups and interviews with the victims of protection rackets in El Salvador, Colombia, and Mexico. The analysis concludes that variation in the economic and political resources of victims can help to account for otherwise puzzling differences in the forms of resistance they pursue, ranging from violent rebellion to quiet everyday negotiation

Daniel M. Brinks, University of Texas at Austin


David Skarbek, Brown University
Livia Isabella Schubiger, Duke University


View further details of each paper and author here.

31 July 2018

Duck and cover: Three survival lessons for Rio’s criminals

Writing for RUSI’s Strategic Hub on Organised Crime, Andrea Varsori explains why the use of force against organised crime will fail in Rio de Janeiro.

Being a criminal in Rio de Janeiro has never been a safe business, but this year it’s more dangerous than ever. Cerco_à_RocinhaOn February 16 2018, Brazil’s federal government took over the administration of security in the state of Rio, normally an exclusive domain of the State government. President Michel Temer signed the decree, declaring that this ‘extreme measure’ was necessary because organised crime had become ‘a metastasis spreading over the whole country… [that] almost took over the state of Rio’. This act marks the beginning of an unprecedented federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro’s public security. … READ MORE

The piece is also reposted on Strife Blog.

Andrea Varsori is a PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Strife Journal and Blog. His research focuses on urban armed groups in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In particular, he seeks to explain their resilience through an evolutionary/ecological lens, by analysing the history of their internal changes. Andrea holds an MA in International and Diplomatic Sciences from the University of Bologna. You can follow him on Twitter @Andrea_Varsori.