Political Sociology: Article Hunt Exercise Discussion

Political Sociology: Article Hunt Exercise Discussion

GLOBAL DISCOURSE, 2018 VOL. 8, NO. 1, 139–154 https://doi.org/10.1080/23269995.2017.1406679 ARTICLE Securitization, mafias and violence in Brazil and Mexico John Gledhill Social Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK ARTICLE HISTORY ABSTRACT The elites of Latin American societies, founded on genocide of indigenous peoples and the Atlantic slave trade, always manifested anxiety about mixed race ‘dangerous classes’ and used violence to ‘keep them in their proper place’. Contemporary depictions of poor people and migrants as threats to the rest of ‘society’ replicate securitisation discourses associated with neoliberal capitalism elsewhere in the world. Latin America also replicates much of the North Atlantic world in the way centre-left governments adopted public security policies embodying the same logic, despite their pretensions to mitigate social inequality and racism. Moves back to the right multiply the contradictions: fiscal austerity, attacks on wages and social entitlements and abandonment of national sovereignty over resources fail to solve economic problems but increase inequality, motivating regimes lacking political legitimacy to resort to the criminalization of social movements and militarization of internal security. Using Brazil and Mexico as examples, and considering border security as well as internal security, this paper also shows how political mafias promote the rise of criminal mafias in a securitized environment in which public guardians of order contribute to the escalation of violence but may also see themselves as victims of the system they serve. Received 29 March 2017 Accepted 15 November 2017 KEYWORDS Securitization; criminalization; militarization; violence; crime Introduction: a politics of social threats and criminalization The Copenhagen School’s account of securitization is attractive to anthropologists because it offers a social constructivist approach. Nevertheless, although it clearly makes sense to ask which social actors have greater power to define an issue as one of security, anthropologists generally seek to add a bottom-up perspective to statefocused, top-down models (Goldstein 2010, 492–3), taking up a critique already made within the Copenhagen School itself that top-down perspectives marginalize the voices of the poor, indigenous people and women (Hansen 2000). This is not simply a matter of thinking about how a diversity of audiences react to securitization discourses propagated by governments, mass media visual images or social media that focus on propagating hate, xenophobia and fake news. We need to think about how the lived experience of social actors, including subaltern actors, shape how they think about issues of ‘security’ and how their stances influence what happens in practice when more powerful actors securitize social issues. Taking a view from below enables us to CONTACT John Gledhill johngled@me.com © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group 140 J. GLEDHILL extend Wæver’s insistence that whilst the Schmittian foundations of securitization theory (exception, emergency and decision) are central to understanding what securitization does, decisions are reached ‘by people in a political situation’ (Wæver 2011, 478, note 2). Adding concern for social situations to the focus on politics, views from below expand understanding of the logics of securitization and its unintended consequences, as this paper aims to show. Anthropologists are also concerned about ethnocentrism. The Copenhagen model of securitization and desecuritization assumes a ‘normal politics’ in the Western liberal tradition, making Latin America a particularly interesting region for exploring ‘securitization in the non-West’. Its independent nation states adopted liberal constitutions, but formal declarations of the equality of all citizens before the law became instruments for deepening injustice in societies in which the rights of some categories of people remained foundationally unequal (DaMatta 1991). The elites of nations founded on the genocide of indigenous peoples and the Atlantic slave trade display a predisposition to securitize social problems because they have a long tradition of anxiety about mixed race ‘dangerous classes’ and using violence to ‘keep them in their proper place’. The centrality of corruption and clientelism in the ‘normal’, including democratic, politics of Latin American societies might also seem to distance them from the West. Yet, it has never been easy to distinguish Latin American political practices from those of European countries such as Italy, and the claims of the United States to represent a paragon of liberal democratic values can certainly be questioned. Much of what I am going to discuss in this paper not only reveals the negative impacts of the power of the global North on the global South, but also the existence of common tendencies that transcend this division of the world. Understanding securitization processes anywhere requires an understanding of context, and of how, as Goldstein puts it, ‘global discourses are adopted, manipulated, transformed, and deployed in quotidian interactions and events’ in particular places (Goldstein 2010, 492). But I begin my discussion from the premise that all securitization processes have something in common: they define certain categories of people as ‘existential threats’ to the rest of society. This paper is about the consequences of that, including ways in which measures justified in the name of fighting crime and violence can result in the propagation of crime and violence. My focus is on Latin America’s two largest countries, Brazil and Mexico, and three contexts of securitization. In Brazil, I discuss the policing and mass incarceration of people who live in large irregular settlements, called favelas in Rio de Janeiro, and more frequently the (urban) ‘periphery’1 in São Paulo and in Salvador, Bahia, the country’s original capital city and third largest metropolis.