Current Institutional Affiliation
Sociology, New York University (NYU)

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Sociology, New York University
Accepting the Unacceptable: Market Protection and Violence’s Situated Legitimacy in Medellín

The dissertation, "Accepting the Unacceptable: Market Protection and Violence's Situated Legitimacy in Medellín," seeks to explain why certain forms of violence persist in communities. The key question it asks is how emergent situations, social relations, and the practices of official institutional actors shape the legitimacy and persistence of localized violence. I investigate this question through extended ethnographic research on an armed organization in Medellín, Colombia and how it relates to local residents and official institutions. The organization is comprised of former paramilitary combatants with official criminal status according to recent legislation. Their primary means of subsistence are drugs and weapons trafficking, zone patrols, and capacities to wield violence. In all facets, their activities violate Colombian law. Studies of rogue-armed organizations suggest that locals would either condemn the men or fear challenging them. Moreover, theories of how state institutions deal with other violent organizations predict that Colombia's National Police would pursue the men or if incapable of subduing them, would thus collaborate with them. Dynamics in the zone under study are more complicated. Residents display solidarity and see the organization as an unofficial police force, while official police agents overlook the organization's trafficking and violence as long as local versions of public order are maintained. I interrogate the legitimacy of this organization and its violence through rare observational and interview data. I propose that when local and official audiences explicitly and/or tacitly sanction particular instances of violence over time, violence itself can come to be seen as a legitimate way to maintain public order. In theorizing how violence is situationally legitimized, this project aims to resolve tensions surrounding analytical perspectives on violence and extend our understanding of why violence persists in communities.