Monopolies of Violence: Criminal Governance in Rio De Janeiro

Nicholas Barnes (Brown University)

Abstract: A thousand favelas dot the sprawling urban landscape of Rio de Janeiro. In these communities, gangs have replaced state authority with governance forms of their own. Some gangs implement responsive systems of law and justice, allow for democratic practices, and maintain a high degree of social order while others develop more coercive and unresponsive governing institutions. What accounts for this variation? This dissertation's central argument is that local security environments determine these governance outcomes as gangs can face two primary threats to their territorial control: competition from rivals and enforcement by the state. On one hand, rivals that seek to invade and conquer favela territory for their own represents an existential threat and forces gangs to engage in more coercive governance practices as they seek to ensure their territorial control and resident compliance. On the other, high levels of police enforcement, a non-existential form of threat, incentivize gangs to develop closer and more responsive forms of governance to the local population. Based on nearly three years of fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro, this project employs a thoroughly mixed-method design, which includes both qualitative and quantitative methodologies and data collection. I conducted 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in three different gang territories, which included participant observation, archival research, and 175 semi-structured interviews with current and former gang members, NGO workers, local politicians, and long-term residents. In addition, a dataset of geo-processed anonymous hotline denunciations of gang members from Disque Denúncia, a Rio de Janeiro non-governmental organization, provides a further test of the theory and a glimpse into how residents respond to gang governance strategies.