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The Popular Culture of Illegality: Criminal Authority and the Politics of Aesthetics in Latin America and the Caribbean

Programmegroup Governance and Inclusive Development (GID)

The topic of this research is the “popular culture of illegality”: the music, visual culture and material culture through which the socio-political authority of criminal gangs is produced.

Funding: NWO

Period:1/1/2014 until 31/12/2018

In contexts of urban marginalization worldwide, criminal organizations have become increasingly powerful and institutionalized. In Latin America and Caribbean countries, criminal leaders and gangs have taken on the functions and symbols of the state. Many of these mafia-like organizations have evolved into extra-legal structures of rule and belonging. Offering social welfare, security and dispute resolution to the urban poor, these governance structures complement or even replace the formal state.

This project  takes on a new approach with regard to the understanding of the reproduction of the socio-political authority of gangs and cartels within socially excluded communities. Whereas previous research has mainly focused on their use of violence, or their provision of material goods and services that the state does not provide, this research centers around the aesthetics that constitute and legitimate their power. Such aesthetic practices are critical in persuading inner-city residents that gang rule is normal and natural.

The topic of this research is the “popular culture of illegality”: the music, visual culture and material culture through which the socio-political authority of criminal gangs is produced. Through which aesthetic practices are people mobilized to accept and support criminal authority? How is the popular culture of illegality central to forms of governmentality? How do visuality, aurality and materiality work to constitute and legitimate authority?

The research includes three Latin American and Caribbean subprojects. The first sub-project focuses on how criminal leaders are iconized through visual culture in Kingston, Jamaica. The second sub-project studies the “sonic supremacy” of criminal militias, generated through music in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The third sub-project analyzes the material culture of syncretic Catholic forms associated with drugs crime in Mexico City.

 

Objective

Focusing on three urban case studies allows an analysis of criminal authority and aesthetic formations that is comparative, first, in terms of sensorial domains and second, in terms of a broader regional perspective. The research intervenes in the field of critical aesthetic theory by linking it to criminal authority and to work on Latin American and Caribbean popular culture. In so doing, the research will make significant empirical and theoretical contributions to studies of governmentality. 

prof. dr. R.K. (Rivke) Jaffe

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

GPIO : Urban Geographies

Martijn Oosterbaan