Dissertation Abstracts

The Logistics of Fear: Drug Violence and Everyday Life in the Mexican Metropolis

Author: Villarreal, Ana , avillarreal@berkeley.edu
Department: Sociology
University: University of California, Berkeley, USA
Supervisor: Loïc Wacquant
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: fear , everyday life , drug violence , Mexico
Areas of Research: Senses and Society , Environment and Society , Risk and Uncertainty


A sudden increase in criminal violence, particularly gruesome violence linked to drug trafficking as experienced in Monterrey, Mexico, generates widespread fear, which imposes a series of new practical constraints on individuals, i.e. how to get around the city, where to organize a social gathering, among others. Monterrey residents distinguish between a “before” when you didn’t have to think twice about it and an “after” when you have to think through things. Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork, sixty informal interviews and forty in-depth interviews with Monterrey residents, I argue individuals are thus confronted with the need to design logistics of fear or practices reorganizing everyday activities around fear of heightened crime and violence. The term logistics, a military term in its origins, is particularly adequate to encompass the new strategies documented here given that several of them are military strategies down-scaled and extended into civilian life, i.e. armoring spaces and vehicles, camouflaging (wealth, practices, professions), traveling in convoys and caravans and regrouping. Examination of these logics reveals an underlying trend—to collectivize individual practices—indicating increased violence and crime may trigger a simultaneous process of tearing and tightening of the social fabric.

Most available interdisciplinary scholarship on fear, as well as fear of crime surveys, highlight the negative facets of this emotion: fear makes us stay at home, diminish nightlife activities, abandon parks, and be suspicious of others. At an urban scale, fear has provided a language and justification to increase social segregation in the form of rising walls and gated communities around the globe. Yet events such as the passing of the Caravan for peace examined in this dissertation provide evidence on the common vulnerability experienced by this population as a whole in the face of increased drug violence. Discourses of good against evil or “los buenos” against “los malitos” began to burgeon in everyday conversations across the class spectrum as Monterrey residents sought to explain to themselves who was hanging bodies from their overpasses and leaving headless corpses on the streets. Hence, fear cut across class distinctions as new moral boundaries were drawn between an “us” and a “them”. Yet as fear forged a social whole, it simultaneously reconstituted class differences within it. That is, although the four strategic logics or logistics of fear presented in this dissertation are common to both the upper and lower classes, the means employed are obviously very different at opposite ends of the class spectrum. Armoring, camouflaging, caravanning and regrouping are carried out with disproportionate means, reconstituting and exacerbating class inequalities through their practice. In sum, the main contributions of this dissertation are: 1) to provide the first ethnographic account on the impact of increased drug violence on the social fabric in urban Mexico; 2) to counter discourses on fear exclusively eroding the social fabric with evidence on how this emotion can foster social unity as well; and 3) to demonstrate how this unifying process nevertheless reconstitutes class differences in the process.

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