Interrogations: Heath Cabot and William Garriot on Policing and Contemporary Governance

Palgrave MacMillan (2013)

Policing and Contemporary Governance: the anthropology of police in practice. William Garriott, editor (Palgrave MacMillan 2013).

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to introduce yet another in our series of new features: Interrogations, an interview series with authors and other people of potential interest to our readers.  The term ‘interrogation’ comes  the Latin inter “between” and rogare “question”.  It thus originally meant something like “to question between” (as opposed, for example, to examiner “to test, try, torture”).  Our plans for the series, which will edited by Kristen Drybread & Johanna Romer, are aimed at exploring this sense of the term.
We are happy to present to you the first in this series,  a conversation between Heath Cabot & William Garriott focused on Garriott’s edited volume Policing and Contemporary Governance: The Anthropology of Police in Practice (2013).

Heath Cabot: How did you come to this project: both the book, and looking critically at the anthropology of policing more generally? How do you situate it within the larger context of your work?

William Garriott: My book, Policing Methamphetamine, is where I first began working with the police concept. This generated a more general interest in the topic of police and policing. I soon met other anthropologists who were likewise engaged in the study of police. After a panel on policing at the AAAs, I was approached by Palgrave Macmillan about doing an edited volume.

One thing that distinguishes my work from many of my colleagues is that I have not focused on the police per se–that is, the uniformed officers that we typically think of when we hear the word “police.” For me, policing is a much broader enterprise. The uniformed police force is just one component, albeit a privileged one.

HC: If not the uniformed police officer, which kinds of persons comprise your understanding of policing?

WG: When we look at police more broadly—say at the level of policing or police power—then it starts to expand the number and kinds of persons involved. Activities such as licensing, record keeping, and other forms of administrative regulation may also be seen as constitutive of “police.” And that’s just at the level of the state. A full appreciation of police power goes beyond persons altogether.

A full appreciation of police power goes beyond persons altogether…. even some of our most cherished, intimate relationships are implicated in police

One point of reference for me is the legal concept of the police power. In the US context, this is, in essence, the state’s lawmaking or regulatory authority itself—“the Legislature’s power to enact rules to regulate conduct, to the extent that such laws are ‘necessary to secure the health, safety, good order, comfort, and general welfare of the community,’“ as one recent court opinion has it (Goodridge v Department of Public Health).

This, of course, harkens back to the earlier, broader definition of “police” that I reference in the introduction to the edited volume, and that scholars such as Mariana Valverde and Markus Dubber have recently reengaged in their “new police science” project. The court case I just referenced was concerned with marriage—marriage between couples of the same sex, in this case, but in order to make a ruling the authors of the opinion felt it necessary to articulate how marriage functions as a product and site of the police power more generally, of the state’s powers, interests and obligations as previously defined. So, from this perspective, even some of our most cherished, intimate relationships are implicated in police.

Heath Cabot

Heath Cabot teaches anthropology at the College of the Atlantic. (photo courtesy AllegraLab)

HC: Can you tell us more about what you mean by policing in practice? One of the more elegant aspects of your introduction is the genealogy you conduct of the concept (as opposed to purely the figure) of “police” in modernity. You show that the concept was, perhaps originally (if we can speak of such a thing), tied to the regulation of governance, and broader aspects of the social realm, such as cleanliness, productivity, and order. The figure of the officer is, you show, a fairly recent and specialized aspect of this. Yet, many current anthropologists interested in policing are interested in police, per se: to what extent does the uniformed officer correspond to these longer term formations of governance, and to what extent does policing, as a global form, innovate upon the genealogy that you develop?

WG: The volume makes the case that it is important to locate the modern figure of the police officer—and the mode of power this figure represents—within the genealogy of the police concept. Acknowledging the earlier, broader definition of police allows for a study of police officers that places them within a wider governmental milieu. This encourages us to look at the relationship between police officers and, say, zoning laws or public health programs, as well as, say, culture, as Erik Haanstad and Jeffrey Martin do in their chapters. At the same time, it is important to look at the figure of the police officer in its specificity. This is also a point the volume tries to make. Taking seriously the specificity of the modern police officer, as law enforcer, peace officer, violence worker, or what have you, forces us to take a different perspective than one purely informed by the earlier understanding of the term.

This different perspective is particularly important as we see the modern concept of policing, as something done primarily by uniformed police officers with a mandate to maintain “law and order,” etc., begin to reach the status of a global form utilized in diverse contexts. The UN, for instance, has spent the past decade working to expand its police force so as to better meet its traditional mandate within a changing world. What I hope other observers of contemporary police will ask is, Why is it that this particular institution has come to be seen as so relevant and necessary to the exercise of power today? What about it, in its specificity, has made it seem so essential?

HC: Great point that police as an institution is not simply restricted to state based governance. Where else do you see policing at work in contemporary formations of power? I am thinking specifically of my own work on border regimes in Greece, and how EU interventions sometimes buoy up but in many cases challenge state sovereignties. When does policing reinforce, and when does it challenge, the state? And to what extent has policing linked not just to penal practice, but also to the enactment of peace, humanitarian practice, and even care?

William Garriott is Assistant Professor in the Law, Politics and Society Program at Drake University. (photo courtesy Drake University)

WG: The UN police force referenced above provides one example of what you’re talking about. Interpol provides another interesting example. This is the focus of Meg Stalcup’s contribution. She notes the paradox that Interpol is not a police force in any conventional sense of the term, yet its own self-representations position it as the premiere global crime fighter. But to the extent that Interpol is engaged in “global policing,” it is through its role as a coordinator. The coordination of people—primarily domestic police officers from countries around the world—and information are two of the primary police functions it serves in this regard. This particular niche that Interpol has come to occupy is the result of the challenges of global policing and governance in our current political context where state sovereignty remains a powerful organizing principle. Thus, even as Interpol draws on the conventional image of the “crime fighter” to buttress its position as a police organization, the actual activities in which it is engaged may have the effect of modifying our understanding of what it means to “police” and “fight crime,” particularly on a global scale.

HC: Can you tell us more about what it means to take seriously the specificity of the modern police officer, from an ethnographic perspective? In the book, it becomes clear that this is not just a matter of “studying up” – or exploring the subjectivities and experiences of particular police. Though that, of course, may have a place… What are some of the specific methodological and ethical approaches and challenges that frame the ethnography of police in practice? Any particular ethical dilemmas or struggles that have emerged from your own ethnographic practice that might be illustrative?

WG: This issue runs throughout the book. One of the biggest issues, of course, is the issue of violence. Police have a unique capacity to employ violence, which can often put the ethnographer in difficult and even dangerous positions. The contributors to the volume encounter and react to this issue in different ways. Benjamin Penglase talks about being caught between the police and the “criminals” in the Brazilian favela where he carried out his research, neither of whom were particularly appealing interlocutors with which to identify. Teresa Caldeira illustrates what I would call a “lateral” approach to the study of police violence in Brazil. She uses statistics, media accounts, and interviews with the policed population to generate a holistic and highly nuanced understanding of the causes and consequences of police violence.

Kevin Karpiak offers an ethnographic perspective on the ethical conversation surrounding the use of force (amongst other things) in the context of actual police training among police in France. Beatrice Jauregui offers the most direct discussion of this issue, asking, after witnessing a rather brutal interrogation, whether ethnographic engagement with police constitutes a kind of “dirty anthropology” precisely because of the kind of ethical issues it raises. Finally, Philip Parnell’s chapter includes an interesting moment in which he discovers he cannot take pictures of the dwellings in urban Manila in which his interlocutors are residing. This was because their residence there was often not legal. They worried the picture would document their occupancy, draw attention from the government authorities, and result in the demolition of the building. Thus the ethnographer, here, had to avoid inadvertently being incorporated into the state’s own policing projects.

HC: I have just returned from a trip to Athens, the site of my own research (some of it involving policing). And I spoke with some of my interlocutors about how the increasing presence of the uniformed (and armed) police officer – on street corners, at airports, in public spaces — has become less a symbol of order and more an indication of the general disorder of both the Greek state and Greek society. One might argue that this is the case in other sites as well. How does that fit with your understanding of the relationship between order, disorder, and policing?

WG: Great question. Certainly police are a source of disorder in some communities. Benjamin Penglase’s chapter on the policing of Brazilian favelas shows precisely this. It may also be that police presence has come to signify danger more generally. I am reminded of when I arrived at a train station in the US that was overrun with police, including the explosives detection squad, bomb sniffing dogs, officers in riot gear, etc. It was not a reassuring scene to witness moments before boarding the train.

HC: I guess I am also asking how the semiotics that shape policing have or have not changed – or may be changing — in contemporary governance, amid increasing global fears around extra-state violence? On the one hand, we see that policing has become increasingly taken for granted as not only a legitimate but necessary aspect of forms and practices of governance. On the other hand, though, it seems to me that the increasing visibility of police – and other aspects of securitization – throw into relief the underlying aspects of disorder on which this institution is based.

WG: Indeed, and this is why it is not surprising that both John Comaroff in his foreword, and Joe Masco in his afterword, engage with Walter Benjamin’s discussion of police in “Critique of Violence.” Masco notes, “The very need for police is evidence for Benjamin of a failed social contract and the continual postponement of a truly just society” (265). So, for Benjamin, the use of police by a particular regime signifies that it is force, rather than justice, that is maintaining its authority. It is not hard to find examples of police performing this function in the contemporary world. In fact, the news is so often filled with stories and images of protestors facing off with police officers that this scene of “clashes with police” has become something of a cliché, so much so that it is “readable” across cultural and political contexts. All of this relates back to the question of violence in the context of state power and democracy—a theme which many of the contributors use their engagement with police to address.

Politeia was very much an expression of how the whole social order was constituted. It also refers to the way in which someone conducts their life. VERY distinct from the meanings of krateia (territory and the state) and kyvernisi (government).

HC: A final, more personal point: your discussion of the Greek is relevant. Politeia was very much an expression of how the whole social order was constituted. It also refers to the way in which someone conducts their life. VERY distinct from the meanings of krateia (territory and the state) and kyvernisi (government). In Greece now, I find that the household is very often the metaphor through which politeia is represented: through the Oikos, the house and the family. IE, the then prime minister said, with regard to the austerity measures, that we must “nikokirepsoume” (“clean house”). It invites us to think about the slippage of public and private in aspects of contemporary governance. What do you see as the relationship between public and private in the current “global” concept of police?

WG: I am reminded here of Markus Dubber’s work on the police power. Though writing about the US, he traces the concept of police to the patriarchal management of the household by the householder. For Dubber, this is an essential and constant aspect of the police power. And it deserves critical attention because such power is virtually limitless and largely discretionary. To the extent that Dubber’s analysis is correct, I think it encourages a focus on how such power manifests itself in diverse contexts today. The household provides an interesting site where the older, more general notion of police-as-governance might meet the more recent, specific notion of governance-as-police. Sticking with the US, changes in the response to domestic violence come to mind. What just a few decades ago was seen as a private matter has now been more formally criminalized and thus made a matter of police intervention.

HC: Where do you see the ethnography of police and policing headed? What about in your own work?

WG: It is an exciting time to be engaged in the ethnography of police and policing, particularly as an anthropologist. Anthropologists, of course, are not the only ones engaged in the ethnographic study of police, but they do face unique challenges. One key issue is that the “counter-hegemonic” orientation of much anthropology, if I may put it that way, has made police a somewhat problematic object of study.

the “counter-hegemonic” orientation of much anthropology… has made police a somewhat problematic object of study…. But it is for precisely this reason that anthropologists are poised to make a unique contribution to the ethnography of police and policing.

But it is for precisely this reason that anthropologists are poised to make a unique contribution to the ethnography of police and policing. I think the process of adapting standard disciplinary techniques and training to the study of police will be productive both for anthropology and for the wider scholarly study of police.

Moreover, the uniquely central place of ethnography to anthropology puts anthropologists in a privileged position to think through the question of what it means to do ethnography in the context of police—both for our understanding of police and for the practice of ethnography.

Each chapter in the edited volume deals with this either explicitly or implicitly. Likewise, Didier Fassin recently convened a conference at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on “Ethnography and Policing” that took up this issue.  There is an edited volume planned. I’m excited both to read it myself, and to see how it is received within anthropology and the wider field of police studies. Indeed, my own work at the moment includes continued reflection on police and policing as an object of ethnographic investigation and anthropological analysis. As noted above, police and policing are somewhat troublesome objects for anthropology—productively so, in my opinion.


Heath Cabot teaches anthropology at the College of the Atlantic. She is the author of On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece.
William Garriott is Assistant Professor in the Law, Politics and Society Program at Drake University. In addition to editing Policing and Contemporary Governance, he is the author of Policing Methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in Rural America and co-editor (with Eugene Raikhel) of Addiction Trajectories.
Dossiers, From the Field

Economies of Security and Care in Catalonia, Spain

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Johanna Römer with a Dossier in our From the Field section.

Police Marcha Dignidad

Police presence at the Marcha por la Dignidad. Photo courtesy of Lee Douglas.


“The history of prisons in Spain?” a Catalan prison guard asked me, a man in his mid-forties, his hands resting on a heavy leather belt. “Everything has already been written. Our vocabulary, our forms of punishment – even the word cell itself, all come from Catholic and monastic practices.”

He turned to face the thick glass wall of the bunker.

“I spent years teaching…in law enforcement, in the private sector, and now I just want to be here, with these guys [inmates], where I can have peace and quiet,” he said, nodding towards a small group of men talking softly around a checked tablecloth whose color was imperceptible through the glass.

“Look at that. No one makes problems.”

While monitoring the inmates through the glass, the guard narrated other stories of prison work; but his last seemingly unremarkable comment, “no one makes problems,” stayed with me.

Continue reading

Commentary & Forums, Dossiers, From the Field, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

The Brazilian Military, Public Security, and Rio de Janeiro’s “Pacification”

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Stephanie Savell with the latest entry in our forum Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
Army soldier addresses resident of Complexo do Alemão. Photo: Bruno Itan.

Army soldier addresses resident of Complexo do Alemão. Photo: Bruno Itan.

The Brazilian army and marines have in recent years played a more visible role in the provision of public security in Rio de Janeiro. The army currently occupies the sprawling set of informal neighborhoods, or favelas, known as Complexo da Maré, a “temporary solution” timed to accompany World Cup events in the city. The occupation, intended to repress the local control of drug trafficking gangs, will be followed by the installation of more permanent “Police Pacifying Units,” or “UPPs,” as part of Rio’s favela “pacification” program.

Between 2011 and 2012, the armed forces similarly occupied the favela Complexo do Alemão, where I lived for a year conducting ethnographic research (2013-2014). Here, based on that research, I examine the significance of the army’s participation in public security.

Many insiders and keen observers of security in Rio were quick to tell me that the army’s deployment in police pacification is not a trend – Alemão was unique, they said. But in addition to the current deployment in Maré, there are other indications to the contrary. In recent years, the constitutional clause, Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO), or “Guarantee of Law and Order,” which allows for the use of the military in public security operations, has been continuously elaborated and refined. Under former President Lula’s administration, and now under Dilma Rousseff, the military has been used for an increasing number of situations, from pacification to oil auctions to the Pope’s visit and the World Cup. These are not isolated events; they invite us to question the military’s provision of public security and how it is understood, especially by security forces and by the urban poor whose neighborhoods the military patrols. Continue reading

Commentary & Forums, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

The Politics of Violence and Brazil’s World Cup

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Sean T. Mitchell with the latest entry in our forum Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.

A June 19, 2014 São Paulo protest called by the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement) to protest transport fares and conditions, but mischaracterized internationally as an “Antigovernment” and “World Cup” protest. The banner in front reads, “There will be no fare.” Photo. Oliver Kornblihtt/ Midia NINJA

A June 19, 2014 São Paulo protest called by the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement) to protest transport fares and conditions was mischaracterized internationally as an “Antigovernment” and “World Cup” protest. The banner in front reads, “There will be no fare.” Photo: Oliver Kornblihtt/ Midia NINJA


On Failure, Violence, and the World Cup

Not unlike the 2010 hoopla anticipating that year’s South Africa World Cup, the breathless expectation of failure and security breakdown that characterized much international coverage of the lead up to Brazil’s 2014 World Cup, now, midway through the month-long event, seems to have been ill-founded.

When reporting wasn’t merely what Meg Stalcup characterized on this forum as fluff—which much of it was—pre World Cup coverage in the global north press was overheated and macabre.  Why?

The last year has seen the emergence of large scale Brazilian protest movements of clear importance, and the World Cup has been a target of their criticism.  But the macabre emphasis on violence and failure has obscured much more than it has illuminated about these movements, and about the real violence and social conflicts in contemporary Brazil.

To understand why so much coverage has taken this lurid form, it helps to look at historical representations of peace and violence in Brazil, as well as contemporary politics in Brazil and abroad.

First, consider this: in the run up to Brazil’s World Cup, The New York Times described the “highly modernistic improvement” in stadium security technology designed for the “highly excitable public” and the “huge crowds possible in this soccer-mad country.”  The same year, The Washington Post lamented that “Brazil has for several years been miring deeper into a real crisis characterized by inflation” and a “breakdown” in “national equipment.” The paper warned of a country that had “outgrown its transportation system and power resources,” of “impoverished hordes” in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and that “the cost of living, already high, is going higher each day.” There was mention of elites hoping that a president, “swept into power by the underprivileged,” could “maintain a reasonable restraint on the masses.” Without such control the country might suffer “violent swings to the left, then to the right,” producing “chaos” that might prevent the country from setting “its economic house in order.”

Despite clear similarities with recent Anglophone reporting on Brazil, these articles were not from Brazil’s World Cup year of 2014, but from 1950, when Brazil also hosted the event.  The “highly modernistic improvement” to Rio’s Maracanã stadium was a moat, designed to protect players from spectators—somewhat lower tech than the “Robocops” of today’s sensational headlines.

The list of economic and political woes in The Washington Post article fits neatly with recent coverage of Brazil in the Anglophone press.  But the president in question was the newly-elected former dictator, Getúlio Vargas, not today’s soon-up-for-reelection former revolutionary, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil’s PT (Worker’s Party).  Like Dilma, Getúlio inherited a political program vastly popular with Brazil’s poor, but faced discontent, political turmoil, and the imperative to assuage fears of socialism among elites in Brazil and abroad.

When I went looking for 1950 reports about Brazil in the US press, the pickings were few, a dramatic contrast to the live video feeds, social media posts, and news reports of all kinds we are assaulted with today.

I will be in New York until I fly to Brazil on the night of the World Cup final.  I’ll send in a few posts in this series on the aftermath of the Cup and on the (very different) topic of the book I’m currently finishing over the next few months, so I draw heavily here on those media.  But, mindful of Jonathan Franzen’s warning that “free and universally accessible” information devalues many kinds of research (If you’re reading this, you can Google this stuff yourself), I will do my best to put some of the reporting we have been getting in a broader interpretive context.

The key point as I see it is this: in conversations in New York, I have been struck by the much greater continued focus on violence and failure than in (virtual) conversations with people in Brazil.  The other night I had a discussion with a group of well-meaning New Yorkers wrongly convinced that massive battles between protestors and police are ongoing outside most of the stadiums.  A few days earlier, I tried in vain to argue against the likelihood of stadium collapse with a man who thought such a disastrous event likely.

My colleagues on this forum have done an excellent job analyzing the real conflicts surrounding Brazil’s 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and repression of dissent around the stadiums has been draconian.  This post should not be misunderstood as undermining the importance of these conflicts and that violence.  As Ben Penglase has shown in this forum, the characterization of young dark-skinned men in Rio’s favelas as potential criminals serves to legitimate highly militarized policing of those spaces.  Similarly, the lurid, often unrealistic, focus on Brazilian violence that I continue to encounter in conversations in the US (and in a style of reporting best described as violence porn), does not so much illuminate the conflicts in Brazilian society as it  helps to legitimate the repression of dissent.

So why, prior to the World Cup, did violence and failure become such central tropes in foreign representations of Brazil, even though some Brazilian sources could have offered a useful counter-perspective?

The Myths of a Peaceful and a Violent Nation

To begin to answer this question, I’ll note that there has been a deep shift in the ideas about peace and violence that have circulated about Brazil over the last half century or so.I did my best in the introduction to emphasize the many similarities between reporting in 1950 and 2014; now I’ll emphasize the equally significant differences.

The 1950 New York Times article about the moat didn’t do a lot to stir up fear, and, unlike contemporary reports, mentioned no dangers greater than rowdy sports fans.

The 1950 Washington Post article (published after that year’s World Cup) clearly referenced many of the fears of a Washington Post readership worried about “socialism” in Latin America after the election of a populist Brazilian president, similar to fears voiced in the international press during the early years of Brazil’s PT governance (2003 – the present).  And the thrust of the Post article, awkwardly entitled, “Brazil’s ‘Socialism’ Probably Will Be a Relative Thing,” was to console Cold War-era readers that the president elect “wants foreign capital to help on the long-term national improvements that must be made.”

It is here that clear differences with the present emerge.  The Post relied on a cultural analysis to come to its mollifying conclusion.  In a polar inversion of recently dominant representations of Brazil as an especially violent country, the article described a Brazilian national inclination to peacefulness. “The ‘adaptability’ of Brazilians helps them solve their problems with far less violence and stress than most peoples,” the article soothed.

This conception of Brazil as a uniquely peaceful country is one with a long history, although, at least in elite circles, it has mostly fallen into eclipse.  Some of the main tropes of the myth are that Brazil achieved independence from Portugal without the bloodshed that characterized independence throughout the Americas; the country abolished slavery without a war (abolition came to Brazil after all other countries in the hemisphere, in 1888); the Brazilian military has not engaged in military action against foreigners in South America since the brutal Paraguayan War (1864-1870).

Contemporary English language readers may be most familiar with a closely-related myth generally called, “the myth of racial democracy,” the idea that Brazil has long had uniquely friendly and peaceful race relations.  But if casual readers are familiar with this myth, it is likely because they have seen or heard it critiqued.  Like the myth of Brazilian peacefulness, “racial democracy” enjoys some life as a popular ideology. But, in scholarship and middle and highbrow journalism, it is invoked almost exclusively to be debunked.

If I can take the general impressions held by my more interested US undergraduate students as a guide, the idea of Brazil as a violent and racist country, along with hard-edged popular culture such as Baile Funk, and City of God, have now completely surpassed the mid-20th century conceptions of peacefulness, racial democracy, and the soothing Garota de Ipanema, and Carmen Miranda as sources of internationally circulating clichés about Brazil.

The causes of this broader cultural shift are beyond the scope of this essay, though I will write about them in the future. Suffice it to say that the myth of peaceful Brazil is as faulty as the now-dominant polar opposite of violent Brazil.  For a nation without significant external enemies, yet with high levels of urban and police violence and one of the world’s major small arms industries, one could, if so inclined, build a case for either myth.

I’ve written a paper with anthropologists, Thaddeus Blanchette and Ana Paula da Silva (currently in peer review), in which we show how representations of Brazil in the global north (especially the United States) frequently swing between utopian and dystopian poles, in part because the nation is just similar enough to the United States to serve as a conveniently blank slate.  The myths of violent and peaceful Brazil follow this general pattern very closely.

The Failure of the World Cup?

Narrowing down on more recent history, why has the Anglophone global north press been so concerned with violence and failure when writing about the World Cup, when they stray beyond “fluff” and simple sports reporting?

First, there is major political unrest in Brazil, and the World Cup is part of this. The deaths, physical displacement, and many other human costs of the preparations for the event, along with the waste and private appropriation of needed public funds have catalyzed public dissent. The mega events of the World Cup and 2016 Olympics are being used to favor real estate interests and the neoliberal restructuring of major cities. Moreover, FIFA acts as rapacious dictator while issuing alarmist warnings about Brazil’s preparation.  All the while, the World Cup has provided the pretext to turn major parts of Brazil’s large cities into effective police states.

But contemporary protests are about more than just the World Cup, as has already been shown in this forum.  Despite this, the political concerns of the protests have been lost in international coverage that emphasizes the World Cup, on the one hand, and unspecified “anti-government” forces, on the other.  For example, the one year anniversary of the massive nationwide June 19, 2013 protests were marked by some violence and by violent police repression, but this much-circulated piece from Reuters featured the words “World Cup” in the headline and multiple uses of “anti-government” before coming to the buried lede of the movement for free bus fares, which sparked those 2013 protests and these protests one year later.  Similarly, this piece in Time about the same protest, featured a photo captioned, “protest against 2014 FIFA World Cup,” and alleged that the protests were “Antigovernment riots” merely “ostensibly calling for free public transit.”

To put this in perspective, on the day put out the third video in their extremely popular “Chaos in Brazil” series (which includes some good journalism, despite the Vice-style lurid headlines and horror movie music), some 50,000 people were protesting in London against austerity. As my friend, the Rio de Janeiro based geographer, Brian Mier (who has done some high quality reporting for Vice himself), put it: “That’s around 50 times larger than any anti-World Cup protest that happened last week. According to the type of analysis in places like CNN about Brazil, this must be a sign that British society is crumbling at the foundations.”

But there’s a much stronger market for stories about Brazilian “society crumbling at the foundations” than there is for such stories about England.  As journalist Lawrence Charles lamented from Brazil, “the only stories editors across the world are interested in fall into the Angry Violent Brazilian Who Might Mess Up The World Cup category.” So macabre and sensational stories are the ones we get.  There’s a post-colonial and geopolitical logic to this: I predict more international hand-wringing about Brazil’s 2016 Olympics and Russia’s 2018 World Cup, but not about the prosperous and NATO-aligned Japan’s 2020 Olympics.

Additionally, in this Brazilian election year, analyses of the event and its consequences are inevitably shaped by partisan politics in Brazil.  As political scientists João Feres Junior and Fábio Kerche have been arguing, the most powerful news sources in Brazil (Folha de São Paulo, O Estado de São Paulo, O Globo, Veja, and Época), are systematically biased against the PT (Worker’s Party) government that has been in charge of Brazil’s executive since 2003, shaping impressions of the nation’s politics domestically and abroad.

I think these scholars are right about this.  Yet, their argument leaves open a significant question.  The major Brazilian media have been positioned against the PT since the party’s founding in 1980. Yet for most of the first decade of the 21st century, Brazil’s PT, and its 2003-2010 President Lula, were beloved by institutions of global north governance and media, despite the party’s enmity with Brazil’s major media organizations.  This global north affection seems to be on the wane under current PT president, Dilma Rousseff, with foreign and Brazilian major media swinging into closer alignment.

In a future post, I will offer some reasons for this shift.  The answer lies in more than the downturn in Brazil’s economy, the differing policies and personalities of these different presidents, and Brazil’s emerging protest movements, I will argue.

For now, I will end with the suggestion that English language readers consider decontextualized accounts of Brazilian violence with some skepticism.  Brazil’s new protest movements are clearly historic, and their police repression is real, but we do them no favors by taking internationally circulating violence porn at face value.

Sean T. Mitchell is assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, Newark. His ethnographically-based work focuses on the politics of inequality, particularly in Brazil. His work also touches on science and technology studies; race and ethnicity; war and violence; governance and citizenship; social movements; and the politics of expertise. He is coeditor of “Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency” (Chicago 2010), and is currently completing a manuscript, “Space and Race: The Politics of Inequality at Brazil’s Satellite Launch Center.”


DragNet: June 15 – 30, 2014


After months of debate, the ACLU released previously sealed records regarding the cell phone-tracking tool in use by several departments.


The topic of surveillance packed a powerful punch this month, with the court releasing documents regarding Stingray technology capabilities. After months of debate, the ACLU released previously sealed records regarding the cell phone-tracking tool in use by several departments. The publication comes nearly 3 months after initial buzz about the tool that circulated after a suspect’s phone was used by police to track him to his apartment prior to obtaining a warrant. The more notable specifics of the technology can be found here.

The problem of prison over crowding is presented by Alyse Berenthal’s article in Anthropology News this month. As an anthropologist interested in the ethnographic aspects of justice, Berenthal spent time working with people in self-help legal clinics. By restricting definitions of justice to the individual level, Alyse work offers insights to the pitfalls of an over burdened justice system.

The truth is in the data.   The proof is in the series of graphs presented by Nicole Flatlow in Think Progress’ article about the existential growth of the US prison population. States like California are so over-populated with prisoners that courts have ordered that prisons take steps to reduce inmate populations. Local jails are feeling the pain of overcrowding, with large volumes of low-risk or offenders awaiting trial making up a large proportion of total prisoner populations.

Also in surveillance is Kirsten Weld’s post about the institutionalization of intelligence gathering by the US. From the Spanish-American War, to FDR’s administration, to the aftermath of 9/11: it becomes apparent that data mining is nothing new to the US’ administrative history. Whether or not the US has a right to act as “global policeman” has yet to be determined by both the law and its citizens.

Stingray technology was not the only cause of raised eyebrows this month. James Eyers of Financial Review put tap-and-go credit card technology under scrutiny in a post from earlier this month. Some departments are criticizing tap and go transactions; pointing to higher theft and break-ins by criminals looking for this specific type of credit card. Banks are standing by their anti-identification policies, stating that crime inevitably changes alongside technological innovations and they as a financial entity cannot be held accountable.

First shared in May, Mother Jones’ post by Katie Quandt was popular again this month. Entitled “What it’s like to visit your mother in prison on mother’s day”, Quandt reflects about the impact of her foster sister’s incarceration on her role as a mother. The article comes shortly after Sesame Street’s recent initiative to talk about challenges children with parents in prison face, citing that 1 in 28 children fall into this category (with that stat increasing to 1 in 9 children among African American children).

Have plans to lounge beachside this summer? If so, you can’t miss David Thompson’s “must read” journal articles for Spring 2014. Catch up on the latest in anthropology and policing in scholarly publications here.

Border Criminologies announced their recent initiative to first digitize and eventually physically document material works by UK immigrants. The archive is intended to act as a reminder of the creative process of individuals even during times of extreme stress and uncertainty. It serves to emphasize the role of material culture in criminology.

Should community policing lead the way in 2014? Steve Early advocates for this approach in In These Times pose on June 23rd. He attributes the more “reactive policing” approaches to post-9/11 emphasis on response. Would regular officer assignments result in higher reliability ratings from the public? Should community relationship building be instated to replace reactive responses?

Commentary & Forums, Dispatches, From the Field, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

The Other Side of the Bay – Social Consequences Across from Rio de Janeiro

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Nick Wong and Stuart Davis with the latest entry in our forum Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
Photo by Nick Wong CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

A young boy playing in Fazenda dos Mineiros. Many of the toys provided to the children are donations from church organizations and other social programs aimed at helping these communities. They are insured to be in good working condition before donation, but due to the large demand for toys, children remain with the same toy for years. Photo by Nick Wong CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Our first contact with the Fazenda dos Mineiros community was by chance encounter. We were invited to visit the home of a friend, Gilberto Lima, a community leader who works in Rio de Janeiro and São Gonçalo on children’s rights, among other issues of social justice. Gilberto was the uncle of a friend back in the US who helped one of us prepare for our respective Fulbright terms, and for hospitality’s sake, he invited us over for lunch. What we didn’t know was how much the visit would influence our nine months in Brazil.

Located 15 miles across the Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro’s historic downtown, the city of São Gonçalo has followed a much different path than its famous neighbor.[1] Continue reading