Violence at the Urban Margins: A Workshop and Now a Book

Violence at the Urban Margins, a new book edited by Javier Auyero, Philippe Bourgois, and Nancy Javier Auyero, Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois

The 2013 workshop titled “Violence at the Urban Margins,” held at The University of Texas at Austin, brought together scholars conducting cutting-edge ethnographic research on the role of violence in the lives of the urban poor in South, Central, and North America. For two days, conference participants discussed violence and its impacts in their respective field sites—as diverse as Philadelphia, Medellín, and Managua—and compared and contrasted their own findings with those of co-participants working across national and/or continental borders. Although each of the participants brought a unique perspective to the study of violence, they shared a commitment to shedding light on the suffering that violence produces and perpetuates, as well as the individual and collective responses that violence generates among those living at the urban margins of the Americas. Participants’ joint concern for the people at the bottom of the socioeconomic order, whose lives they have each labored so carefully to document, helped facilitate a productive dialogue even where disagreements about field techniques or interpretation of data emerged.

The volume that resulted from the workshop, also titled Violence at the Urban Margins, presents the papers that were workshopped in Austin together in printed form. Our hope is that when put side by side they will spark the same level and depth of dialogue across fields (disciplinary and sites of study) as when the authors themselves sat side by side around a table in the center of the LLILAS Benson conference room, passionately discussing their research together in front of (and sometimes with) graduate student and faculty observers.

Like those who attended the two-day workshop, the readers of this book are invited to see theory in action­­—­­­the creative use of a diverse set of theoretical and analytical tools to illuminate particular aspects of the sources, experiences, uses, and effects of violence. There is no single, overarching theoretical framework shared by the contributors, just as there is no single, unified definition of violence employed in this volume. Reflecting the existing variation in social scientific studies of violence, some contributors draw on a more normative—and narrower—definition of violence, focusing mainly on the deployment of physical force and the intentional infliction of damage, while others rely on a more expansive understanding of violence, broadening their investigation to include symbolic and structural forms. Rather than asking authors to conform the research they presented at the workshop to achieve coherence across this volume, we encouraged them to maintain their distinctive approaches to the analysis of violence in the lives of the poor. This not only allows us to showcase the diversity of ways in which scholars have attempted to understand violence but also provides readers with the opportunity to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each theoretical and conceptual approach through engagement with actual empirical work.

In the United States, as well as in Latin America, debates around issues of citizens’ public safety (from debates that erupt after highly publicized events, such as the shootings of Jordan Davis and Trevon Martin, to those that recurrently dominate the airwaves in Latin America) are dominated by members of the middle and upper-middle classes. However, a cursory count of the victims of urban violence in the Americas reveals that the people suffering the most from violence live (and die) at the bottom of the socio-symbolic order. However, the inhabitants of the urban margins are hardly ever heard in discussions about public safety. They live in danger, but the discourse about violence and risk belongs to, is manufactured and manipulated by, others—others who are prone to view violence at the urban margins as evidence of a cultural (or racial) defect, rather than question its relationship to economic and political marginalization. As a result, the experience of interpersonal violence among the urban poor becomes something unspeakable, and the everyday fear and trauma lived in relegated territories is constantly muted and denied. At a very basic level, this book seeks to counteract this pernicious tendency by putting under the ethnographic microscope (and making public) the way in which violence is “lived” and “acted upon” in the urban peripheries.

Violence at the Urban Margins
This volume is the outcome of a workshop held at LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin in the spring of 2013.
Contributors:   Javier Auyero, Adam Baird, Philippe Bourgois, Randol Contreras, Benjamin Fogarty-Valenzuela, Alice Goffman, Mo Hume, Kristine Kilanski, Manuel Llorens, Kevin Lewis O’Neill, Dennis Rodgers, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, John Souto, Ana Villarreal, Polly Wilding, and Verónica Zubillaga

Javier Auyero
Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Sociology.
Department of Sociology
University of Texas, Austin

Learn more about the workshop “Violence at the Urban Margins” here

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More pictures here.  (Pictures courtesy of Mari Correa).

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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