Researching Security Debate: Violent Pluralism and Disorganised Crime

The thread below is an ongoing conversation between young scholars of the Researching Security network. Please use the comment box below to participate in the debate or contact us directly via

Juan Carlos Ruiz (29 April 2013)

Dear Researching Security members
Have you at some point come across the idea of “disorganised crime”. I have read it in a paper from Claudio Beato but I was wondering if somebody else talks about it more deeply?
Juan Carlos

Verena Brähler (29 April 203)

I have read several articles by Beato Filho but I don’t remember coming across the “disorganised crime” concept. Send us the full reference for those of us that are interested! 
On the same token, does anyone else also use the “violent pluralism” concept by Goldstein and Arias as an analytical framework?

Juan Carlos Ruiz (1 May 2013)

In this article there is a general mention of disorganised crime referring to the aftermath of violent crimes, gangs fights and turf disputes. The premise is that organised crime is quite silent in controlled territories. However, what happens in other neighbourhoods is quite the opposite as small and fragmented drug gangs are fighting each other all the time for turf and selling points control. I heard it previously in a conference but I don’t remember where or by whom. I’m trying to go deep in that since is a key issue in my work…
Juan Carlos

Verena Brähler (10 June 2013)

I have observed the same thing that Juan Carlos Ruiz mentioned in Rio de Janeiro: whenever the dominion of a violent actor is strong and undisputed, this leads to a situation of relative peace and tranquility. When the security or violence market is fragmented (with two or more “competitors”), violent competition for territory is common. 
In my research I argue that different public and private, legal and illegal security providers (e.g. military police, armed forces, drug traffickers, militias, private security companies) engage in a dynamic, ever-changing process of territorialisation and reterritorialisation with each other, the ultimate goal being to become the dominant market leader in a specific territory as this, firstly, is good for their business (or their reputation in the case of state security forces) and, secondly, can lead to a situation of relative peace and stability in the community which enforces their legitimacy in the eyes of the residents. 
However, only few security providers in few territories achieve this comfortable position, and never for very long. Sometimes power is deliberately transferred from one security provider to the other. Most of the times, however, power is violently contested by two or more groups. I argue that violence is first and foremost produced by these processes of (re)territorialisation in which the power of one security provider is challenged by another group. The trajectory that emerges is an urban war with life-threatening consequences for the lives of the civilians caught up in this conflict. The security providers themselves, whether public or private, legal or illegal, have no interest in peace because they benefit from the adverse competition and the ever-changing dynamics of the oligopoly of security providers
I am basing my arguments a lot on African studies on governance and statehood. I found this much more useful that Latin American studies on violence and security. Here are the references, maybe you will find them useful as well: 

  • Engel, U. and A. Mehler (2005). ‘Under Construction’: Governance in Africa’s New Violent Social Spaces. The African Exception. U. Engel and G. R. Olsen. Ashgate, Aldershot, Hants, England, Burlington, VT87-102.
  • Mehler, A. (2004). “Oligopolies of violence in Africa south of the Sahara.” NORD-SÜD aktuell 3. Quartal: 539-48.

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