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.

Alexandra Abello Colak (12 June 2013)

Dear Researching Security colleagues
Thank you for sharing your ideas. If I may, I would like to add something on this. I think an important issue to take into account when unpacking the contemporary connection between organised crime and (urban) violence in Latin America, is the process of transformation and adaptation that criminal actors have undergone in the last decade (or less in some places), in order to profit from the expansion of illegal economies.
Criminal actors have mutated due to multiple forces (globalization, state responses and particular socio-economic and institutional processes in the region, etc). There is growing consensus that criminal actors have transformed into ‘criminal networks’ and this is relevant not only because this affects the way they interact with urban communities and state actors, but also because it determines patters of violence associated to them.

On the first aspect, I think it is important to recognise the blurred lines between illegal and legal actors and practices in contexts where criminal networks manage to exert their influence. Desmond Arias and Luis Jorge Garay and Salcedo have done interesting work which shows that the relations between state and criminal actors for example, are much more complex than that of competition.  In this line, Garay et al. have coined the notion of co-opted state reconfiguration. In the case of Medellin, and in particular of urban communities with presence of gangs and criminal bands, I have identified at least 4 strategies that have allowed criminal actors to influence urban governance despite the strengthening of state capabilities at local and national level in the last decade (the article I co-wrote with a colleague on this is on revision with the Urban Studies Journal at the moment, as soon as it’s ready I will share it with you).
On the second aspect (on violence and criminal networks), Juan Carlos Garzon has used the notion of the “rebellion of the criminal networks’” to explain why there is increasing fragmentation and competition among criminal actors and how this affects the kind of violence we see in some Latin-American cities. I think this might also be of interest to some of you. Once again thank you for starting the discussion on this!

Susan Hoppert Flaemig (19 September 2013)

Dear all,
Greetings from Bradford! I would like to pick up the thread of discussion that some of you started a few months ago as I have some questions and perhaps you know something about this.
First, similar to some of you, I am also thinking about the role of violence in the social orders of Latin America. I had a look at the “oligopoly of violence” literature which I find interesting but also confusing. It seems to me there is no clear distinction between violence control and security provision. But when setting out the relationship between criminal actors and the state wouldn’t that be an important aspect, even if (or especially when) the lines between legal and illegal actors are blurred? Have you come across any literature that conceptualises the differences between the power to use violence and security (provision)?
The second aspect concerns the term “urban violence”. I understand it refers to the intense conflicts that often occur in an urban environment. But I am wondering if the term is also used to distinguish it from, let’s say, civil war violence or state violence. Some phenomena associated with urban violence like gang violence, violent criminal actors, extortion etc. can also be observed in peripheral environments. I guess my question is, is urban violence really only urban or is the term used because there is not better term to describe contemporary phenomena of violence that are not related with civil war violence? Or is there another term that I am not aware of? What do you think?
As you can probably tell from these thoughts, I am currently working on my conceptual chapter. Right now, I am reading Migdal’s state-in-society approach which I find very intriguing in theorising state-society-relations although he does not refer to violence much.
Any thoughts are very welcome!

Alexandra Abello-Colak (15 November 2013)

Dear all,
I am sending you a link to an article you might find interesting. It explores a framework for rethinking and researching security in hybrid political contexts.

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