Policing & Violence in Venezuela

Since 2012 I have conducted ethnographic, interview, survey and archival research on policing, security reform, and state violence in Venezuela. This research lays the groundwork for two current book projects. The first, Police and the Revolution: Chaos, Conflict, and State Violence in Venezuelaanalyzes the relationship between revolutionary politics and state violence. In this book manuscript I argue that previous scholarship has overemphasized the coherence and internal homogeneity of revolutionary states, failing to recognize how internecine struggles and competing interests can catalyze conflict and violence from within the state. Police violence in Venezuela is not a story of unified coercive forces defending the state against its opponents. Rather, Venezuela is an exemplary case of what I refer to as revolutionary chaos—the institutional chaos produced as state actors struggle to define the aims of the revolution and cobble together solutions to resistance in unsettled times.

In The Paradox of Violence in Venezuela (forthcoming with University of Pittsburgh Press), David Smilde, Verónica Zubillaga and I bring together evidence from the Venezuelan case to theorize the relationship between poverty, inequality, and violence. We challenge previous research--which has tended to attribute increasing violence to Chavista rhetoric and ideology--instead arguing that persistent historical and structural inequalities exacerbated by revolutionary politics and militarized policing provide a more compelling explanation.

More recently, my research has focused on police re-militarization in Venezuela, asking how this transition has altered policing practices and organized crime in urban and rural sectors. Findings from the research have been published in Violence: An International Journal and Nueva Sociedad, the longest-running social science journal in Latin America.

Community Trust and Policing in Medellín

Community-oriented policing is a widely celebrated approach to policing and security reform that aims to reduce crime and improve perceptions of the police. Advocates call for its adoption around the world, and it a common solution proposed by governments when police violence and anti-police protests garner media attention. However, the existing evidence for community policing is limited to a small number of countries, and is largely silent on effects on trust. Working with researchers across six countries in the Global South through EGAP's Community Policing Metaketa, we designed field experiments with police agencies to study locally designed models of community policing. We find that these interventions largely failed to improve citizen-police relations and do not reduce crime. Findings from this project will be published in a book manuscript under contract with Cambridge University Press. Along with colleagues I led the implementation of the field experiment in Medellín, Colombia. During this time I supervised the collection of five sources of qualitative data: ethnographic field notes, attendance sheets, cooperation documents from community meetings, interviews, and focus groups. Bringing together survey, interview, and observational data we analyze how meetings between the police and community residents may shape relations between them. For more information on the field experiment in Medellín, Colombia click here

Gender and Ethnographic Research


Harassment and other forms of sexual violence are intertwined with the production of
knowledge. Studies have shown that these experiences are common across academic fields,
extending from the university to researchers’ field sites. 
While a significant body of scholarship provides tips and suggestions for researchers to avoid these experiences, their implications for our professional and personal lives as well as knowledge production are rarely explored. Indeed, while researchers’ bodies have long been recognized as the most important instrument in the qualitative researcher’s tool belt, these embodied experiences are often left out of field notes, analysis, and tales of the field. Why is there such silence across methods courses, texts, and public methodological conversations on sexual harassment? 

Patricia Richards (University of Georgia) and I use interviews with 57 qualitative researchers, as well as our own experiences conducted fieldwork, to interrogate this silence. We argue that the androcentric, racist, and colonialist histories of qualitative research construct silence in academia surrounding sexual harassment and other forms of violence researchers face in the field. In 2019, we published Harassed: Gender, Bodies, and Ethnographic Research (University of California Press), advocating for an embodied approach to ethnography that reflexively engages with the ways in which researchers’ bodies shape the knowledge they produce. By challenging these assumptions, we offer an opportunity for researchers, advisors, and educators to consider the multiple ways in which good ethnographic research can be conducted. We are currently editing a special issue of The Journal of Men's Studies bringing together articles that interrogate embodied experiences in the field and in the academy, with contributions from a range of embodied perspectives.