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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, Policing the Revolution: The Transformation of Security and Violence in Venezuela during Chavismo, is in press with Oxford University Press and analyzes the relationship between revolutionary politics and state violence. In the book I analyze how a 21st Century leftist revolutionary project shaped policing, coercive power, and security in contemporary Latin America. Exploring the case of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, I ask: How did a revolutionary state project transform coercive power and those institutions and actors that we traditionally assume wield coercion in defense of the state? How did they affect those the revolution promised to champion and protect? And what can this case tell us more broadly about the nature of policing, left-wing governance, and state power in the contemporary Global South?

In The Paradox of Violence in Venezuela: Revolution, Crime, and Policing During Chavismo  (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022), David Smilde, Verónica Zubillaga and I bring together evidence from the Venezuelan case to theorize the relationship between poverty, inequality, and violence. This book brings together multidisciplinary research from economics, political science, sociology, and psychology to understand why violence has increased since the early 2000s despite a successful reduction in poverty and inequality. 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 the evolution of armed groups and 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 JournalDilemas: Revista de Estudos de Conflito e Controle Social, and Nueva Sociedad, the longest-running social science journal in Latin America.

Policing in the Global South

Since 2016 I have worked with interdisciplinary teams of scholars to understand how states have attempted to reduce crime and violence and increased trust in and legitimacy in their police forces.

The first project looked at the impacts of community-oriented policing across seven countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Community 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 is 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. 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. For more information on the field experiment in Medellín, Colombia click here.

I am currently working with colleagues at the Universidad de los Andes, University of Arizona, and University of California-Berkeley, on a project that seeks to understand how states in nine countries in Latin America attempt to gain control over and legitimacy in spaces that have been dominated by non-state armed groups, taking into account how recent histories with civil war and gang violence shape these attempts.


Gender and Ethnographic Research

Why is there such silence across methods courses, texts, and public methodological conversations on sexual harassment? 

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.

In Harassed: Gender, Bodies, and Ethnographic Research (University of California Press, 2019), Patricia Richards and I use interviews with 57 qualitative researchers to interrogate this silence. We argue that the androcentric, racist, and colonial histories of qualitative research construct certain embodied experiences as polluting the researcher and her research, encouraging us to push these experiences to the side rather than recognizing them as data. In the book we advocate for an embodied approach to ethnography that reflexively engages with the ways in which researchers’ bodies shape the knowledge they produce, offering an opportunity for researchers, advisors, and educators to consider the multiple ways in which good qualitative research can be conducted. Our recent special issue published in The Journal of Men's Studies brings together articles that interrogate embodied experiences in the field and in the academy, with contributions from a range of embodied perspectives.

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