From cuaz to cuate: Training camps for organized crime

For years now - more or less the entire duration of my doctoral studies - I have been intrigued by the fact that some organized crime groups in Mexico operate training camps. In one form or another, I worked this in to most of my course papers. Once I was done with coursework and working… Continue reading From cuaz to cuate: Training camps for organized crime

A narco-list of narco-fied narco-words

Last year, I assembled a database of narco-messages. Towards the end of this process, while I was poring over articles from a Guadalajara-based newspaper, I decided to keep track of the narco-fied terms that I came across. These articles were from the early years of the war on narco-trafficking (which started in December 2006), when… Continue reading A narco-list of narco-fied narco-words

Poverty, inevitability, and synthetic clothing

When I arrived back in Mexico City in January, everyone was talking about the lines for gas. Recently-inaugurated president López Obrador shut down parts of the national oil and gas distribution network to combat oil theft. I enjoyed the memes doing the rounds, but didn't think too much more about gas. In the days after… Continue reading Poverty, inevitability, and synthetic clothing

Violence as a message / Violence plus a message

I study a phenomenon that, according to the prevailing paradigm in scholarship on violence, really shouldn't exist. The huge volume of work that seeks to identify logics underpinning seemingly random or inexplicably brutal acts of violence very often explain these excesses in terms of their communicative value. Perpetrating violence is a costly signal; perpetrating grotesquely… Continue reading Violence as a message / Violence plus a message

Puzzling over a massacre

"There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre."Kurt Vonnegut For about three years now, I have been trying to find something intelligent to say about a massacre. I am not sure that I have made much progress, but I have just submitted my most recent attempt to a journal, so I guess we will… Continue reading Puzzling over a massacre

Where to begin?

When I defended my dissertation proposal, I set a rather familiar and somewhat arbitrary start date for the database that I wanted to build. Violence in Mexico is generally understood to have spiked sharply with the start of Felipe Calderón's presidency, and his declaration of war against organized crime in December 2006. During the proposal… Continue reading Where to begin?

Comparing databases (and discovering just how far I have to go)

Since arriving in Mexico I have been steadily building a database of narcomensajes.  Over the course of several months, and working with different media sources, that base has grown by the thousands. It was never very clear, however, just how many messages I could expect to find. By one very rough estimate, I thought I… Continue reading Comparing databases (and discovering just how far I have to go)

The deaths behind the data

I had not thought death had undone so many.T.S.Eliot For the first three months of my field research, I pored over online newspaper archives, adding data to a growing spreadsheet of narco-messages (narcomensajes or narcomantas). I developed a habit, and spent two hours almost every morning adding data points, before returning for at least another… Continue reading The deaths behind the data

Narco-messages in Mexico City

About two weeks before I moved to Mexico City to start my field research, a narco-message appeared over a major street in the city. This was a big deal; while thousands of these messages have appeared in cities and towns throughout the country, Mexico City is one of those places in which messages are regarded… Continue reading Narco-messages in Mexico City

The perfect source, and its difficulties

A core part of my research involves the collection of data on the narcomensajes that have been appearing in Mexico since about 2006. Ideally, that data includes information about where and when the messages appear, contextual information such as whether the messages appear at a crime scene, and a full transcription of each message. There are… Continue reading The perfect source, and its difficulties