Mortal Doubt: Transnational Gangs and Social Order
Dr. Anthony W. Fontes
School of International Service
Abstract: Since the end of Central America’s longest and bloodiest civil war (1960-1996), Guatemala City has become an epicenter of homicidal violence. Maras (transnational gangs) have become the erstwhile emissaries of this new order. They are victims and perpetrators of spectacular violence and pivotal figures in a peacetime politics of death. Drawing from five years of investigative ethnography, media analysis, and oral history, I explore the loops and feedback effects between the maras’ material violence and their symbolic power in social imaginaries. However, the maras are not the problem, and the problem does not begin or end with them. In Central American cities, maras in fact moor a collective sense of existential uncertainty over the terms of everyday survival that has come to dominate urban life. And in the United States, they have become an integral instrument for nationalist, xenophobic politics. In this talk, I will show how the specter of out-of-control criminal violence has become utterly entwined with the making of lived and symbolic landscapes, defying every effort to fix it in time and space.