â€œEn mi barrio no ha quedado ni unoâ€
by Abu Lido
Or Not magazine has interviewed Javier Auyero, sociologist of University of Texas about his work on violence in Buenos Aires.
Together with teacher, Fernanda Berti, what activity have you developed about violence in the neighborhood Arquitecto Tucci in Buenos Aires? For how many years did it last and which tools you used: interviews, analysis, statistical data collection?
During 30 months, my collaborator worked in the neighborhood as an elementary schoolteacher in two public schools. The book is be based on the detailed ethnographic notes that she took based on her students’ activities inside and outside of the school. The analysis is also based on dozens of conversations with schoolteachers and parents, and on one-hundred short interviews (which lasted between thirty minutes and an hour) carried out in order to catalogue the most common problems identified by the population under investigation (unsurprisingly, crime and drug-dealing are the main concern). I also conducted interviews with five doctors working at the local hospital and the local health center, and a social worker at the local public school. We accessed hard-to-find data on homicides in the area through personal contacts at the DefensorÃa Municipal, the office that collects death records from the local morgue. Finally, I conducted archival research on local newspapers (all of them accessible online), focusing on instances of interpersonal violence (injuries in interpersonal disputes and homicides) between 2009 and 2012 in order to pinpoint the geographic location of this violence, information not recorded by the DefensorÃa. All in all I have confidence on the data we were able to gather, on its internal variety (where, for ethnographers at least, rests the validity of the analysis), and on the weblike character of our evidence.
If one of the most significant findings of your work is that violence is not an eye for an eye but a chain that extends, it is correct to say that: violence is all that is scary, that makes one acts out of his/her willingness of intent? Violence stimulates a response not mediated by intelligence?
For the purposes of the book, we adopt a modified version of WHO’s definition of violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, [or] psychological harm…” (WHO 2002: 4). In the book, we focus attention on interpersonal and collective violence. The first includes family and intimate partner violence (i.e. physical aggression “between family members and intimate partners, usually, though not exclusively, taking place in the home” [WHO 2002: 5]) and community violence (i.e. physical aggression “between individuals who are unrelated, and who may or may not know each other, generally taking place outside the home” [WHO 2002:5]). Our definition of collective violence departs from WHO’s in that it refers to any episodic social interaction that, as Charles Tilly puts it, immediately inflicts physical damage on persons and/or objects, involves at least two perpetrators of damage, and results at least in part from coordination among persons who perform the damaging acts.
Our long-term ethnographic fieldwork reveals that the search for retaliation and respect is not the only purpose of violence. Violence, we show, is also used to advance or defend territory, to discipline children, to defend self and property, to acquire economic resources, and to establish dominance within the household — in other words, violence is deployed to solve pressing problems. Our ethnography also demonstrates that restricted reciprocity is not the only form that interpersonal violence takes. True, many a violent action that we either witnessed or reconstructed in its immediate aftermath sought to avenge a past (verbal or physical) attack — either individually (a punch in response to an insult) or collectively (vigilante violence in response to an attempted rape). But once we focus sustained and systematic ethnographic attention on the multiple forms of interpersonal physical aggression that take place both inside homes and outside in the streets, we detect that violence transcends the one-on-one exchange, moving outside the dyadic relationship, and involves other actors who were not part of the original dispute. Instead of specific reciprocity confined to a delimited sequence, a bounded dispute over dominance, we uncover a violence that seems to follow the course of diffused reciprocity. A more comprehensive understanding of the interpersonal violence that is shaking poor people’s daily lives in contemporary Buenos Aires should approach it not solely as a reciprocal exchange confined to a dyadic interaction but also as a set of interconnected events — or what we call, a chain of violence(s).
Do you belive that violence needs force as a container?
As I said, in our definition, it does — but it is an operational definition. Scholars working on “symbolic” or “structural” violence — as I sometimes do — would say that sometimes violence does not comprise the explicit use of force.
If the State and its apparatuses, police, justice, prisons do not exist or do not work, do you think it is impossible to eradicate violence, either anarchist or ordered?
Let me slightly rephrase your question. The Janus-faced character of the Argentine state is well known. The state partakes in crime and in its repression. The Buenos Aires state police, for example, has been involved in gambling and prostitution for decades, and more recently became involved in kidnappings, car theft, and drug-dealing. According to one of the best known experts on the subject, “police tutelage” (i.e. protection and monitoring) is crucial to understanding the territorial expansion of the market of illicit drugs. All the while, rates of incarceration in federal prisons have grown almost 400% in the past 20 years fed, to a great extent, by the imprisonment of petty drug-dealers and consumers. The issue at stake is thus not the state’s absence, collapse, or weakness but of a contradictory presence, marked in part by police-criminal “collusion” of the kind described by Desmond Arias in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas — an “active political constellation” that promotes violence. In other words, the proliferating episodes of violence do not signal a context of “state abandonment” but of connections between state actors and perpetrators of violence. And these connections signify an “engagement” that has eroded the rule of law and instituted “a separate, localised, order.” With a state like this, it is hard to think an end in violence.
Do you belive that democracies where human rights are actually respected and where respect for each others is effective, promote the emancipation from violence?
I believe democracy, and the rule of law, is essential to pacify societies.
Do you belive that the neurological mechanisms which origin violence are “forgotten” by analysts, sociologists and those who produce statistics on violence?
No, I do not. I think that neurological mechanisms might trigger violent inclinations, but violence as a social phenomenon must be understood and explained by its social causes, not by its individual ones (being them neurological or psychological)
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5. Francisco Solorzano – Urnas
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