Accepted paper:

Drug war zones in Mexico: small places, large issues in a complex social field

Authors:

Sylvia Karl (Philipps-University of Marburg)

Paper short abstract:

Which insights can anthropology provide to a broader understanding of “Drug Wars”? Drawing on the concept of “Drug War Zones” I will argue that these fields are small places that raise large issues about power, violence, il/legality, transnationality and cultural production.

Paper long abstract:

Within just a few years, large parts of the Mexican territory have become immersed in a "Drug War". Images and discourses of violent drug cartels and military and police forces fighting each other are circulating on the global media. But what lies behind such media images and what insights can anthropology contribute to a wider understanding of conflicts such as "Drug Wars"? Drawing on the anthropological concept of "Drug War Zone" (Campbell 2009) that describes complex social fields where different actors fight for places, power, people and the meaning of drugs and violence, I want to elucidate larger issues that emerge from these seemingly small places. How are legal and illegal spheres and agents intertwined from local to transnational levels? How do narcos (drug dealers) become a "cultural persona" (Edberg 2004) who construct themselves and are constructed in marginalized sectors as "social rebels"? How do language and communication change when new and dehumanizing phenomena of violence become visible? What kind of new social realities evolve when narcos, resistance movements, victims' groups and government agents share one contested place? What kind of cultural productions arise - ranging from music, films, new saints and a mode of living known as narco cultura - that form new spaces of identification? And how are issues of poscoloniality, hegemony and gender related to "Drug Wars"? Furthermore, the contribution wants to discuss how anthropological research in Drug War Zones calls for specific methodological approaches that can cope with a complex field of actors and risks, violence, mistrust, silences and invisibilities.

panel P049
Small places, large issues: thinking through anthropological conundrums