Citizens against Crime and Violence: Societal Responses in Mexico

Trevor Stack (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The proposed book focuses on civil society responses to organized crime. The failure of state-based approaches to fight organised crime has become increasingly apparent, particularly in contexts where the state is either complicit or turns a blind eye to criminality. In their urgent search for alternatives, governments are becoming aware of the potential for citizens and civil society to push back against organised crime networks and undermine the enabling environment of crime. Yet research has been scarce to date on the role actually played by citizens and civil society. The few projects so far have focused on the efforts of national and international NGOs, such as Libera in Italy (Cayli 2013). There has been some research on non-state policing, especially in Africa and Latin America (Baker 2008), but other societal responses within the most affected regions, including those facing crime-related violence, have by contrast been little studied. This is changing in 2019, as several projects come to completion. One of the largest is the team project that I have led since 2016 with a large RCUK-Newton grant in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

Michoacán is, like many other Mexican states, plagued by persistently high levels of crime-related violence, alongside a range of institutional failings including criminal infiltration. Neither government nor national and international NGOs have been able to make much headway. Some attention has been given to the autodefensa rebellion of 2013, when citizens armed themselves to fight against a criminal organization in the face of state passivity (Maldonado Aranda 2014). Yet other initiatives have passed without remark, including the citizen councils set up in numerous municipalities, the artistic organizations in several cities, and the multiple initiatives sponsored by the Catholic Church.

Our team of ten researchers conducted two years of ethnographic fieldwork across six regions of Michoacán, focusing on citizen councils, autodefensa militias, cultural movements, church-sponsored organizations and collectives that use legal strategies. Drawing on our extensive dataset, we have engaged widely with debates on citizen roles in policing organised crime in coordination with state agencies or independent of them; the role of religious organizations and of cultural movements in denouncing crime and corruption and in mitigating their effects; citizens’ use of legal channels in contexts where institutions are weak, and social denial in the face of widespread crime-related violence within the most affected regions. We also address more theoretical debates about the relation between state and society, rethinking the use and relevance of concepts like “citizen participation” and “civil society”, and reflecting on what it might mean to advocate “rule of law” in such contexts. In addition, we reflect on methodologies for research in crime-afflicted areas, and on the ethical issues posed by working in such contexts.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages226
ISBN (Print)9781978827646
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Jun 2022


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