Violencia en Los Margenes: Javier Auyero and Concatenations of Violence

Photo courtesy of Gabriela Brunetti
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Brunetti

By Pamela Neumann

It wasn’t supposed to be a book about violence at all. When Prof. Javier Auyero and his co-author Maria Fernanda Berti (a local school teacher) began conducting research in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires called Arquitecto Tucho they thought they’d be writing about environmental contamination, a topic Auyero has written about extensively in the past. But, after two and a half years of fieldwork, they had a completely different story to tell, one that revolves around the many forms of interpersonal violence that are part and parcel of residents’ everyday lives. Last week Auyero spoke about the book, entitled “Violencia en Los Margenes,” at a presentation organized by the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies.

3354730According to Auyero, one of the book’s principal arguments is that interpersonal violence is not merely dyadic, or retaliatory, but rather connected in “chains” or concatenations. In other words, what may begin as an incident between two drug dealers on the street is connected to the violent disciplinary action taken by a mother against her son, or the abuse a man later inflicts on his female partner. In this conceptualization, not only are there many “uses” of violence, these uses are also connected to one another in ways that transcend the typical public/private divide in how violence has been studied by many other scholars.

Hearing Auyero describe these connections between so-called “public” and “private” violence, I was reminded of the fundamental feminist insight that the division between the public and private spheres is an artificial one, a historical construction used to justify and maintain gender hierarchies. This division between public and private has not only been used repeatedly to confine women to the home (where their “proper” roles are supposedly located), but it has also been used to construct hierarchies of violence. For example, “public” forms of violence such as murder, robbery, or gang activity has historically attracted the iron fist of the state, while “private” forms of violence, particularly that which is perpetuated against women and children in the home were, up until the last 30 years or so (Tierney 1982), almost entirely ignored—a classic case of what anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1993) has called the state’s “averted gaze”.

A second argument that Auyero described as central to the book is precisely the role of the Javier Auyero_7state in encouraging the very violence it ostensibly ought to be preventing–or at least punishing. For example, the same state that provides welfare assistance to families is also represented by local police officers who participate in the local drug trade. This suggests a state whose presence is highly contradictory—and through its selective responses to violence in the community may in fact be contributing to the normalization and legitimacy of violence.  Thinking “like a state” (Scott 1999) for a moment, what purpose could such a seemingly contradictory stance serve? What is the logic that might explain the state’s action and inaction in this context?

Some recent scholarship on the neoliberal state in the United States argues that the rollback of welfare and the mass incarceration of poor (mostly minority) men are two sides of the same coin: a broader project to “punish the poor” (Wacquant 2009). Is there a similar state project underway in Argentina? Or is the massive increase in violence simply one inevitable result of long term social and economic changes, such as the decreasing access to formal employment and in-migration to the neighborhood? How do these structural conditions relate not only to the increase in violence, but also its interconnected manifestations? These are some of the questions that Auyero hopes to answer—in his next book.

DREAMs of Social Activism in Texas: NIYA and the Provocation of Protest

Participants in the Dream 30 crossing look across the border fence to the United States. Courtesy of NIYA.

By Michael Young and Eric Borja

Under the Obama administration, nearly two million people have been deported, with no end in sight. NIYA – the National Immigrant Youth Association – is tired of seeing families ripped apart by these deportations. And on Monday September 30th, the same day the government shutdown occurred, 30 undocumented migrants – the Dream 30 – crossed the US-Mexico border at the Laredo, Texas port of entry. This is the second time the organization has successfully organized such an act of civil disobedience – with the first occurring on Monday July 22, 2013 when 9 undocumented migrants (the Dream 9) crossed the US-Mexico border near the Nogales border patrol station. Since the Dream 9, NIYA has successfully crossed 15 undocumented migrants, but 24 of the Dream 30 remain detained.

Our very own Dr. Michael Young has worked closely with NIYA, and was present during the Dream 30 crossing. Below, we present his op-ed piece on the Dream 30 originally published in the Houston Chronicle on October 3rd:

In the middle of last week, they started to arrive in Nuevo Laredo, across the Texas-Mexico border from Laredo.

By the weekend, there were 34 of them gathered in a Catholic shelter for migrants.

Each had a different story of how they had gotten to this point, but they all shared a dream – actually, more of a desperation – to come home.

From the roof of the shelter, they could see the Rio Grande. On the other side of the river: Home.

For three days, they sat in workshops led by Benito, an organizer for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. They role-played what would happen on Monday. They told their stories to each other. They cried, they laughed, they bonded.

On Monday morning, they embraced in “a burning ring of fire” and took turns jumping into the center telling the group what they meant to each other. They used the word “love” freely. Standing next to them, I believed they meant and felt those words as intensely as a human can.

The Dream 30. Courtesy of NIYA

Who are these people?

In the way they spoke English, in the way they dressed, in their mannerisms, they were just like the kids at my children’s public school in South Austin. They were mostly 20-somethings, but also a few minors. They were gay, straight, jocks, nerds, junior ROTC, evangelical, Catholic, atheist – all raised in the U.S., all undocumented, brought here as young children by their parents, and all unafraid.

Around noon, they gathered at the central plaza in Nuevo Laredo.

“Was this the place that they (the Zetas) shot the mayor, or was it the sheriff?” “Is this the place where they brought the decapitated heads?” The kids put graduation caps and gowns on – the DREAMer uniform. Benito assembled them in a line. He interspersed the innate leaders with the anxious. He put the strongest one in the middle of the line, building a column that would not break.

One last check: Benito touched each one on their shoulders and looked them in their eyes for a long moment, saying not a word. They were ready.

With four pesos in hand, they walked one block north from the plaza to the pedestrian “Bridge No. 1” linking the two Laredos. They paid their toll on the Mexican side. Mexican soldiers stood by letting them cross without a word, barely a glance.

When they got halfway across, the chants began in a call and response. DREAMers who had gathered on the U.S. side of the bridge chanted, “Undocumented!” The crossers responded, “Unafraid!” They got louder.

Dream 30 group crosses into Laredo, Texas with Bring Them Home banner Photo: Steve Pavey/NIYA

The U.S. Border Patrol agents in boats under the bridge gunned their engines, drowning out the chants for a moment.

A flash of fear spread through the column, but only for a moment. The chants from the U.S. steeled their nerves.

The crowd on the U.S. side called returnees’ names, one by one: “When Javier comes under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When Alberto comes under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

They arrived at the U.S. point of entry, where Border Patrol agents stopped them.

The DREAMers’ lawyer presented boxes of documents – petitions for asylum for each young person. The chants continued.

They stood for a half-hour, maybe more, in the Texas heat and then they were taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention.

I had never seen such a protest – a brilliant, beautiful and heartbreaking protest. In all my years of studying protests, I know of little to compare it to.

Of course, most Americans know nothing of the day’s event. The news cycle has room for only one big story.

That was Monday.

By the next day, the minors had been released on humanitarian parole along with their parents. But 25 remain in ICE detention, now housed in an El Paso facility.

American kids, back in America, but behind guarded walls dressed in prison jump suits.

Their crime? They went back to Mexico to bury loved ones, to care for sick family members, to finish an education they couldn’t finish here, to follow a parent who couldn’t find work.

What they found there is something we all already know, even if some of us won’t admit it: Mexico is not the home of these kids raised in America.

Now they are home and now they must be set free.

The government may be shut down, but its prisons are still at work jailing kids who just want to come home.

Bring them home.

Some of the Dream 30, as they prepared to cross the border Monday morning. Photo: Steve Pavey/NIYA


For further information, NIYA’s website can be found at and please visit to sign a petition supporting the DREAMers.

PHS presents Ori Swed: “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Case Study in Historical Contingency”

by Luis Romero

OriTalkTo kick off the 2013-2014 academic year, the Power, History and Society Network (PHS) hosted a workshop for Ori Swed. This served as a practice talk for Ori before his anticipated presentation at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) at Syracuse University. The event attracted members from the first-year cohort, faculty, undergraduates and the PRC. Ori Swed at Syracuse University.

In this talk, Ori asks sociologists to think more carefully about how they engage and understand history in their work. Through an analysis of Israeli political narratives regarding the resolution of future Israeli-Palestinian statehood, Ori offers an interesting illustration of the symbiotic quality of discourses. Discourse studies show how narratives create and conjure potential conclusions or resolutions to a social problem. However, Ori seeks to look at the other side of this relationship and has developed a theoretical tool which he terms “historical contingency.” By this, Ori means that sociologists should look at how anticipated conclusions influence the narratives produced in the midst of an unresolved problem.

Ori’s project is as much about matters of methodology and theory as it is about discourse. He contends that oftentimes when analyzing social events, assessments are clouded by the outcome or conclusion, which is used as the lens to retroactively understand a course of events. There is a major problem with interpreting events from their culmination, particularly for historians and historical sociologists. This problem occurs because our perspective (or narrative) often changes when we learn the event’s conclusions. A simple example that addresses the psychological aspect of Ori’s point is the tale the “fox and the grapes” (known as “amor fati” or “love of destiny”). The story partly illustrates for us how, upon learning the conclusion of an event, we reinterpret the course of events. For the fox, who is eager to steal some grapes from a nearby vine, the grapes proved inaccessible in the end. Retrospectively, the fox reflects and reassesses the worth of the grapes (“Oh, you weren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes”) and that the branches were beyond reach. So, when we learn of an event’s conclusion, we often try to make sense of it in a way that is linear and not arbitrary.

Throughout his talk, Ori used the events of a basketball game to describe this problem. When we look at the final scoreboard of a game, it is easy to ascribe certain narratives to match the results, which ultimately negate the narratives that once existed. While this may streamline the description or theory presented, it does not account for all of the events that occurred but rather, only those that help sustain the narrative. For those readers who follow the NBA, the case of Michael Jordan presents a perfect example. Before winning his first championship in 1991, Jordan was known as a player who could score many points but also as someone who would never win an NBA championship. Year after year, Jordan would be eliminated from the playoffs, despite his high-scoring performances, reinforcing the narrative of the scoring champion who would never become an NBA champion. However, this changed after he won his first championship. The Jordan narrative was now that he was able to win championships while the previous narrative had been dropped. In this case, Ori would argue that in order to understand the complexities of Jordan’s career, it is important to understand that the narrative surrounding Jordan was not always that of champion, but also that of a good player who could not win a championship.

However, Ori offers advice to the rest of sociology. He states that because the social sciences frequently study historical events as they unfold (events such as the Arab uprisings for example), we must recognize them as contingent and variable. Ori describes in brief how many analytical frameworks, such as rational choice theory, are conclusion-driven. He cites the preeminent debate of “structure versus agency” in sociology to highlight the contingent quality of social life and the trouble scholars have in accounting for it. In short, by keeping in mind that the moments we are interested in are fluid and contingent, sociology can add a layer of nuance that is not readily found in many works. In the end, Ori is implicitly advocating for more rigorous sociology and believes that using historical contingency as a tool can help sociology accomplish this goal.


Cati Connell – “Queer, Qualitative, and on the Market”

by Brandon Robinson

Cati Connell

Cati Connell, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University, gave a talk this Monday, October 14, 2013, about her experiences as a queer, qualitative researcher on the academic job market. She received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010, sharing her job market experiences from three years ago with current graduate students. Her job market tips, tricks, and terrors were personal accounts that many can learn from.

Cati Connell and Christine Williams

In the first part of her talk “On Being Qualitative,” Cati realized that one of her main strategies in being a great qualitative researcher was to publish. She set a goal to publish just as much as the quantitative members in her cohort, which meant early and often. Cati advised co-authoring with faculty or other graduate student colleagues in order build one’s publication record, even before obtaining a Master’s degree. She also emphasized the importance of finding good mentors who have strong social capital (for her, Christine Williams). These mentors can be very beneficial in helping you become a productive graduate student and in navigating the market more successfully. Qualitative researchers should aim high early, so they can set themselves up for success on the job market later in their careers. Once on the market, Cati recommended applying broadly and reading job advertisements very closely, to see how one could be a fit for a certain job. Do not waste time applying for jobs that are not a good fit. A common example would be if a job specifically seeks a quantitative scholar, do not apply if all you do is qualitative work. Being oneself in the job application process is as important to hiring committees as the type of scholar you are based on your CV.

One thing all should remember is that the job market is not a meritocracy. There is real discrimination on the job market, and search committees can be racist, sexist, homophobic, and trans phobic. However, Cati told us that we should focus on the success stories of people who study marginalized sub-disciplines (like sexuality and gender) in order to not be discouraged. Scholars like Cati, who is at Boston University, Kristen Schilt at the University of Chicago, and Tey Meadow, who was a fellow at Princeton and will now be a faculty member at Harvard, are leading by example. While the academic job market is still hard for people who study marginalized subfields, the field on the whole is also changing, so focusing on success stories can help in making the market less daunting.

Cati also talked about “Being Queer” on the job market. She recognized that her own embodiment as white and gender conforming probably helped sooth the fears of hiring committees. It is also important to take into account one’s family and community needs while looking for a job. If having a vibrant LGBTQ community is important or having a pool of potential queer dating prospects is important, one should take these factors into account when applying for jobs. Be careful about applying for jobs in cities where you are not willing to move, though you should remain open-minded about non-urban opportunities, not assuming they have no LGBTQ people/communities. Navigating conversations about one’s personal life during the job interviews and dinner outings can be stressful, but you can generally choose to be as open as is comfortable. Nonetheless, Cati left us with great advice that anyone can use for their job talk, “Be confident in who you are and what you bring, and don’t apologize for it.”

Job Market Resources

Conditionally Accepted: A Space for Scholars on the Margins of Academia

The Professor Is In: Getting You Through Graduate School, The Job Market, and Tenure

Get a Life, PhD: Succeed in Academia and Have a Life, Too

Social Inqueery: A Publicly Accessible Queer Social Science Blog

Sociology on the Margins

ASA Section on Race and Ethnic Minorities Mentoring Blog

Queer Black Feminist (Andreana Clay)

Crip Confessions: Rants of a Crip Sexologist

How To Leave Academia: Peer to Peer Post academic Support


The Black Academics Guide to Winning Tenure – Without Losing Your Soul, Kerry Ann Rockquemore
Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing, Robert Boice
Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia Paperback, edited by Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs and Yolanda Flores Niemann
The Academic Job Search Handbook, Julia Miller Vick

Gloria González-López Identities in Transition


Dr. Gloria González-López met with graduate students, some who are in their first year, others in their second, fourth, fifth and one graduating student who is on the job market this year, to engage in a dialogue about two interconnected human dimensions of academic life: transitions and identities.

All participants gave a word to describe how we felt in relation to:

Transition        Identity
meaningful       awkward
stressful             ambiguous
uncertainty       uncertainty
difficult              fluid
perpetual           messy
involving           generalizing
awkward           conflict
uneasy               dynamic
departure          adaptive
overwhelmed    involving
evolving             becoming
disruptive          collaborative

Clearly, this was a conversation worth having.

Gloria, as she wants us to call her, enrolled in a Ph.D. program 20 yrs. ago, and is in her 12th year, now as an associate professor of sociology at UT Austin. She shares her life lessons and insights below to help future professors handle their evolving professional lives.

(1) Change seems to be the only consistent, permanent thing in life, and reminding myself of it makes change and transitions more “normal” – transitions are a vital part of life.

Academic life is about transitioning and we need to be aware of this. Maybe this profession –more than others—requires a special skill to deal with it. This profession also goes hand in hand with personal transitions, so it is quite a challenge when we combine professional and personal transitions.

Life is not always nice, neat, clean, well organized – grad school and life as an academic have a dimension of messiness. We can become very miserable if we are not aware of it and if we don’t have a tool kit to take care of it.

(2) Keep a consistent routine as much as you can, taking care of yourself should be part of this. Always take care of the basics: eat, sleep well, and secure the financial dimension of your life. Stay healthy. So keep some kind of routine to have at least a minimal structure to organize your day.

(3) Transitions are not experiences to be fixed. They are life journeys to be lived. Transitions are about change, not about something not working right, or being dysfunctional. Sometimes you do not have to do anything about it. At times we want to fix something that does not need to be fixed, because transitioning does not mean that something is broken.

(4) Professional transitions have their own flow. Do not panic, do your best to be relaxed as you go through this ride.

(5) Do not rush the process. Always take one step at a time.

(6) Don’t deny change, denial does not work. One of the reasons going through transitions may become so challenging to graduate students is precisely because we are over-achievers and successful people: wow, I am in the Ph.D. program and my GPA is 4.0, and my GRE scores are so high, so how come I can’t deal with these feelings? It may become a good opportunity to practice humility. This can be very, very useful.

(7) Always remind yourself of the larger purpose, the larger picture.

(8) Think of other life transitions in the past – what did you do that worked effectively as you went through it?

(9) Change may facilitate other changes you may want to take advantage of it. Some people say that changes are opportunities for growth. Even simple things like cleaning up the office and getting rid of clutter.

(10) Transitions cause confusion but once you know that you are confused and anxious you know what you are experiencing. Hey, I am confused and anxious and that is OK!

(11) Transitions are tricky and at times they might seem or appear to be an “existential” problem. We may approach life transitions as if they were existential problems, this is not always the case – we might get in trouble if we do. While this might be at times, it is not always the case. Be aware if a transition coincides with an existential concern.

(12) Try to keep your same, nice support system. Talk to someone you trust about these issues, at times that is all it takes to normalize it.

(13) Develop some comfort level with uncertainty and ambiguity – not easy in a culture that is so obsessed with certainty, efficiency, efficacy, precision, being in control.

(14) Be patient with the process. Don’t overwork yourself about it. Don’t be obsessed about it.

(15) Live in the present. Life has not given you all of the information yet. Do not anticipate. The future does not exist yet. Be present – that is all we have in the end.

(16) Making important decisions while transitioning might not be a good idea: e.g. I am lonely and confused as part of a transition and may get romantically involved with the person I might not have chosen under more stable circumstances. In retrospect you may go, “Wow, shocking! What was I thinking?!”

(17) You may go through transitions and some of your unresolved, past issues in life may surface. Watch out.

(18) Journaling may help you so how you are evolving. You can keep track of how you are experiencing the transition. People who like to keep a journal may benefit from this.

(19) Transitions in identity: there is some kind of grief always when it comes to the person you used to be and the one you are becoming. Be open to that. The one you used to be will always be with you. You could not be who you are without it.

(20) You may go through a transition and then in retrospect think about it and be clueless about what happened while transitioning (Eh, what happened?!). Not knowing more about what you went through is so human – accept that. I have gone through important professional transitions and in retrospect I don’t even know exactly what happened to me. At times it’s better not put your heart under the microscope, just simply let it be.

(21) Transitions pass, you will have a new life lesson, they will make you a more sophisticated human being, and now you have something to offer to the people you work with (e.g., a student will come to you freaking out because he/she is transitioning, very common when students finish college), family and friends.

(22) Some of us are always in transition because of who we are (gender, race, class, sexuality, citizenship, religion, etc). So we go from one context to another to another and have to transition into other ways of being. Some of us are always in the process of transitioning, in the process of becoming.

These tips for staying fluid in times of transition, finding support in community and in self-supporting regimens can make the difference between imbalance and stability.  We thank Dr. González-López for keeping the humanity in academia.