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Before the Body Count: Homicide Statistics and Everyday Security in Latin America

  • GRAHAM DENYER WILLIS
Abstract

Homicide statistics are a widely accepted metric of security and democracy. This article argues for a focus on how bodies come or do not come to be counted – of what happens before states enumerate. The experience of São Paulo relates that how many people die and how many do not is connected to the governance of an organised crime group known as the PCC. The punishment practices of the PCC and groups like it throughout Latin America reshape the lived paradigm of governance over life and death, albeit in concealed ways. Statistics are produced by and are productive of a de jure state, different from the state de facto. The acceptance of state-made homicide figures, whether for analysis, visualisation or political claims, is consequential for the future of lived security and social science knowledge production.

Las estadísticas de homicidios son ampliamente aceptadas como medidas de seguridad y democracia. Este artículo busca un enfoque sobre cómo los cuerpos pueden ser o no ser contados – o qué pasa antes de que el Estado cuente los cuerpos. La experiencia de São Paulo demuestra que cuánta gente muere y cuánta no se conecta con el mandato de un grupo del crimen organizado conocido como el PCC. Las prácticas punitivas del PCC y de otros grupos similares a lo largo de Latinoamérica reconfiguran el paradigma de gobernabilidad sobre la vida y la muerte, aunque de forma velada. Las estadísticas son producidas por y producen un Estado de jure, diferente del Estado de facto. La aceptación de cifras de homicidio hechas por el Estado, ya sea para análisis, visualización o reclamos políticos tiene consecuencias para la seguridad y la producción de conocimiento desde las ciencias sociales.

Taxas de homicídio são aceitas como índices medidores de segurança e democracia. Este artigo propõe o enfoque na maneira pela qual corpos são ou não contabilizados; no que acontece antes que o Estado quantifique estes corpos. A experiência de São Paulo demonstra que a quantidade de pessoas que morrem ou deixam de morrer está ligada ao comando de um grupo organizado conhecido como PCC. As práticas de punição do PCC e de outros grupos similares na América Latina reconfiguram o paradigma real de governança sobre a vida e a morte, ainda que de maneira velada. As estatísticas são produzidas e oriundas de um Estado de jure, ao invés de um Estado de facto. A aceitação das estatísticas produzidas pelo Estado com relação ao número de homicídios, seja para fins de análise, observação ou questões políticas, tem consequências para o futuro da segurança concreta dos cidadãos e para a produção de conhecimento nas ciências sociais.

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2 All names, places and other identifying details have been changed. The names of categories are my closest translation.

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* The author would like to thank the Drugs, Security and Democracy program of the Social Science Research Council/Open Society Foundations for support in carrying out associated research and the Social Science and Humanities of Canada for post-doctoral fellowship support during the writing of this article. Special thanks to Daniel Esser and participants in a seminar given at American University, to Dennis Rodgers and participants in a seminar given at the University of Glasgow, to attendees at a presentation given at the University of Toronto's Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal and to Rosemary Gartner, in particular for comments on an earlier draft. Special thanks go to Max Horder for assistance with editing and enrichment. The author would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers and the JLAS editors for their time, feedback and substantive engagement with the manuscript. Most of all, special thanks to Laurie Denyer Willis, who contributed to the analysis, editing, and, as always, to almost anything that the author does well.

This paper was approved for publication before its author joined the Editorial Board.

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Journal of Latin American Studies
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  • EISSN: 1469-767X
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