This article explores the dynamics of the youth gang (pandilla) phenomenon in contemporary urban Nicaragua, drawing on longitudinal ethnographic research conducted with a Managua pandilla in 1996–97 and in 2002. Pandillas and their violent practices are conceived as constituting a form of local social structuration in the face of broader conditions of high crime, insecurity, and socio-political breakdown. This form of ‘street-level politics’ changed significantly between 1997 and 2002, however, evolving from a form of collective social violence to a more individually and economically motivated type of brutality. This transformation is related to wider structural processes, which are described as coming together and precipitating a form of ‘social death’ in contemporary Nicaragua.
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