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Pope, Nicholas (2020) Brokering an Urban Frontier: Milícias, Violence, and Rio de Janeiro’s West Zone. PhD thesis. SOAS, University of London. DOI:

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This thesis examines the emergence and sustainment of milícias (militias) in the 1990s in the West Zone ‘margins’ of the city of Rio de Janeiro. It considers the rise of milícias as they coincide with urbanisation, economic liberalisation, democratisation, decentralisation and the rise of violent drug trafficking organisations. This thesis sets out to answer the following overarching research question: ‘How and why did milícias emerge in Rio de Janeiro’s West Zone since the 1990s and how and why were they sustained? What is their relationship to the management of (dis)order?’ The analytical approach developed to answer this question draws on an historically situated political settlements framework to understand milícias as power relations within coalition formations and as facilitators of rent extraction and distribution. The framework introduces urban and political geography literatures on frontiers to advance a thesis that milícias in Rio de Janeiro are coercive brokers that mediate urban frontier zones. This study draws on ethnographic fieldnotes from direct and participant observation, in-depth interviews and oral histories, and extensive archival research of parliamentary documents. It argues that milícias emerged to provide temporary ‘solutions’ to address the violent inequalities, structural insecurities, and the threats and insecurities posed by drug trafficking organisations in the urban frontiers. They emerged through ‘bottom-up’ processes but were also seen as convenient to political and economic elites in the central state who were unable (or unwilling) to provide formal security in the West Zone. However, this thesis makes the case that there was a trade-off for the central state as paramilitaries, as accrued power in the urban frontier, they also attempted to reshape state institutions. Because of their roots in local communities, this thesis also recognises the dependency of milícias on legitimacy, ideas, beliefs and norms, and the power imbued in community relations. This study contributes to the literatures on milícias by accounting for their role as co-producers of (dis)order in the urban margins, the literature on political settlements by intertwining questions of violence and conflict with spatiality, and finally the Latin American literatures on local political order and governance by advancing a conceptualisation of armed groups straddling state and society and challenging conventional state/-non-state binaries.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
Keywords: Militias Milícias Rio de Janeiro Violence
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Development Studies
SOAS Doctoral School
Supervisors Name: Jonathan Goodhand
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2020 10:05

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