Social Anthropology Seminar Series: Robert Samet


Monday, October 16, 2017, 4:15pm


Tozzer 203
The Will to Security: Populism, the Press, and the Politics of Crime
a talk by Robert Samet, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Union College


Urban violence has reached crisis proportions in Caracas. Since 2007, Venezuela’s capital city has had the highest homicide rate in South America and one of the highest levels of gun violence in the world. Talk of crime pervades daily life. Despite these problems, the late President Hugo Chávez rejected a tough-on-crime stance and instead emphasized programs of economic justice and social rehabilitation. In contrast, Chávez’s handpicked successor, President Nicolás Maduro, declared an all-out war on crime. What accounts for this abrupt shift in the discourse of urban security? Why did a political movement that sought to protect the poor suddenly embrace a punitive paradigm that targets some of the city’s most vulnerable sectors? This paper describes how the experience of violent crime reshaped attitudes toward urban security in Caracas. Building on ethnographic research alongside crime journalists, it formulates a broader argument about the relationship between popular mobilization and what I call “the will to security.” I show how the will to security articulates a particular strain of populism that is closely linked to both neoliberalism and the expansion of the punitive state. This conceptual framework allows us to better understand the shifting politics of crime in Caracas. Specifically, it explains how demands for more and better security went from being an oppositional strategy during the Chávez era to a technique of governance under the Maduro administration.