The New War on the Poor

The Production of Insecurity in Latin America

John Gledhill


John Gledhill examines how and why governments across Latin America are failing to provide security to disadvantaged citizens whilst painting them as a menace to the rest of society.

When viewed from the perspective of those who suffer the consequences of repressive approaches to public security, it is often difficult to distinguish state agents from criminals. The mistreatment by police and soldiers examined in this book reflects a new kind of stigmatization.

The New War on the Poor links the experiences of labour migrants crossing Latin America’s international borders, indigenous Mexicans defending their territories against capitalist mega-projects, drug wars and paramilitary violence, Afro-Brazilians living on the urban periphery of Salvador, and farmers and business people tired of paying protection to criminal mafias. John Gledhill looks at how and why governments are failing to provide security to disadvantaged citizens while all too often painting them as a menace to the rest of society simply for being poor.

Author Bio

John Gledhill is emeritus professor of social anthropology at the University of Manchester, and a fellow of the British Academy and UK Academy of Social Sciences. He was chair of the UK Association of Social Anthropologists from 2005 to 2009, has served on the executive committees of the World Council of Anthropological Associations and the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, and is co-managing editor of the journal Critique of Anthropology.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Securitization, the state and capitalism
  • 2. Violence, urban development and the privatization of public power in Brazil
  • 3. Pacifying the urban periphery: a case study of the Bahian UPP
  • 4. State transformations, illegal economies and counter-insurgency in Mexico
  • 5. Paramilitaries, autodefensas and the pacification of Michoacán
  • 6. Achieving human security: the contradictions of repressive intervention


'Highly recommended ... the book challenges conventional thinking about how modernizing societies can work toward more inclusive and democratic societies. It belongs in all libraries with extensive Latin American holdings.'

'Sweeping and compelling, John Gledhill takes us inside the wars that states wage on inconvenient populations. The result is a powerful critique of contemporary global capitalism.'
Daniel Goldstein, author of Outlawed: Between Security and Rights in a Bolivian City

'A powerful analysis that uncovers the relationship between securitization, neoliberal views of development, and repressive intervention. The book will interest - and inspire - a wide readership concerned with suffering and inequality.'
Dimitrios Theodossopoulos, University of Kent

'Gledhill shows that behind the discourses of "war" against drug traffickers hides a war against the poor. He brilliantly articulates two new ethnographies of Mexico and Brazil, providing insight into the trans-nationalization of criminal networks in the Americas.'
Alejandro Isla, Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences , Argentina

'Displaying his hallmark combination of deep ethnography and expansive theory, Gledhill compellingly lays out how the contradictions of neoliberal capital accumulation and securitization affect the livelihoods and politics of ordinary people in violence-ridden Brazil and Mexico.'
Wil G. Pansters, Utrecht University/University of Groningen

'Drawing on decades of field research in Mexico and Brazil, Gledhill pries apart recent processes of "securitization" from the ostensibly similar notion of human security. Equal parts searing critique and sensible call to action, this book speaks truth to powerful actors.'
Charles R. Hale, University of Texas at Austin

'Drawing on his own extensive fieldwork, and with a passionate sense of justice, Gledhill shows how contemporary news stories on Latin America are best viewed as scenes in a broader canvas of predation.'
Trevor Stack, University of Aberdeen


Publication Date: 15 July 2015
256 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783603022
Hardback: 9781783603039
eBook ePub: 9781783603053
eBook PDF: 9781783603046
eBook Kindle: 9781783603060

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