Secret relations and the foundations of collective violence

Special report: Observing mobilizations
By Javier Auyero, Matthew Mahler

This paper explores the clandestine connections, in what we call the gray zone of politics, between official political actors and unofficial political actors who are entrusted with the more unseemly “dirty work” of politics in contemporary Argentina, such as inciting episodes of collective violence, “paying off” youths with drugs and alcohol for their work of attending political rallies, and making physical threats against opposition parties and candidates. After a brief review of existing literature on the relationship between clandestine political connections and collective violence, this paper uses an ethnographic re-reading of existing data to construct three detailed accounts that highlight the role the gray zone plays in contemporary Argentinean politics. We argue that the laundering of political acts through these clandestine channels constitutes a crucial dimension of politics that must be empirically dissected and theorized to better understand routine political activity writ large before concluding with a brief consideration of the analytical and methodological implications of such a framework.


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