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Violent Governance, Identity and the Production of Legitimacy: Autodefensas in Latin America

Citation: Curry, Alexander and Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2018) Violent Governance, Identity and the Production of Legitimacy: Autodefensas in Latin America. Journal of International Relations and Development, 21 (2). pp. 1-23. ISSN 1581-1980

Curry and Ansems de Vries - Autodefensas - final.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

This article examines the intersections of violence, governance, identity and legitimacy in relation to autodefensas (self-defence groups) in Latin America, focusing on Mexico and Colombia. By shifting focus from the question of where legitimacy lies to how it is produced and contested by a range of groups, we challenge the often presumed link between the state and legitimacy. We develop the idea of a field of negotiation and contestation, firstly, to discuss and critique the concept of state failure as not merely a Western hegemonic claim but also a strategic means of producing legitimacy by autodefensas. Secondly, we employ and enrich the notion of violent pluralism to discuss the pervasiveness of violence and the role of neoliberalism, and to address the question of non-violent practices of governance. We argue that the idea of a field of contestation and negotiation helps to understand the complexity of relationships that encompass the production of legitimacy and identity through (non)violent governance, whereby lines between (non)state, (non)violence, and (il)legitimacy blur and transform. Yet, we do not simply dismiss (binary) distinctions as these continue to be employed by groups in their efforts to produce, justify, challenge, contest and negotiate their own and others’ legitimacy and identity.

Additional Information: Alexander Curry’s research was sponsored by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP), an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Doctoral Training Partnership, Grant Number AH/L503873/1. Find out more at
Creators: Curry, Alexander and Ansems de Vries, Leonie and
Official URL:
Subjects: Politics
Latin American Studies
Divisions: Institute of Latin American Studies
  • 1 February 2018 (accepted)
  • 5 April 2018 (published)


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