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Since their appearance in the 1990s, Central America’s maras have undergone profound changes in their group cultures and criminal economies, changes that have reshaped the experience of insecurity in the marginal urban communities where they operate. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a Guatemala City gang territory, I trace how the moral economy of crime and violence has changed over time, focusing on a predatory turn to extortion made by a local mara. I propose that the rise of mara violence and its impact is best understood in relation to shifting relationships between gang and barrio and the divergence of social imaginaries. Namely, extortion has expanded as the leadership and organization of these maras is increasingly done from within prisons, as opposed to on the streets. In turn, gang cliques have become increasingly severed from the social and ethical worlds of their barrios, a separation that has resultantly transformed the moral landscape of violence and reciprocity in the “red zones” of the city.

  • maras
  • gangs
  • Guatemala
  • extortion
  • urban anthropology
Katherine Saunders-Hastings
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
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