Poverty, gender and violence in the narratives of former narcos
: accounting for drug trafficking violence in Mexico

  • Karina Garcia

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Dominant scholarly approaches to drug trafficking violence (DTV) in Mexico generally explain its onset and escalation by focusing on one of four issues: a) the democratisation process in the 1990s and 2000s; b) the systemic corruption of the judicial and legislative institutions; c) a weak rule of law across the country; and d) the ‘war on drugs’ launched by former president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). These approaches, however, fail to account for the discursive conditions that enable the perpetrators to engage in DTV. This thesis, therefore, proposes a new critical approach to our understanding of DTV by examining the life stories of thirty-three former narcos collected in Mexico between October 2014 and January 2015. Using a discourse analytical approach, I identify a set of meaning production regularities, uncovered through detailed interviews, which I conceptualise as narco discourse. In this discourse, informed by a neoliberal ethos, poverty is understood as a fixed condition, ‘poor people have no future’ and have ‘nothing to lose’. Under this logic, the ‘only’ way for them to enjoy life is to engage in illegal activities conceived as ‘la vida fácil’ [the easy life] which guarantee them ‘dinero fácil’ [easy money]. The narco discourse also produces the idea that ‘un hombre de verdad’ [a true man] embodies the normative characteristics of machismo. This masculinity, in turn, justifies male violence as ‘necessary’ in order to ‘survive’ in contexts of poverty. These three intertwined discourses of poverty, masculinity and violence enable the construction of DTV in instrumental terms, e.g. as ‘un negocio’ [a business’], as something ‘exciting’ and even as a source of empowerment. In this way, I demonstrate how DTV is discursively made possible by and for former narcos. This is a starting point for rethinking DTV not only as the result of corruption, or failed policies, but also as the product of the interplay between pre-existing social conditions and discourses produced and reproduced by perpetrators of DTV.
Date of Award6 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorJutta Weldes (Supervisor) & Karen Tucker (Supervisor)

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