Violent governance, identity and the production of legitimacy: autodefensas in Latin America

Alexander Curry, Leonie Ansems De Vries

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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 chal- lenge 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 con- cept 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 under- stand 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-284
JournalJournal Of International Relations And Development
Issue number2
Early online date5 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2020


  • Autodefensas · Colombia · Mexico · State failure · Violent pluralism


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