‘A Captured Leviathan’
: Authoritarian followers amidst structural insecurity and the resulting mass incarceration of women in Guatemala

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines in what ways authoritarian followership contributes to the mass incarceration of cisgender and transgender women in Guatemala. To this end, it explores the nexus between followership, governance and public policy implementation. Amidst the rise of transnational crime, Guatemala has enacted tough-on-crime measures. Although not intentionally designed to target women, these policies have resulted in the mass incarceration of women.

Given that Guatemala is a democracy, the aims of this thesis are twofold: to examine why followers elect authoritarian leaders and endorse authoritarian policies. Secondly, how security provision has contributed to the mass incarceration of women. To that end, this thesis explores the historical and structural influence of authoritarian followership. Each critical juncture in Guatemala is analysed to unearth the social and power dynamics using a social identity followership framework. In the case of Guatemala, the authoritarian followership process is conditioned by elites determined to preserve their status by any means necessary. As a result, the governance model has evolved into a ‘captured Leviathan’. It caters to elite privileges through authoritarianism, resulting in pervasive structural insecurity for the rest. This followership process has been exacerbated by transnational crime. Due to its geographic location, Guatemala has become a transit country in the transnational drug trade. The subsequent extreme violence has unnerved the public, fuelling the political demand for order and stability. Thus, the followers set the stage for the rise of the authoritarian leader.

Moreover, due to long-term structural insecurity and a captured criminal justice system, repressive measures magnify pre-existing marginalities. A direct consequence is the mass incarceration of women living in poor marginal areas. Lastly, the research explores how followership has shaped the institutional response to incarcerated cisgender and transgender women. Hence, an interpretivist paradigm is applied. The research also employs a case study methodology to address the main questions. Given the complexity of the phenomenon, it is critical to use a methodology design that allows multiple approaches to carry out a comprehensive analysis. To this end, socio-legal analysis, semi-structured interviews with experts and structured interviews with incarcerated women are all employed. For this reason, the research adheres to an interdisciplinary perspective to examine the role of social identities in conditioning intergroup and intragroup dynamics as well as institutional followership.
Date of Award1 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorFunmi Olonisakin (Supervisor)

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