Experts discuss violence committed by the state, militias, and radical movements | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Experts discuss violence committed by the state, militias, and radical movements The third event in the series FAPESP 60 Years featured three researchers who are leading experts in the area: Donatella della Porta, Sérgio Adorno, and Michel Misse (photo: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Experts discuss violence committed by the state, militias, and radical movements

September 08, 2021

By José Tadeu Arantes  |  Agência FAPESP – Despite all the progress of science, technology, agriculture and medicine, and the abundance of food and medications, people continue to die of starvation, poverty and disease resulting from the negligence of governments or a lack of public policies. Violence perpetrated or condoned by the state also kills people. These considerations were proffered by Professor Marco Antonio Zago, President of FAPESP, on opening the third event in the FAPESP 60 Years lecture series, on the subject of “Violent Societies”.

“Violence is typically practiced by the strong against the weak. In modern western societies, the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, authorized by society for its own good. The assumption is that citizens relinquish part of their freedom so that society can be organized in this manner. However, we all know the extent to which the state can violate individuals,” he said.

Violence is a vast subject. The discussion focused on “violence that generates lethality, and violence disputed in social life between the state and organized social groups”, according to the moderator, Ângela Alonso, a member of FAPESP’s Adjunct Panel on Human and Social Sciences, Architecture, Economics and Administration.

Three experts on the subject were invited to deliver the lectures: Donatella della Porta, Sérgio Adorno, and Michel Misse.

Della Porta is professor of sociology in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University and Director of the PhD program in Political Science and Sociology at Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Italy, where she also leads the Center on Social Movement Studies (Cosmos).

Adorno is professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo’s School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP), and Scientific Coordinator of the Center for Studies on Violence (NEV), one of the Research, innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) funded by FAPESP.

Misse is professor of sociology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), where he leads the Center for Studies on Citizenship, Conflict and Urban Violence. He is also a researcher affiliated with the National Institute of Science and Technology on Violence, Democracy and Security, which is supported by FAPESP.

Della Porta spoke about a sub-theme of her book Clandestine Political Violence (Cambridge University Press, 2013), entitling her lecture “Comparing the incomparable? Methodological challenges and heuristic potential of global comparisons in research on political violence”. The comparisons in question concern the radical left in Italy and Germany in the 1970s, and subsidiarily the ideology of Italy’s far-right, Basque ethnonationalism and separatism, and religious fundamentalism represented by Afghan Islamists.

To analyze this empirical material, Della Porta explained, “a conceptualization applicable to the different forms” was required. The model she presented considered environmental conditions at the macro-level, group dynamics and organizational behavior at the intermediate level, and individual motivation at the micro-level.

Turning to contemporary Brazil, Adorno argued that the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence has never fully materialized. The police have always been an instrument of power wielded by the elite, and the monopoly on violence translates into violence by the state against citizens, to a far greater extent than the limits of what should be socially acceptable. “The use of force by part of the police is almost a private use,” he said.

A shift from public to private can also be seen at the global level, where police functions are increasingly taken on by private agents. Private security and prison management services are a case in point. 

Using data from the study Urban and demographic patterns in São Paulo City, of which he was a co-author, Adorno offered several examples of changes in the pattern of violence in São Paulo during the last two decades. The homicide rate fell sharply, while drug trafficking increased. “Almost 30% of arrests are currently linked to the drug trade, either in flagrante delicto or as a result of investigations. Law enforcement focuses mostly on the so-called war on drugs,” he said.

Lastly, contesting the widely held idea that the public wants the police to be tougher, Adorno noted the findings of serious surveys showing that 60%-80% of respondents are opposed to the use of deadly force by the police.

In the third lecture, Misse spoke on the particularly explosive topic of the armed urban groups known as militias in Rio de Janeiro. “The state has always coexisted with private groups who serve landowners, politicians or organized crime,” he said. “Private violence is criminalized by the law but not in practice. Police negotiations with these groups have transformed the use of violence into a commodity.”

There has been what he called a “social accumulation of violence”, and the militias are the result. Made up of serving and former police officers, prison guards and civilians, these organizations began by offering residents and shopkeepers “protection” for a fee, but have diversified into other criminal activities involving real estate transactions, unregulated transportation, and drug trading. Now they have taken a step further by entering politics, where they help set up and run electoral fiefdoms.

“These groups have territorialized the urban space. They use legal police operations for their own benefit, forcing out rival groups and taking over their territories,” Misse said.

The third event in the FAPESP 60 Years lecture series on “Violent Societies” can be watched at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVNPbgNlQNQ.

 

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