Department of Sociology

The Ambivalent State by Javier Auyero and Katherine Sobering

Thu, October 31, 2019
The Ambivalent State by Javier Auyero and Katherine Sobering
Oxford University Press, 2019.

Over the last few decades, debates about policing in poor urban areas have turned from analyzing the state's neglect and abandonment into documenting its harsh interventions and punishing presence. Yet, we know very little about the covert world of state action that is hidden from public view. In The Ambivalent State, Javier Auyero and Katherine Sobering offer an unprecedented look into the clandestine relationships between police agents and drug dealers in Argentina. Drawing on a unique combination of ethnographic fieldwork and documentary evidence, including hundreds of pages of wiretapped phone conversations, they analyze the inner-workings of police-criminal collusion, its connections to drug markets, and how it promotes cynicism and powerlessness in daily life. They argue that an up-close examination of covert state action exposes the workings of an ambivalent state: one that both enforces the rule of law and functions as a partner in criminal behavior. The Ambivalent State develops a political sociology of violence that focuses not only on what takes place in police stations, courts, and poor neighborhoods, but also the clandestine actions and interactions of police, judges, and politicians that structure daily life at the urban margins.

The Ambivalent State transports our recent conversations about the malevolent relations between the police and citizens to the barrios of Argentina by bringing scholars as close as possible to the network of reciprocal and clandestine exchanges between drug market organizations and the state’s security forces. This is a heroic ethnography that should be read and kept close at hand by anyone attempting to understand how the state organizes, intervenes in, and generates violence.”  –Vesla M. Weaver, Johns Hopkins University

“Auyero and Sobering offer a groundbreaking study on the collusion and clandestine ties between law enforcement agents and illegal drug dealers. This is a fascinating work that uses original, new information from ethnographic accounts, court proceedings and wiretaps to prove the inner working of corruption and the police. By tackling these explosive subjects, the authors expose the weaknesses of many institutions and their inability to enforce the law. This is an authoritative piece of research, a must read for scholars, students, and lay readers interested in Latin America, corruption, and law enforcement.” –Marcelo Bergman, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires

“This book offers just what we might expect from one of Latin America’s most expert ethnographers, and more. In collaboration with Katherine Sobering and other long-standing fieldwork partners, Javier Auyero meticulously and insightfully reveals the nefarious practices that tie police to criminals in contemporary Buenos Aires. This is a powerful and illuminating book.” –Diane E. Davis, Harvard University

About the Authors:

Javier Auyero is the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long in Latin American Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin where he directs the Urban Ethnography Lab. His main areas of research, writing and teaching are urban poverty, political ethnography, and collective violence. Auyero was the editor of the journal Qualitative Sociology from 2005 to 2010.

Katherine Sobering is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. Her research examines inequality, politics and social change in the Americas. She is currently writing a book on organizational transformation and the construction of equality in worker-recuperated businesses in Argentina.

Publisher's website

Bookmark and Share

  • Department of Sociology

    The University of Texas at Austin
    305 E 23rd St, A1700
    RLP 3.306
    Austin, TX 78712-1086