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Folk Saints: Crime, Protection and the Rule of Law in a Global World


Preliminary course description

In popular culture there is a long-standing fascination with criminals and gangs. In literature, cinema, television series, street art and other forms of mass media, the portraits and biographies of top criminals are often presented as a success story of social emancipation and material improvement. Yet, criminals are by no means invincible; they live in a world of high unpredictability and violence, and make use of different forms of ‘protection’ that include indigenous practices and new forms of spiritual guidance. For instance, one US dollar bills are seen as protective icons and are worshiped by the Russian maffia. This course looks at the cultural production around the world of criminality in the context of globalization, including cases from Italy, Russia, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico and the United States, and the way criminal actors attain protection and impunity through culture. How can law-breaking become a ‘licit’ life project? How do ideas of power and protection circulate among criminal gangs in the context of globalization? These questions are relevant to understand the erosion of the rule of law and emancipation in law-breaking, as it is the case among the marginal youth in cities. The case studies include theorizations and empirical materials from anthropology, cultural studies and history.