Guarding the Body

Private Security Work in Rio de Janeiro

in Conflict and Society
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  • 1 San Diego State University erikalarkins@ou.edu
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ABSTRACT

Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the private security industry, this article focuses on the training of low-level guards, examining the centrality of the body and embodied experience to their work in hospitality settings. In a racially stratified society in which lower-class, dark-skinned bodies are often equated with poverty and criminality, security guards are required to perform an image of upstanding, respectable, law-abiding citizens in order to do their jobs protecting corporate property. Guards learn techniques of body management at security schools as part of their basic training. They also learn how to subdue the bodies of others, including those of white elites, who represent a constant challenge to their authority. Working from my own experiences as a student in private security schools, I argue for the relevance of an understanding of the body and its significations to private security work.

Contributor Notes

ERIKA ROBB LARKINS is Assistant Professor of anthropology and sociology and Director of the J. Keith Behner and Catherine M. Stiefel Program on Brazil at San Diego State University. Her research focuses on violence and inequality in urban settings. Her first book, The Spectacular Favela: Violence in Modern Brazil (University of California Press, 2015), explores the political economy of spectacular violence in one of Rio’s most famous favelas.

Conflict and Society

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