Extralegal Agency and the Search for Safety in Northeast Brazil

Moving beyond Carceral Logics

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

This article – based on fieldwork conducted in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil – examines how those people most affected by carceral expansion pursue safety in an everyday marked by existential threat. Through a focus on a neglected sector of this population, namely adult women, I show how carceral encounters specifically – and informal, illegal and not-yet-(il)legal exchanges more generally – intersect with familial logics and imperatives to engender a capacity for action that I call ‘extralegal agency’. Extralegal agency is central to a practice of safety that represents an alternative to the dominant model of carceral security. An extralegal agency approach to analysing interconnected prison/urban fields, which decentres masculinized criminal organizations and resists romanticizing the rule of law, enables a disruption of dominant discourses of and about the carceral state.

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