Excerpt: This essay considers the politics of hunting in Guatemala City. Amid the crack and the Christianity, in the service of so much captivity, Alejandro and his pastor track down drug users, as if they are animals, to remind them, in classic Christian fashion, that they are human—that, in the words of so many missionaries before them, it is not enough to be human, one must also act human. These efforts at ontological policing upset an increasingly bundled set of images about pastoralism today. Across the humanities and the social sciences, from a range of theoretical and methodological commitments, scholars deliver steadfast portraits of neoliberal withdrawal. And their terms tell all: dispossession and disposability; expulsion and exposure; precarity and social abandonment. While each advances an analytically distinct proposition, each also contributes to a single, powerful image of the failed shepherd, of people left to die.
Publisher’s Description: “I’m not perfect,” Mateo confessed. “Nobody is. But I try.” Secure the Soul shuttles between the life of Mateo, a born-again ex-gang member in Guatemala and the gang prevention programs that work so hard to keep him alive. Along the way, this poignantly written ethnography uncovers the Christian underpinnings of Central American security. In the streets of Guatemala City—amid angry lynch mobs, overcrowded prisons, and paramilitary death squads—millions of dollars empower church missions, faith-based programs, and seemingly secular security projects to prevent gang violence through the practice of Christian piety. With Guatemala increasingly defined by both God and gangs, Secure the Soul details an emerging strategy of geopolitical significance: regional security by way of good Christian living.
O’Neill, Kevin Lewis. 2014. On Liberation: Crack, Christianity, and Captivity in Postwar Guatemala City. Social Text 32(3): 11-28.
Abstract: A will to escape organizes the practice of Latin American Christian liberation while at the same time enacting a new genre of captivity. After a shift in US interdiction efforts, the vast majority of cocaine produced in the Andes for the United States now passes through Guatemala. With this drastic increase has come a spike in the use of crack cocaine, as well as the proliferation of drug rehabilitation centers. Run by Pentecostal Christians, these centers warehouse users (against their will) in the name of liberation. Locked up, tied up, and told to shape up, these users confess, at times plead, that they want out and they want it now. Pastors, in response, assure them that captivity is itself liberation—that slavery is salvation. This will to escape provokes a pair of guiding questions. They are, at their most philosophical: How do openings become enclosures? How do lines of flight become absolute dead ends?
Abstract: This article addresses the politics of space in the study of American religion. Part 1 argues that an attention to broken space, namely an assumed division between the sacred and the profane as well as between the local and the global, limits the kind of political relationships that the scholar can posit between religion and space. Part 2 proposes the term “affective space” as a flexible analytical tool with broad utility for the study of American religion, one that prompts scholars to address those social processes that constitute felt difference amid an unevenly interrelated world. To animate the production of affective spaces, this article draws on more than a decade of ethnographic research in and on postwar Guatemala.
Abstract: “In North Carolina, a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization facilitates a child sponsorship program that connects North American evangelical Christians with at-risk children in one of postwar Guatemala City’s most violent neighborhoods: La Paloma. Pitched in the name of gang prevention, child sponsors help create a context in which these Guatemalan kids might choose God over gangs. Based on fieldwork in North Carolina and in Guatemala, with both sponsors and the sponsored, this article explores how child sponsorship makes the work of gang prevention dependent on the work of self-cultivation. It is an ethnographic approach attuned to what this article understands as the subject of prevention, that is, the individual imagined and acted upon by the imperative to prevent. This includes at-risk youths, in all their racialized otherness, but also (and increasingly so) North American evangelicals who self-consciously craft their subjectivities through their participation in gang prevention. The subject of prevention’s observable outcome is a kind of segregation with its own spatial logic. The practice of evangelical gang prevention ultimately produces an observable kind of inequality that says something about the surgically selective nature of Central American security today. Some Guatemalan youth connect with North Americans. Others get left behind.”
Abstract: Amid unprecedented rates of deportation as well as an ever-growing gang problem, bilingual call centers have become viable spaces of control in postwar Guatemala. They provide deported ex–gang members with not only well-paying jobs but also a work environment structured by Protestant images and imperatives. Be humble. Be punctual. Be patient. These corporately Christian virtues minister to the deported at every turn, inviting them to assume and become subsumed by ascetic subjectivities. These are monkish dispositions that provide a vital lynchpin between the political, the economic, and the subjective. They also coordinate (at the level of conduct) projects of capitalist accumulation with efforts at regional security. This assemblage of industries and ethics, made in the name of control, is what this article understands as the soul of security.
Abstract: In response to growing postwar violence in Guatemala, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) cosponsored a reality television show in which ten former gang members were split into two teams, each of which was expected to build a sustainable business within Guatemala’s formal economy. This competition modeled a kind of entrepreneurial self-fashioning that relied on Christian images and imperatives to “formalize” the show’s reportedly delinquent participants. Based on several years of ethnographic fieldwork in Central and North America, this article explores how this Christian self-fashioning dramatizes an increasingly popular strategy for gang prevention and intervention throughout the Americas: regional security by way of good Christian living. Christianity today has become entangled with the geopolitics of American security, especially when it comes to efforts at gang abatement, linking the illegal activities of transnational criminal networks to the morality of individual men and women.