At least 200,000 people have died in Mexico’s so-called drug war, and the worst suffering has been in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. How did it get so bad? After three decades studying that question, Howard Campbell doesn’t believe there is any one answer. Misguided policies, corruption, criminality, and the borderland economy are all factors. But none of these reasons explain how violence in downtown Juárez has become heartbreakingly “normal.”
A rigorous yet moving account, Downtown Juárez is informed by the sex workers, addicts, hustlers, bar owners, human smugglers, migrants, and down-and-out workers struggling to survive in an underworld where horrifying abuses have come to seem like the natural way of things. Even as Juárez’s elite northeast section thrives on the profits of multinational corporations, and law-abiding citizens across the city mobilize against crime and official malfeasance, downtown’s cantinas, barrios, and brothels are tyrannized by misery.
Campbell’s is a chilling perspective, suggesting that, over time, violent acts feed off each other, losing their connection to any specific cause. Downtown Juárez documents this banality of evil—and confronts it—with the stories of those most affected.
Howard Campbell is a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is the author of several books, including Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez.
Downtown Juárez is a disturbing and compelling ethnography. In its detailed narratives, it lays out the many layers leading to the creation of what we could all experience given equivalent circumstances: mean streets, drug addiction, sex trafficking, corruption, and bare survival for some and certain destruction for others. This is a necessary treatise to understand how misery on one side of the border region is in part dependent on the luxury of the other as well as the corruption of police, politicians, and the movers and shakers of a city named after the Lincoln of Mexico.
~Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez, Arizona State University, author of Reflections of a Transborder Anthropologist: From Netzahualcóyotl to Aztlán
Howard Campbell's Downtown Juárez is a masterful achievement. He shows us the fabric of a city, in a sweeping and deeply researched study, to capture the underlying narrative of a misunderstood border community.
~Alfredo Corchado, Mexico Border Correspondent, Dallas Morning News, and author of Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness
[Campbell] constructs a detailed and personal account of how violence is produced in Juárez specifically and Mexico as a whole...The author's writing style transports us to the detailed accounts and experiences he went through in Juárez and brings light to those who have been pushed to the shadows...This book is a valuable contribution to the literature as it provides scholars, social workers, and law enforcement officials with a complex understanding of violence in Juárez and the processes of naturalization of violence that continue to perpetuate violence in Mexico.
~Small Wars Journal
This is a masterpiece of urban anthropology and one of the most significant studies of life in Ciudad Juárez in recent memory. It is a formidable work of scholarship that resonates far beyond academe.
~El Paso Matters
An extraordinary book...By telling the tragic tales of people who live in very dire conditions—and perform activities that are not ideal—in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Campbell seeks to offer a general explanation of the intense violence that takes place every day in the central part of this very complex border city...This text and its stories are the result of brave, humane, and exemplary ethnographic work that depicts the 'underworlds of violence and abuse.'
Through his detailed narratives...Campbell successfully details the complexities of Ciudad Juárez that lead some people to barely survive and others to certain destruction…Recommended.
Campbell provides the reader with a gritty but very human account of the limited choices that those living in the Juárez underworld face, and shows how these limited choices become 'normal'...Downtown Juárez is a very compelling read...Readers will come away with an understanding of the everyday lives of the members of the Juárez underworld, and how violence has become a normal part of their daily experience.
~The Sociological Review
Campbell’s vivid and captivating ethnography of Downtown Juárez is not only accessible, well written, and engaging, but also makes notable theoretical and methodological contributions...Campbell’s ethnography neither romanticizes nor pathologizes everyday life in Downtown Juárez. Instead, he masterfully centers the lived realities of his informants and provides greater insights into their subjectivities and humanity...A must-read for scholars interested in violence, the borderlands, and ethnographic methodologies.
~Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
By understanding how individuals frequently fall into both [victim and victimizer], and indeed, how being a victimizer often leads someone to become a victim and vice versa, Campbell offers a nuanced reading of violence in the region, drawing attention to often underanalyzed dynamics...[Campbell's] narratives are vibrant and often nuanced. They are a pleasure to read.
~Latin American Politics and Society
This [book] is an honest effort to approach the complex problems of this border city…it revels in the rigor of an academic book, but is also accessible to non-specialized readers.
[Este libro es] un esfuerzo honesto por aproximarse a la compleja problematica de esta urbe fronteriza . . . Goza de rigor académico, pero también es accesible a los lectores no especializados.
~Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos
Introduction: Borders of the Mind—Violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
1. Synergistic Violence and the Normalization of Abuse in a Border Context
2. The Bridge: Concentrations of Power, Economic Exchange, and Transnational Humanity
3. The Historical Roots of Violence, Crime, and Abuse in Downtown Juárez and Colonia Bellavista
4. Colonia Bellavista Today
5. Avenida Juárez Today
6. Prostitution and Sex Workers in the Downtown Street Scene
7. Contemporary Gay Pick-Up Scenes and Danger in Downtown Juárez
8. Border Bar Life: An Introduction
9. A Place without Limits: Inebriation and Dehumanization at The Club
10. Conviviality, Drug Deals, Sexual Abuse, and a Juárez-Based Philosophy of Masculine Nihilism
11. Bars as Sites and Languid Staging Areas for Petty Crimes: Hanging Out in the 69 Lounge, Waiting for Something Bad to Happen
12. Downtown Bars as Locations of both Pleasure and Victimization: Sex, Drugs, and Extortion at El Antro
13. Bars and Criminality: Human Smugglers and Cross-Border Drug Smugglers in Central Juárez
14. Everyday Drug Dealers in Downtown Juárez
15. Human Perseverance amidst Recurring “Drug Wars”
16. The Naturalization of “Drug Violence”: Hit Men and Drug Killings
17. Paloma Makes a Life in the Downtown Bars: Survival amidst Crime, Violence, Drugs, and Sexual Abuse
Conclusion: Synergistic Violence and the Cycle of Victimization on the Border
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