Western’s Michael Wolff to Present ‘Vigilante Rebellion and Fragmented Sovereignty in Mexico’ Feb. 7 at City Hall

Western Washington University Professor of Political Science Michael Jerome Wolff will give a talk titled “Vigilante Rebellion and Fragmented Sovereignty in Mexico” from 7-8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7, in the Bellingham City Council Chambers at 210 Lottie Street.

The free, public talk is part of the WWU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series and is co-sponsored by the City of Bellingham.

An estimated 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since former President Felipe Calderon first launched his war on the country’s drug cartels 12 years ago. Tired of their government’s inability to contain the violence, in 2013, thousands of residents in the state of Michoacán took up arms and went to war with the drug cartels on their own.

A year later, as many as 20,000 people had joined the so-called autodefensas (“self-defense” groups), which soon controlled nearly half of the state’s municipalities. Although they have since collapsed as a unified movement, the autodefensas succeeded in altering the dynamics of Mexico’s drug wars by introducing a new wild card actor and tactic into the malaise of political-criminal relations.

Drawing from his recent fieldwork in Michoacán, Mexico, Wolff’s presentation explores the rise of civilian militias up close and personal, and in so doing, traces their origins to, among other things, a savory new gastronomical trend in the Global North.

Wolff is a professor of political science at Western Washington University, where he teaches a variety of classes pertaining to political struggle and social order in the developing world. His research is focused on Latin America, where he explores the intersections between licit and illicit coercive power, examining the ways in which policymakers, state security agencies, and criminal groups shape one another’s behavior regarding the use of violence.

His most recent research has taken him to Mexico and Guatemala to study the behavior of vigilante groups as they contest the territorial claims of both drug cartels and the state. His publications can be found in such scholarly journals as “Latin American Politics & Society,” “Policing & Society,” “Urban Geography,” and “Politics & Policy.”

Audience questions for the Feb. 7 talk will be welcomed.  The lecture will be recorded and shown on Bellingham TV Channel 10.

For more information on the lecture, contact Susanna Glatz, WWU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, at (360) 650-3763 or Susanna.Glatz@wwu.edu.