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Gema Kloppe-Santamaría

In the Vortex of Violence

Lynching, Extralegal Justice, and the State in Post-Revolutionary Mexico

University of California Press 2020

New Books in HistoryNew Books in Latin American StudiesNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society September 8, 2020 Rachel Grace Newman

In her new book In the In the Vortex of Violence: Lynching, Extralegal Justice, and the State in Post-Revolutionary Mexico (University of California Press),...

In her new book In the In the Vortex of Violence: Lynching, Extralegal Justice, and the State in Post-Revolutionary Mexico (University of California Press), Gema Kloppe-Santamaría examines the history of violence enacted by groups against alleged transgressors who claimed to bring justice while acting beyond the rule of law.

Focusing on the 1930s to 1950s, this book explores the roots of a phenomenon often mistakenly assumed to be a result of neoliberalism in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Kloppe-Santamaría finds that extralegal violence was not a response to the absence of the state nor to increased crime levels, nor is it connected to traditional practices. Instead, lynching is a complex, political act that commonly occurred in urban and rural communities in Mexico.

In these locales, the state was not absent, but some citizens rejected its forms of justice and deplored modernization programs that sought to remake their everyday practices. But state officials could condone or even participate in lynchings. Communities also used extralegal justice to correct perceived crimes against the Church and Catholic values, or to target threatening individuals who could be accused of witchcraft or other mythical offenses.

The Mexican press avidly covered lynchings as spectacles, but the press did not always decry lynching and often suggested it was a necessary, moral act in the absence of speedy, fair legal justice from the state. This book is in dialogue with scholarship on lynching in the United States and illustrates the relevance of the Mexican case for scholars of extralegal violence in other places.

Gema Kloppe-Santamaría is Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Loyola University Chicago.


Rachel Grace Newman is Lecturer in the History of the Global South at Smith College. She has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. Her book manuscript in progress is titled Study Abroad, Transnational Youth, and the Politics of Modernization in Mexico. She is also the author of a book on a binational education program for Mexican migrant children. She is on Twitter @rachelgnew.