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Course Information

Instructor Info:John Gibler
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Monday
02:30 PM - 05:30 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 108

Over the past seven years brutal and intensely visible forms of violence have increased drastically in Mexico. Most people who come in contact with these forms of violence do so through media representations, and most of these media accounts contain, overtly or covertly, an official logic that blames victims for their violent deaths while celebrating the very increase in such deaths as a sign that the State’s policy of militarization is “winning.” In this class we will question common understandings of what constitutes violence. We will examine how certain acts of violence are portrayed in media discourse, while others are banished from such discourse. We will read and analyze both short and long-form works of journalism on the “drug war” in Mexico published between 2007 and 2012. We will briefly consider the historical and political contexts of drug policy in the United States and Mexico. We will build a theoretical network of ideas from decolonial and critical thinkers from Latin America, Africa, India, the Pacific Islands, North America and Europe. We will apply these analytical tools to the so-called “drug war” in Mexico to study how visible and invisible forms of violence are exercised and disguised in language and in the streets.

The structure of the course will be somewhat cyclical. We will begin with discussion. We will then read English-language media reports on the “drug war” in Mexico published between 2007 and 2012. We will then move through several theory-history cycles, constantly referencing and re-reading the media texts with which we began. We will consider a few other forms of writing such as reports produced by non-governmental human rights organizations and government policy reports. We will read Mexican journalists covering the “drug war” whose work was published between 2007 and 2012 and whose writing has been translated into English. We will compare the NGO and government documents and the Mexican’s writing with the initial set of media texts. We will consider various approaches to writing that take an explicit stand against violence.

Course Objectives:

In this course we will be reading, thinking critically about, discussing and writing about texts. Some of the texts contain information and descriptions that are violent and horrifying. One of the goals of the course is to see through the horror, demystify the events described in the texts and look for pathways of understanding that can lead us out of horror and towards some kind of change and prevention. Students should be advised that some of the texts contain descriptions of explicit and disturbing scenes of violence.

The course will be guided by the argument that the critical analysis of drug policy is essential for understanding the design and behavior of contemporary states and the dynamics of global and internal colonialisms. 

The course will be guided by questions. For example: What is violence? Beyond the physical wounding of bodies, in what other ways can violence be deployed? In what other ways can it wound? How can we go about creating a theoretical taxonomy of violence to help us identify forms of violence that are difficult to see? How is violence discussed in different texts? What kinds of violence are present and what kinds of violence are absent in different texts? Are certain texts violent? If so, in what ways? What histories are present in the act of writing? How can we understand the forms of violence occurring in Mexico and related by the government and the media to a so-called “drug war.” Is there such a “drug war?” If there is, what kind of war is it? Who are its generals and soldiers and who are its victims? How is the violence in Mexico represented in the English language media in the United States? What forms of violence are present in these media representations and what forms are absent? Which histories are present in these representations and which are absent? What do the presences and absences tell us about the violence and what do they tell us about the media?

We will make a commitment to each other and to ourselves to act, to speak, at all times with respect and care for our classmates, for each other, for ourselves. When topics become emotional, we will seek together to express emotion, respect others as they express emotion, and discuss critically the issues that provoke such emotional responses and the questions raised by the emotions. The key thing here, what unites us, is our joint commitment to take a stand against the violence and to support each other in our paths toward greater understanding. Our commitment entails absolute intolerance for any and all forms of discrimination and oppression. This commitment is a requirement for participation in the course. Since we will all make this commitment, we will be united, we will stand together, and standing together in commitment we will be patient and caring when helping each other along, catching each other when we stumble.

Evaluation Criteria:

This course is a discussion-based seminar; your preparation and participation is crucial to its success. Plan to attend all class meetings, to read all the assigned texts and to come to class prepared to discuss the week’s assigned readings.

Weekly Assignments: This course is reading and writing intensive. There will be weekly reading and weekly writing assignments. Students will be allowed two absences throughout the semester, similarly they will be allowed to “passes” on the weekly assignments. That is, students will be required to turn in all but two of the weekly writing assignments. The passes may not be used for the assignment due on October 21.  I encourage students to complete all of the writing assignments and save the two “passes” for moments of illness, work over-load or… Bring assignments to class printed or on a USB drive. Do not submit assignments via email.


Research Essay or Project Presentation: Students may choose between writing an individual 2000-word essay or a small group presentation due at the beginning of class on Monday, October 21. Late papers will not be accepted.

Additional Info:

The events taking place in Mexico, described as a “drug war,” are profoundly disturbing. We will not look at any photographic visual material in this course: no photographs, no documentaries, no visual artwork, and no fictional films. Students should be advised when researching online that the visual imagery readily accessible with the simplest Google image search is violent and horrifying. I am not kidding. Students who are affected by such imagery should take extreme caution when researching online. I would advise, at least for now, refraining from viewing such images.