Sharing This Walk: An Ethnography of Prison Life and the PCC in Brazil

Sharing This Walk: An Ethnography of Prison Life and the PCC in Brazil

Sharing This Walk: An Ethnography of Prison Life and the PCC in Brazil

Sharing This Walk: An Ethnography of Prison Life and the PCC in Brazil

Synopsis

The Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC) is a São Paulo prison gang that since the 1990s has expanded into the most powerful criminal network in Brazil. Karina Biondi’s rich ethnography of the PCC is uniquely informed by her insider-outsider status. Prior to his acquittal, Biondi’s husband was incarcerated in a PCC-dominated prison for several years. During the period of Biondi’s intense and intimate visits with her husband and her extensive fieldwork in prisons and on the streets of São Paulo, the PCC effectively controlled more than 90 percent of São Paulo’s 147 prison facilities. Available for the first time in English, Biondi's riveting portrait of the PCC illuminates how the organization operates inside and outside of prison, creatively elaborating on a decentered, non-hierarchical, and far-reaching command system. This system challenges both the police forces against which the PCC has declared war and the methods and analytic concepts traditionally employed by social scientists concerned with crime, incarceration, and policing. Biondi posits that the PCC embodies a “politics of transcendence,” a group identity that is braided together with, but also autonomous from, its decentralized parts. Biondi also situates the PCC in relation to redemocratization and rampant socioeconomic inequality in Brazil, as well as to counter-state movements, crime, and punishment in the Americas.

Excerpt

Sharing This Walk: An Ethnography of Prison Life and the PCC in Brazil is an anthropological book. More specifically, it is an ethnography directed at understanding the First Command of the Capital (PCC). The PCC is often described as Brazil’s most powerful prison gang, and there is no doubt that it is an organization with substantial reach beyond prison walls and across the nation. Yet the description of the PCC that follows goes far beyond imagining the PCC as some sort of hierarchical organization. Nonetheless, although like many of the most interesting social scientific studies, it is inflected by the author’s training as an anthropologist, it may also be read fruitfully by the nonanthropologist. This is due in large part to the fact that its subject matter interests all of us, whether experts or readers with but a passing interest in the politics of prison life in São Paulo and beyond. It is also because Karina Biondi’s way of writing ethnography permits us to enter the text via different paths. In short, however we engage this text, it offers much, including many surprises.

Biondi’s ethnography describes the prison environment and thus the indignities faced by an enormous number of people (the prisoners) in the state of São Paulo who, over the last few decades, have put together a significant political struggle. This in turn has given rise to a collectivity, force, or group—an adequate label is difficult to find—that has played an essential role in the everyday lives of millions of people over the last two decades. Sharing This Walk thus strikes me as being of interest to a wide readership because one of its principal foci is a concept, and a word, that should interest all of us and about which we should reflect in detail. This word is “democracy.” Yet the democracy opened up by Biondi’s account is not a low-intensity, minimalist democracy based simply on the right to vote or a tepid freedom of expression. Rather, this book approaches democracy in a manner that recalls Isabelle Stengers’s discussion of a democracy made up of diverse struggles developed by emergent collective formations in the present. According to Stengers, large numbers of people have long been subjected to police, juridical, and scientific knowledge. As a result, they have been configured as incapable of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.