The root of all violence is institutional violence. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, former archbishop of San Salvador Assassinated by the Salvadoran military while saying Mass, 24 March 1980
It is often helpful for researchers to explain how they came to look at specific problems and especially how they came to adopt a particular theoretical approach to the problems they study. When I began exploring violence in Mexico, my interest was not in state violence or the violence of the sixteenth century, but in contemporary criminal violence in Mexico. Even though Mexico has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world, most criminological studies of violence have focused on North America, Britain, and Scandinavia. Any meaningful analysis of societal violence, however, has to extend beyond the bounds of advanced industrialized countries and include the study of violence in other less developed countries. The extraordinarily high rate of criminal violence in Mexico as reported in United Nations crime statistics indicated that Mexico was a good place to start. So I went to Mexico.
I spent a year traveling from Nuevo Laredo on the Texas border, to Mexico City, through central Mexico to Chiapas, to Yucatan and down into Guatemala. I visited prisons and jails; talked to judges, prisoners, newspaper reporters, governmental officials, and policemen; and spent untold hours looking at page after page of regional and national criminal statistics. Very quickly, however, I found myself confronted with the same kinds of method-