Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich
Research on lynching is dominated by accounts of racial violence in the US South after the Civil War. However, lynching is a global phenomenon occurring across Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Gema Kloppe-Santamaría confronts us with a history of lynching in post-revolutionary Mexico. By focusing on the period between the 1930s and the 1950s, she reminds us of how common this form of violence is; indeed, it persists in Mexico in strikingly similar fashion today. In her gripping account of a large number of lynching events recovered from archival records, she makes important contributions to the sociology of collective violence. For example, she demonstrates that lynching is not simply a result of an absent state, but rather a response to an illegitimate state, in part as a form of resistance and as a corrective to deficient justice administration. She also shows how the formation of a modern state, which threatened to displace Catholic traditions, led to a violent response, including the lynching of socialist school teachers and protestants. Similar to contemporary lynching, mobs most often targeted petty delinquents in post-revolutionary Mexico, suggesting that lynching is essentially a form of social control. In contrast to the Southern US, racial dynamics were largely irrelevant in the case of Mexico. In addition to these theoretical and empirical contributions, her book is also an interesting read for its many extraordinary anecdotes, like the story of Norwegian geologist Edgar Kullmann who was lynched after speaking to local kids. He was accused of wanting to use their body fat as fuel for his airplane, a common rumor in 1930 rural Mexico.