Dr. Clara Han, Johns Hopkins University, will conduct ethnographic research on the changing contours of kinship networks and norms in relation to the incarceration process and neighborhood-level policing in a poor urban neighborhood in Santiago, Chile. By conducting longitudinal fieldwork in a poor urban neighborhood where intensive policing has led to high rates of incarceration, this study will document: 1) how kinship networks and moral obligations are taking shape in relation to incarceration; 2) how and to what extent criminal procedure takes into account kinship obligations in sentencing; 3) how neighborhood social and ecclesiastical organizations morally and materially provide possibilities for new vertical and lateral kinship relations (for example, parenting, grandparenting, and siblingship) and how the varying realization of these relations reshape the neighborhood as an actual social form.

This study will employ a range of ethnographic fieldwork methods, including participant-observation in diverse neighborhood organizations, life histories and kinship charts, and longitudinal interviews of women with incarcerated kin. Primary field research will be supplemented by observations of public court hearings in the criminal court that serves this neighborhood, archival research on legal disputes regarding kinship care for children of incarcerated kin as well as the wider processes of legal and penal reform.

Findings from this study will complement macro-level quantitative studies on the social effects of incarceration on families and neighborhoods by contributing an understanding of the practices and ideas of kinship from the perspective of those who live in neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration. Given the contemporary policy debates on penal reform due to increasing prison populations across the Americas, this research can offer a timely contribution to these debates by illuminating alternative responses to poverty-related violence and insecurity, responses generated and imagined by neighborhoods themselves.

Project Report

The PI (Clara Han) undertook anthropological research in a low-income neighborhood in Santiago, Chile under police occupation. The research sought to explore how formations of family were enduring and transforming in relation to a long-term occupation. This research employed repeated visits over time with women who had intimate kin incarcerated and who also had suffered the deaths of intimate kin as well as sustained participant-observation within the neighborhood as the primary forms of data collection. The method of data collection therefore privileged a fine-grained and up close exploration of the ways in which law enforcement, affliction, and urban poverty are interconnected within family and neighborhood life. Through this fine-grained approach, this research explored: the contradictory ways in which police relate to the everyday life of the neighborhood under the conditions of occupation. While domination and resistance is one model to understand occupation, the varied ways in which police shared in domestic life and neighborhood life often confounded a reliance of a single model to characterize the relationship between police and the neighborhood. the contradictory ways in which criminal law and law enforcement is received within the family, and the ways in which the boundaries of "neighbor" and "family" are negotiated in everyday life. the texture of grief and loss in a neighborhood where violent death is pervasive. Presumptions that violent death is normalized - because it is so pervasive - can eclipse the way in which the death of a concrete other relates to the multiple deaths in collective social life. At the same time, grief can also reveal limits to normative languages of mourning. This research has paid attention to the ways in which people in low-income neighborhoods endure that which may be unbearable and attempt to find within their everyday life the resources to reinhabit their worlds. It shows how healing from pervasive violent death and making a living take place in an atmosphere in which everyday life is permeated by accusations of criminality. Thus, the research has sought to make available empirical research that takes family and neighborhood life on its own terms, rather than imposing external normative categories in advance. With the recent public discussions on police violence in the United States and on decriminalization of illicit drug use in Latin America, this research has broader societal impacts. This academic work can provide a nuanced view of the complexity of livelihoods and life among the urban poor, and thus can create an entry point for policymaking that is committed to empirical research as a guide to decision-making.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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Johns Hopkins University
United States
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