CALL FOR PAPER PROPOSALS – Special issue of Dilemas

Organization: Benjamin Lessing (University of Chicago)


In cities across the world, the regulation of civil life by criminal groups has proven a common but varied and complex phenomenon. In the Latin American context, research on criminal governance, along with larger questions of crime and violence, has produced powerful theoretical reflections on criminal ethics, markets for the protection and sale of illicit goods, extortion practices, conflict regulation and the imposition of rules of conduct. These studies tend to focus on single cases, probing the histories and socio-political conjunctures of each city or context studied, producing analyses that are rich and complex, but when taken as a whole, empirically fragmentary.

To highlight continuities between the varied contexts in which populations are impacted by the presence of criminal groups, we call for paper proposals for a special issue of the journal Dilemas, housed at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with the University of Chicago and the Getúlio Vargas Foundation. The main objective is to understand the variations between different models of regulation of civil life and to place them in a structured comparative perspective. In this sense, the project also seeks to foster collaboration between researchers and the sharing of empirical data, bringing these to the heart of the debate.

We invite researchers to submit article proposals that compare two or more contexts, preferably in different cities, where practices of control of populations, markets and territories by criminal groups are identified. Submissions should include “expanded abstracts” of proposed articles. Bearing in mind the schedule for the collective elaboration of the special issue noted below, we advise basing proposals on empirical research that is already completed or at an advanced stage. To foster the collective construction of this special issue, we will hold two mandatory and paid workshops in which authors of the selected proposals will present and discuss their work in progress. The articles will be published in their original language and translated into English, in the case of texts in Portuguese or Spanish. 



* Publication of all articles is subject to peer review and final editorial approval by the Editors of DilemasThe Special Issue will follow Dilemas' editorial policy of requiring all authors to hold a Masters degree or higher.
** Grants totaling R$3000 per article will be paid to authors, provided that at least one of the authors of each article participates in both of two planned workshops, and both the first and final versions of the article are delivered within the time limits stipulated below.
*** The grant is per proposal, not per author.


May 3, 2021 – Deadline for submission of expanded abstracts
May 17, 2021 – Dissemination of the result of the selection of proposals
May 25, 2021 – First workshop
June 7, 2021 – Delivery of first draft of articles
July 7, 2021 – Second workshop
August 2, 2021 – Delivery of the final version of the articles


  1. Applicants should submit “expanded abstracts” in Portuguese, Spanish or English, with a maximum of 6,000 characters including spaces, (but excluding bibliographic references). Files should be sent in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format.
  2. The “expanded abstract” should indicate:
    • Which cases/cities will be compared;
    • Which dimensions or aspects of each case/city will be compared (e.g. territorial control; electoral interference; provision of conflict-resolution and justice services to residents etc.);
    • The relevance or importance of the particular comparison being proposed;
    • Which sources or data will be employed to make the comparison, and where do these data come from (e.g., field research notes in such communities, 2017-18; survey of 100 residents between 2019-20 etc.);
    • Name, institution and e-mail contact of the authors and the working title of the article.
  3. Proposals must be sent by 11:59 pm GMT-3 (Brasília time) on April 16, 2021 to the e-mail, with the subject “Proposal for special edition”.
  4. Proposals will be evaluated by an international committee, which will select the best ones for inclusion in the dossier.


Can I propose an individually authored article, or does it have to be collaborative?
We encourage collaborative proposals (with two or more researchers), but individual proposals will also be accepted, as long as they compare at least two distinct empirical contexts.

What is your definition of “criminal governance”?
We adopt an inclusive definition of criminal governance as regulation by criminal groups of the conduct of non-members, especially “civilian” residents of areas controlled by these groups, but also non-member criminal actors, such as the prison inmates or autonomous street-level criminal actors.

What is your definition of “criminal groups”?
Again we take an inclusive approach, and are open to proposers arguments for why given groups ought to be considered “criminal” for the purposes of this call. We certainly include groups commonly considered criminal, such as Brazil’s facções, comandos, and milícias, as well as street- and prison-gangs, maras, pandillas, pranes, drug cartels and other criminal collectives; groups located in the “gray zone” such as paramilitaries, death squads, and corrupt police bands are also appropriate (insofar as they practice some form of governance). For groups not commonly understood as “criminal”, it is up to the proponent to convince the committee that it is worth considering them as such.