Regina Anne Bateson
Regina’s current research agenda includes two major projects, both concerned with the political consequences of violence. In the future, Regina plans to expand both projects into books.

Article: “Crime Victimization and Political Participation.”

Bateson, Regina. 2012. “Crime Victimization and Political Participation.” American Political Science Review, Vol. 106, No. 3: 570-587.
Winner of the 2013 Heinz I. Eulau Award.

ABSTRACT: Crime victimization is an important cause of political participation. Analysis of survey data from five continents shows that individuals who report recent crime victimization participate in politics more than comparable nonvictims. Rather than becoming withdrawn or disempowered, crime victims tend to become more engaged in civic and political life. The effect of crime victimization is roughly equivalent to an additional five to ten years of education, meaning that crime victimization ranks among the most influential predictors of political participation. Prior research has shown that exposure to violence during some civil wars can result in increased political participation, but this article demonstrates that the effect of victimization extends to peacetime, to nonviolent as well as violent crimes, and across most of the world. At the same time, however, crime victimization is sometimes associated with dissatisfaction with democracy and support for authoritarianism, vigilantism, and harsh policing tactics, especially in Latin America.

You can download the article from the APSR website, or by clicking here. The article is copyrighted by Cambridge University Press.

Order and Violence in Postwar Guatemala.
Committee: Stathis Kalyvas (chair), Susan Stokes, and Elisabeth Wood.
Winner of the 2014 Gabriel A. Almond Award.

SUMMARY: Guatemala’s civil war ended in 1996, but the country remains awash in violence. Violent crime rates are among the highest in the world, the state-run criminal justice system is severely dysfunctional, and criminals enjoy near-total impunity. Less than 2% of homicides are ever solved; as UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston concluded in 2007, “Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder, because you will almost certainly get away with it.”

Fear of crime is uniform across Guatemala, but Guatemalans react very differently to this pervasive insecurity. Some communities have developed a system of organized, large-scale, collective vigilantism, consisting primarily of security patrolling and public, physical punishment of alleged criminals. Groups of men patrol the streets at night, interrogating passers-by, responding to calls from neighbors, and catching and punishing alleged criminals and wrongdoers. This punishment sometimes escalates into a public torture session or a lynching, in which the victim is typically burned alive. While these actions are clearly illegal, they are not clandestine; to the contrary, they are public spectacles designed to garner media attention and to deter would-be criminals. In other communities, there is a norm of more private, individual- or family-based vengeance. In these areas, preventive security patrolling and lynchings are rare. Instead, serious crimes are most often avenged with secretive targeted killings carried out by the wronged party, their relatives, or a hired hit man (sicario).

I argue that these different systems of vigilantism are primarily attributable to divergent local experiences during the Guatemalan civil war. Using in-depth case studies of two rural municipalities, I theorize that organized, large-scale, collective vigilantism tends to occur in communities that experienced moderate to intense fighting during the civil war because the civil war changed local threat perceptions, reshaped beliefs about the acceptability and efficacy of public, demonstrative violence, and created durable, long-lasting local institutions (most importantly, the civil patrols). Then, I test the theory with quantitative municipal-level data from across Guatemala, including the results of an original survey. I demonstrate that, as expected, security patrolling and lynchings tend to occur in those areas where wartime violence was most intense. This relationship holds even when controlling for indigenous population, poverty, and state presence.

The dissertation documents and analyzes under-studied vigilante behaviors that pose serious threats to human rights and the rule of law in contemporary Guatemala. At the same time, the dissertation also has broader theoretical and policy implications, contributing to our understanding of the long-term local legacy of civil wars. Specifically, the dissertation argues that wartime experiences should be expected to influence local perceptions of and strategies for attaining public security in the postwar period. In particular, locally-based, socially-embedded militias and civil defense forces are likely to remain informally organized even decades after a war has ended, acting as local power brokers and playing an especially large role in providing public security. Beyond Guatemala, this dynamic can be observed in Iraq, where former Sunni militants are now hunting down alleged criminals and ex-insurgents within their communities, and in Nicaragua, where the former Comités de Defensa Sandinista (CDS) have been resurrected as Comités de Poder Ciudadano (CPC), charged in part with maintaining order in their neighborhoods.