ML0367: Crime and Punishment in Latin American History and Culture

School Hispanic Studies
Department Code MLANG
Module Code ML0367
External Subject Code 100769
Number of Credits 30
Level L6
Language of Delivery English
Module Leader Dr Joseph Whitfield
Semester Double Semester
Academic Year 2020/1

Outline Description of Module

This course is about the history and culture of crime and punishment in Latin America.

In Semester 1, we will initially take a broad historical approach, covering a variety of topics such as the slave trade and slavery, human trafficking, bandolerismo and revolution, borders and violence, drug trafficking and organised crime, and power and corruption. In Semester 2 we will study key ideas from theoretical criminology including constructionism, the coloniality of power, the mimesis of violence, and border and gender violence. These themes will be explored through a cultural lens with readings including prison writing, detective fiction, feature films and novels. The material will be considered in the socio-historical context of failed and corrupt state agencies, increasing economic inequality and neo-colonial power structures. Through the study of the culture and history of crime, we will reflect on the extent to which notions like crime, punishment and justice are historically situated, changing categories.

There will be three pathways through the module. Students counting the module towards Spanish will be required to use Spanish language primary materials for a minimum of 50% of their work, students counting the module towards degrees in Portuguese will be required to refer to Brazilian materials for at least 50% of their work. If possible, given the restrictions at the time, a third, Inside Out pathway may be available to a limited number of students from the Spanish and Portuguese pathways (but not Erasmus). Places on the Inside Out pathway will be decided by application and will be dependent on applicants passing the necessary security vetting. Students on the Inside Out pathway must commit to preparing for and attending longer seminars at HMP Cardiff in Semester 2, their presentations will also take place in HMP Cardiff and their assessment will differ slightly. If, for any appropriate reason, students are unable to complete the Inside Out pathway they will be able to revert to the standard forms of assessment.


On completion of the module a student should be able to

On completion of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the major ways in which crime is perceived and addressed in Latin American literary and audio-visual culture and history.
  • Discuss why crime and criminalisation unevenly affect historically disadvantaged sectors.
  • Analyse the ethical consequences of the perpetuation of stereotypes in the construction of criminal subjects.
  • Be conversant in key terms in Latin American Cultural Studies and History such as coloniality, hegemony, marginality, intersectionality and subalterity.
  • Deploy ideas from theories of gender, violence, and cultural criminology.

How the module will be delivered

The module will be taught through a blend of live online classes and guided, interactive online tasks and activities, designed to fulfil the learning outcomes. These will be delivered remotely, and on-campus if the University deems it safe and practicable.

 The learning activities will be structured around selected materials, to allow close study and discussion of the topics explored, leading students to a theoretically and methodologically informed under­standing of the culture(s), society, and history of their respective field of study. The pre-recorded presentations and corresponding assigned reading are the starting point for students’ own exploration of the topic areas through extensive reading. To make the most of the module students are expected to engage in substantial independent study beyond the assigned materials and scheduled teaching sessions.

If circumstances change, the teaching format may alter in line with university guidelines to allow for more face to face contact.

Skills that will be practised and developed

  1. Personal transferable skills
  • Communicate ideas effectively and fluently, both orally and in writing
  • Use communications and information technologies for the retrieval and presentation of information
  • Work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organisation and time-management
  • Collaborate with others and contribute to the achievement of common goals

        2. Generic intellectual skills

  • Gather, organize and deploy evidence, data and information from a variety of sources
  • Develop a reasoned argument, synthesize relevant information and exercise critical judgement
  • Reflect on their own learning and make use of constructive feedback
  • Manage their own learning self-critically

The generic skills will be manifest in variety of activities including literature searches on the internet, research and archival training, compilation of bibliographies for essays, and the presentation of written work.

How the module will be assessed

The method(s) of assessing the learning outcomes for this module are set out in the Assessment Table, which also contains the weightings of each assessment component.


Assessment Breakdown

Type % Title Duration(hrs)
Written Assessment 25 Literature Review Essay/15 Minute Videoblog N/A
Presentation 25 Group Presentation N/A
Written Assessment 50 Comparative Essay N/A

Syllabus content

Possible topics of Lectures and Workshops: (Students to attend all lectures and workshops).

Over the two semesters a number of topics will be addressed, first through an historical lense and then through literature and film.

Lecture topics

  • The idea and history of crime in Latin America
  • Slave trade and slavery: human trafficking, forced labour and organised crime
  • Bandolerismo and revolution: patria, state and social justice
  • Borders and violence: centers, periphery and hinterlands
  • Power and corruption: taxes, poverty and democracy 
  • Drug trafficking and organised crime: production, distribution and consumption
  • Theories of crime in Latin America Culture
  • Race, gender and imprisonment
  • Police in film
  • Detective fiction
  • Representations of gender violence
  • Alternatives to prison

Further guided reading for student seminar presentations are available on Learning Central. Films will be viewed in supervised sessions and research resources made available in the Special Archives and Collections (SCOLAR) in the ASSL library

Essential Reading and Resource List


Primary Texts and Reading: Note students of Spanish will not be required to read Brazilian materials although they may write on them if they wish.

  • Martinez, Jenny S., The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • Quirk, Joel, The Anti-Slavery Project: From the Slave Trade to Human Trafficking (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).
  • Simón, Patricia, La Fuerza de los Pequeños (2015) (documentary).
  • Hobsbawm, Eric. J., Bandits (London: Abacus, 2001)
  • Taibo, Paco I. II, Pancho Villa. Una biografía narrativa (Madrid: Planeta, 2015).
  • Taibo, Paco I. II, Patria (2019) (documentary).
  • Chakraborty, Ranjani, et all., Vox Borders: The voices of children separated at the border (Vox: 2018) (short documentary).
  • Martínez, Óscar and Edu Ponces, ‘En el camino’, Periodismo Humano (2018) (documentary)
  • Harris, Johnny, Vox Borders: Why Colombia has taken in 1 million Venezuelans (Vox: 2018) (short documentary)
  • Blake, Charles H. and Stephen D. Morris, Corruption & democracy in Latin America (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009).
  • Costa, Petra, The Edge of Democracy (Netflix: 2019) (documentary).
  • Santiesteban Prats, Ángel, Dichosos los que lloran (La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 2006) (short stories) (extracts on the Learning Central)
  • Montenegro, Carlos, hombres sin mujer (Havana: CubaLiteraria, 2000) (novel)
  • Antes que anochezca Reinaldo Arenas (1991) (autobiography)
  • Estaçcão Carandiru by Drauzio Varella
  • Carandiru (film) by Héctor Babenco
  • La zona, Rodrigo Plá’s (2007) (film)
  • Quatrocentos contra um William da Silva Lima
  • Ônibus 174 by José Padilha (film)
  • Tropa de Elite (film)
  • ‘Soplo de vida’ Luis Ospina (1999) (Film)
  • Los muertos incómodos by Subcomandante Marcos and Paco Ignacio Taibo II (2005) (novel) Available online
  • Ma╠üscaras by Leonardo Padura 1997
  • Estrella distante by Roberto Bolaño (1999)
  • Sangre en el desierto: las muertas de Juárez by Alicia Gaspar de Alba (2008) (novel)
  • Bajo la sombra del guamúchil by the Colectiva hermanas en la sombra (2013) (poetry and testimonio Available on Learning Central)
  • Fiesta en la madriguera, Juan Pablo Villalobos
  • Narcos Netflix series available online
  • Pixote (Film) Hector Bebenco

Background Reading and Resource List

General and Primary Texts

  • Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff, Law and Disorder in the Postcolony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008) (introduction)
  • Foucault, Michel, and François Ewald, ‘Society Must Be Defended’: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976 (St Martins Press, 2003)
  • Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977) especially part 3 
  • Salvatore, Ricardo Donato, and Carlos Aguirre, The Birth of the Penitentiary in Latin America: Essays on Criminology, Prison Reform, and Social Control, 1830-1940 (University of Texas Press, 1996) (introduction)
  • Salvatore, Ricardo Donato, Carlos Aguirre, and Gilbert Michael Joseph, Crime and Punishment in Latin America: Law and Society Since Late Colonial Times (Duke University Press, 2001) (Introduction and chapters 12 and 14)
  • Zaffaroni, Eugenio Raúl, En busca de las penas perdidas: Deslegitimación y dogmática jurídico-penal (Editorial Temis, 1998) (introduction)
  • Franco, Jean, Cruel Modernity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2013) (introduction) –VLE

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