Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Bogotá, Colombia, this project offers a critical perspective on how the politics of security and the government of risk shape contemporary cities and urban life.

Security has taken hold as a preeminent concern for cities amidst a global trend of forecasting future threats. Along with the belief that the world has entered an age of uncertainty comes a new political imperative: to govern the present in anticipation of future harm. The project examines this imperative, and in particular its consequences for cities and for those who live in them. Based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in Bogotá, Colombia, it analyses the everyday workings of the state to protect the lives of poor and vulnerable urban citizens from a range of threats, from environmental hazards to political violence. By following the governmental agencies charged with this mandate as well as those governed by it, this project reveals what happens when security and risk become dominant logics of engagement between urban citizens and the state. Along the way, it revisits key paradigms of social and urban thought, in particular those centered on the link between security, risk, liberal governance, and the modern city. The self-built settlements of Bogotá’s urban periphery are a critical location from which to shed new light on predicaments of both global and local importance. Ultimately, this research offers fresh perspectives on Colombia’s long-running struggle with conflict and violence interwoven with critical insights into the increasing influence of security and risk on contemporary cities and urban life.

Project period: 2006 to 2015

Funding: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Fulbright U.S. Student Grant, National Science Foundation, Stanford University.

Related publications:

  • (Forthcoming) Endangered City: The Politics of Security and Risk in Bogotá. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • (Forthcoming) “Adaptive Publics: The Politics of Climate Change in Bogotá.” Public Culture.
  • (Forthcoming) “Prognosis Past: The Temporal Politics of Disaster in Colombia.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
  • (2015) “Spaces of Uncertainty: Governing Urban Environmental Hazards.” In Modes of Uncertainty: Anthropological Cases, edited by Limor Samimian-Darash and Paul Rabinow, 182-200. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • (2015) “Uncertainty and Urban Life.” Public Culture 27 (2): 281–304 (lead author; co-written with Sobia Ahmad Kaker, Jonathan Silver, and Astrid Wood).
  • (2014) “For Bogotá’s desplazados, living in a high-risk zone is a very mixed blessing.” The Guardian, 28 March.
  • (2013) “El Cartucho ist verschwunden” (“The Disappearance of El Cartucho”). le Monde diplomatique (French newspaper, German edition), No. 14, 83-85.
  • (2013) “Securing Bogotá.” openDemocracy, Cities in Conflict series, 14 February.
  • (2013) “Living Dangerously: Biopolitics and Urban Citizenship in Bogotá, Colombia.” American Ethnologist 40 (1):71-87.
  • (2012) “On Shaky Ground: The Making of Risk in Bogotá.” Environment and Planning A 44 (7):1570-1588.