The logic of violence in the Mexican Drug War

Most studies on violence employed by criminal groups are based upon the idea that illegal business, much like legal companies, benefit from the stability, certainty, and freedom that can be found in peaceful locations. Because violence generates mistrust, makes trade more costly, and draws the attention of the police, it is usually assumed that criminals will attempt to minimize their use of violence. Thus, while many studies seek to explain violence in the underworld, such studies almost always assume that for criminals, violence remains a last resort, and therefore should not occur frequently. Existing studies, however, do not tell us much about how criminal organizations and the individuals who work for them determine when and how to employ violence, or how they adapt their use of violence to different situations. Indeed, since violence by organized crime is expected to be uncommon and covert, little research explores cases where such violence becomes both commonplace and overt. In Mexico, for example, the drug cartels have essentially become armies engaged in a full-scale war against one another, and often against the state itself. Thus, the case of Mexico is unusual and requires investigation.

Faculty Supervisor:

Matthew Light


Luis Valentin Pereda Aguado






University of Toronto


Globalink Research Award

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