Reported threats: The routinization of violence in Central America

Susan Berk-Seligson and Mitchell A. Seligson

Abstract

This study offers new insights into the complex and underexplored nature of reported threats. Combining the theoretical framework of speech act analysis with the concept of reported speech, the study finds six categories of reported threats, uncovering ones that have been overlooked by existing scholarship thus far. The texts presented are derived from audio-recordings of 847 interviews carried out in four Central American countries: El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama between 2010 and 2014. References to threats and threat narratives came from school teachers, community leaders, police officers, clergy, and members of municipal violence prevention committees. The interpretation of indirect and implicit threats are made in the social context of communities under siege, that is, under constant attack by local gangs, many of whom are connected to national gangs and international narcotrafficking cartels. The credibility of the different types of threats is evaluated, using Goffman’s (1981) insight into the complexity of speaker roles in face-to-face interaction.

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