This essay examines a period of crisis in the national penitentiary system in Honduras, during emergency campaigns designed to combat transnational gangs, called maras. Emergency laws led to the incarceration of mara members by the thousands, overcrowding prisons and overburdening their already precarious architecture and design. I explore the ideological and material ruins of incarceration, wherein irregular bodies of sovereign force (death squads legitimized by emergency) and new expressions of criminal community (maras) offer divergent incarnations of political power. The essay’s title phrase, “gothic sovereignty,” invokes this perennial reemergence of death squads from the crypts of state power and the criminal aesthetics cultivated within the prison itself, as the maras reclaim sovereign power at the scale of the community. After several massacres targeting mara members in state penitentiaries, the intensified decoration of gang members’ bodies with tattoos of devils, clowns, and satanic symbols thrust the grammar of protest in Honduran politics to a limit where the architecture of confinement became a laboratory for criminal affects and political horizons projecting beyond the sociopolitical dimensions of the nation-state in crisis.
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Jon Horne Carter; Gothic Sovereignty: Gangs and Criminal Community in a Honduran Prison. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2014; 113 (3): 475–502. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2692155
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