Bandits – Call for papers



Call for papers for the journal Terrain

Issue coordinated by Lucia Michelutti and David Picherit

From Pablo Escobar to Phoolan Devi, expansive myths of contemporary “social bandits” have grown up, often transmitted by digital contemporary medias. These myths celebrate bandits/gangsters/revolutionaries and mafia-don-cum-politicians, whether dead or alive, and are often scripted instantly and spread through innovative and in situ transcultural bricolages of traditional epics, videos, photos, texts, music, apps and video games.

Crucially in the current uncertain political economies these “new” bandits are also increasingly becoming popular models of authority. They have become objects of fear, admiration and fantasy; as such they are often granted with extraordinary qualities, with charisma and sometimes even with divine origins; some are portrayed as Robin Hoods, some as Mafiosi; some get “democratically” elected. For the authorities some are considered as “criminals” or “terrorists” others as “revolutionaries”. Despite the proliferation of such forms of authority as of today we know precious little about the logics of temporalities of the mythologies that sustain such individuals and even less about their effects on the production of power, sovereignty and legitimacy beyond and within the modern state.

According to Hobsbawm, the “social bandit” was a noble outlaw, embodying the virtues of Robin Hood by taking from the rich and giving to the poor and to be found historically all over the world. “Social bandits” expressed popular discontent and were often regarded as heroes and considered different from thieves, organized gangs and/or Mafiosi. This understanding of “social banditry” has been criticised for being too focused on popular legends and not enough on “living” bandits- Mafiosi’ violent and extortionist practices and their collaboration with the State/authorities.

Going beyond these debates and importantly the distinction between material realities, History and fiction, this special issue aims to explore processes of mythologisation in action and in relation to the de facto practices of bandits in today’s violent political economies. We will ask:

  • How do bandits (more or less “social”) shape their own myth during their lives?
  • What are the power struggles and the battles for sovereignty that shape such myths?
  • Who does become a hero (and/or a demi-god) and who does not?
  • How are the myths of contemporary “social bandits” related to today’s violent political economies?
  • Are the classic figures of “the social bandit” and “the Robin Hood” still central to the production of globalised outlaw heroes?
  • What is the role of contemporary anti-corruption movements and linear “good governance” transparency agenda in shaping bandit myth scripting?
  • How and why is the contemporary figure of the bandit mobilised by political, business and environmental organisations?

It follows that the centrepiece of this special issue will be the figure of the bandit bricolee. Contributors are asked to document ethnographically varieties of bricolages: by “the bandits” themselves and by a multitude of scripters during and after “bandits” lives. Scripters may include film directors, crime reporters, novelists, you-tubers, religious leaders, political parties, police officers, businessmen, singers and artists and community leaders.

Aside from standard academic articles (8000 words), the issue will also include “portfolios” – short essays built around a collection of images – and “narratives” (4000 words) – descriptive vignettes of encounters, based on archival or ethnographic material.

If you would like to contribute, please submit a title and 300 words abstract by September 15th 2019 to the editors of Terrain:

Submission deadline for articles: December 1st 2019.


HOBSBAWM ERIC, 2001 [1969]. Bandits, London, Abacus.
MALI JOSEPH,1992. The Rehabilitation of Myth. Vico’s New Science, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. MICHELUTTI LUCIA, ASHRAF HOQUE, NICOLAS MARTIN, DAVID PICHERIT, PAUL ROLLIER, ARILD RUUD & CLARINDA STILL, 2018. Mafia Raj. The Rule of Bosses in South Asia, Stanford, Stanford University Press.
PINE JASON, 2012. The Art of Making Do in Naples, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
RAFAEL VICENTE L. (dir.), 1999. Figures of criminality in Indonesia, the Philippines, and colonial Vietnam, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
SIDEL JOHN, 1999. Capital, Coercion, and Crime. Bossism in the Philippines, Stanford, Stanford University Press.
RIVKE JAFFE & MARTIJN OOSTERBAAN (dir.), 2019. Most Wanted. The Popular Culture of Illegality, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press.

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