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Tue, 02 Feb



Casting the First Stone: Understanding Attitudes towards Extralegal Violence in Brazil

David Skarbek, Associate Professor of Political Science, Brown University and Danilo Freire, Independent Researcher

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Date & Location

02 Feb 2021, 16:00 – 17:00 GMT



Casting the First Stone: Understanding Attitudes towards Extralegal Violence in Brazil

Why do citizens support extrajudicial violence? While endorsement of vigilantism has significantly fallen in advanced democracies, lynchings remain tolerated throughout much of the developing world. In this paper, we conduct three survey experiments to investigate (i) which criminal profiles citizens prefer for extralegal punishment,  (ii) how individuals justify mob violence, and (iii) whether providing information reduces support for vigilantism. First, we run a conjoint experiment to identify criminal characteristics that are associated with a higher likelihood of lynching. In our second experiment, we show respondents a short article about a real lynching episode and ask them whether they see the mob’s motivations as legitimate. Lastly, we test whether providing information about the legal consequences of lynching, human rights guarantees, and the risk of retribution makes respondents less likely to endorse extralegal violence. We run the experiments (n = 2,400) in Brazil, a country which has seen a sharp rise in vigilante attacks and currently experiences about one lynching attempt per day.

This paper is co-authored by Danilo Freire and David Skarbek

David Skarbek, Associate Professor of Political Science, Brown University 

David Skarbek is Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University. His research examines how extralegal governance institutions form, operate, and evolve. He has published extensively on the informal institutions that govern life in prisons in California and around the globe. His work has appeared in leading journals in political science, economics, and criminology, including in the American Political Science Review, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Journal of Law, Economics & Organization, and Journal of Criminal Justice. His book, The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System (Oxford University Press), received the American Political Science Association’s 2016 William H. Riker Award for the best book in political economy in the previous three years. It was also awarded the 2014 Best Publication Award from the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime and was shortlisted for the British Sociological Association’s 2014 Ethnography Award. His work has been featured widely in national and international media outlets, such as the Atlantic, BBC, Business Insider, the Economist, Forbes, the Independent, and the Times.

Danilo Freire, Independent Researcher

Danilo Freire is a political scientist and data analyst based in São Paulo, Brazil. He holds a PhD in Political Economy from King's College London, a Master's Degree in International Relations from the Graduate Institute Geneva, and is a former postdoctoral research associate in The Political Theory Project at Brown University. His research focuses on understanding how developing countries solve problems of collective action and political violence. Danilo is particularly interested in public services provision, vertical and horizontal accountability, state violence, and private governance. Empirically, he has a regional focus on Latin America and leverages an array of methods and data, such as experiments and quasi-experiments, machine learning algorithms, online surveys, and administrative records.


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