SSR-RC Blog Archive

A Complex Systems Approach to the Drug War in Mexico: Resources, Violence and Order By: Geoff Burt | Mexico | Jan 20, 2012

CIGI Researcher Michael Lawrence has published a paper at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Complexity and Innovation entitled A Complex Systems Approach to the Drug War in Mexico: Resources, Violence and Order.” While other accounts stress the chaotic turmoil of the conflict, this approach begins by examining the relationship between the violence and the formation of order. It explains the drug war as an integral part of the Mexican state’s incomplete governance transition from decades of patronage and authoritarianism towards free market democracy and the rule of law. It also argues that Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are constructing nascent patterns of criminal order spanning multiple spheres of social relations. Framed this way, the paper analyzes the drug war in Mexico as a conflict between two different systems of resource extraction struggling to construct rival patterns of social order. It then draws on thermodynamics and the complex adaptive systems literature to compare the abilities of the drug trade and the Mexican state to convert available resources into favourable patterns of social organization. The paper outlines the ways in which the different natures of their respective resource bases favour distinct ‘styles’ of social order creation, with different levels of adaptability and resilience. Rather than focus on particular DTOs or kingpins, it then adopts a system-level analysis to explore the ways in which these different characteristics affect the dynamics of the violence today. The paper ultimately argues that the differing natures of the state and the drug trade as systems of resource extraction constrain their respective abilities to create organization, and that these differences advantage the drug trade. The conclusion considers the implications of this approach for policy and for the development of a new ‘security as resilience’ paradigm.

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