Alchemists against Crime: Lima's Intellectuals and the Construction of Criminality in the Liberal Era

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:50 AM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Luz E. Huertas, Texas Christian University
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, crime became a popular topic for Peruvian intellectuals. The state’s modernizing project and the spread of European theories and technologies of control provided intellectuals with a new vocabulary to discuss an old and recurrent theme: deviancy. These scholars’ interpretations of crime reflected academic curiosity, moral sensibility, and personal interests and, more importantly, resulted from a historical context marked by two processes. The first process, the transformation of Lima, was a consequence of high levels of migration, the rise of new middle and lower classes, and the development of new forms of political organization. The second process, a higher professionalization of the upper and middle classes made possible the rise of a specialized professional community and created a means to enhance social status.

Criminologists and other specialists on crime emerged as a distinct community in this context. Their studies stressed the existence of a series of menaces against the progress and safety of the city and its dwellers. Sometimes these menaces referred to potential dangers, and other times they took the shape of a crisis unchained by the “constant” increase of Lima’s criminality. A “potential” wave of crime made logical the need of a moral crusade, which ultimately helped to legitimize criminologists as professionals and criminology as a science of control. Criminologists, then, portrayed themselves as the only professionals qualified to prevent crime. These intellectuals’ self-promotion as indispensable control agents should be understood taking into consideration that they belonged to a network that connected the San Marcos University of Lima with the main governmental institutions of Peru.