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Dr Graham Denyer Willis

Dr Graham Denyer Willis

Senior Lecturer, Centre of Development Studies and Centre of Latin American Studies

B.A. (Toronto), M.A. (Royal Roads), Ph.D. (MIT)

Currently not taking PhD students


Graham Denyer Willis is Senior Lecturer in Development and Latin American Studies in the Department of Politics and International Studies. His research and teaching is concerned with the practices and assumptions of power, as they work through cities and informality. He approaches these questions ethnographically from historical and contemporary Brazil, to question how direct and indirect forms of violence and killing matter in the production and maintenance of political authority. His first book, The Killing Consensus: Police, Organised Crime and the Regulation of Life of Death in Urban Brazil (California, 2015), examines how homicide detectives in São Paulo encounter and negotiate the violent practices of police, organised crime and death squads in this city. Related work has been published or is forthcoming in Comparative Studies in Society and History, World Development, the American Political Science Review, and the Latin American Research Review, among othersHe has also written for the New York Times and the Boston Review. He is joint Editor of the Journal of Latin American Studies. He is completing his second book manuscript, Politics Gone Missing, which examines how ‘missing’ people -22,000 per year in São Paulo, on average- now operate in the mundane production of power, leaving, in part, material vestiges in the form of ‘uncertified’ or clandestine cemeteries.

Research Interests

Graham's research deals with questions of security, development and democracy in cities of the Global South, with a focus on Latin America. Graham's work crosses a number of theoretical lines to ask questions about the proliferation of violence in cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  With the rise of grassroots security institutions like gangs, organized crime groups, community patrols and para-state militias, Graham's research tracks the ways that states are adapting, coping and/or managing with what are apparently distinct forms of 'sovereign' violence. Graham has undertaken a number of projects within this larger research agenda, including a multi-year ethnographic study of the work of homicide and other detectives in Sao Paulo. His work has been funded by a number of sources including the Social Science Research Council and the Open Societies Foundations, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Centre for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Graham teaches Paper 5, Cities and Development, for the MPhil in Development Studies. He also contributes to the Core Course of the Centre of Latin American Studies (CLAS) and will teach a module at CLAS in future years.

Key Publications

Denyer Willis, Graham. (Forthcoming in 2015). The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.
(Awarded 2014 Best Dissertation, Brazil Section, Latin American Studies Association and Honorable Mention, Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT.) 
Denyer Willis, Graham and Mariana Mota Prado. (2014). Of Process and Pattern: The Police Pacification Units in Brazil as an Institutional Bypass Reform. World Development, 64, 232-242.
Denyer Willis, Graham. (2014). Antagonistic Authorities and the Civil Police in São Paulo, Brazil. Latin American Research Review, 49(1), 3-22.
Davis, Diane E. and Graham Denyer Willis (2011). Anti-Crime Social Movements in Latin America. In: Snow, David A., Donatella Della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam (Eds.) Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford.
Denyer Willis, Graham. (2009). Deadly Symbiosis? The PCC, the State and the Institutionalization of Violence in São Paulo. In: Rodgers, Dennis and Gareth A. Jones. Youth Violence in Latin America. New York: Palgrave, p. 168-181.
Selected Policy and Media
The Gun Library.  (Apr. 14, 2014). Boston Review.
What Happens What Governments Negotiate with Criminals. (Oct. 30, 2013). Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
Uncovering Sao Paulo's Blood Feud.  (Dec. 10, 2012). The Stream. Al Jazeera.
What’s Killing Brazil’s Police? (Dec. 2, 2012). New York Times Sunday Review.

Legitimacy in Criminal Governance: Managing a Drug Empire from Behind Bars (Feb. 22, 2019) American Political Science Review

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