City of Suspects

Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931

City of Suspects

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 7 b&w photographs, 17 tables, 1 map, 1 figure Published: September 2001

Author: Pablo Piccato

History > Latin American History, Law > Legal History, Sociology > Urban Studies

In City of Suspects Pablo Piccato explores the multiple dimensions of crime in early-twentieth-century Mexico City. Basing his research on previously untapped judicial sources, prisoners’ letters, criminological studies, quantitative data, newspapers, and political archives, Piccato examines the paradoxes of repressive policies toward crime, the impact of social rebellion on patterns of common crime, and the role of urban communities in dealing with transgression on the margins of the judical system.
By investigating postrevolutionary examples of corruption and organized crime, Piccato shines light on the historical foundations of a social problem that remains the main concern of Mexico City today. Emphasizing the social construction of crime and the way it was interpreted within the moral economy of the urban poor, he describes the capital city during the early twentieth century as a contested territory in which a growing population of urban poor had to negotiate the use of public spaces with more powerful citizens and the police. Probing official discourse on deviance, Piccato reveals how the nineteenth-century rise of positivist criminology—which asserted that criminals could be readily distinguished from the normal population based on psychological and physical traits—was used to lend scientific legitimacy to class stratifications and to criminalize working-class culture. Furthermore, he argues, the authorities’ emphasis on punishment, isolation, and stigmatization effectively created cadres of professional criminals, reshaping crime into a more dangerous problem for all inhabitants of the capital.
This unique investigation into crime in Mexico City will interest Latin Americanists, sociologists, and historians of twentieth-century Mexican history.


City of Suspects is a nuanced and vivid reconstruction of ‘the texture of crime as experienced in everyday life’ in Mexico City between 1900 and 1931. . . . It would be impossible to do justice, in this short review, to the richness of the materials and the complexity of the arguments presented in City of Suspects. . . . Besides highlighting the cultural and political contents behind representations of crime, and the class biases of the criminal justice system, Piccato’s book also succeeds in bringing back to the discussion of these issues the impact of those collectivities he chose to call ‘urban communities.’ . . . This integration of the community as a central element in the analysis of the social impact of crime is indeed one of the main virtues of this extremely valuable contribution to the history of crime in Latin America that deserves wide readership and discussion by scholars of Latin America and beyond.” — Carlos Aguirre , Punishment and Society

“Based on previously untapped judicial sources, prisoners’ letters, criminological studies, quantitative data, newspapers, and political archives crime, City of Suspects explores the multiple dimensions of crime in early 20th-century Mexico City.” — Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

“Piccato’s work is timely and presents exemplary cultural history.” — Víctor M. Macîas-Gonzâlez , History: Reviews of New Books

"City of Suspects is analytically innovative, magnificently researched, and full of fascinating cases that bring the reader inside the homes, minds, and hearts of the urban poor. . . . Piccato does not sensationalize crime nor glorify violence, but narrates countless colorful and fascinating cases that glue readers’ eyes to the pages and offer deep insights into the cultural and social meanings of crime and violence for those more directly involved—the offenders, victims, and neighbors. . . . [I]mpressive research, useful analysis, and intriguing stories. . . . City of Suspects is an important book and should be widely read and discussed." — Gregory S. Crider , Hispanic American Historical Review

"City of Suspects reads well . . . [and] successfully invites the reader into the complex climate that shaped popular and elite perspectives on crime in turn-of-the-century Mexico City." — Katherine Elaine Bliss , Law and History Review

"[A] strong contribution to the growing field of Latin American legal history." — Jonathan D. Ablard , New Mexico Historical Review

"[A]n admirable demonstration of the emergence of a dichotomous mind set. . . . Using a rich array of primary sources Pablo Picatto has taken great pains to separate or deconstruct the strands of what has come to define the 'chilango' stereotype." — F. Arturo Rosales , Red River Valley Historical Journal

"[R]emarkable. Piccato's gifts as a historian are revealed best in his close and detailed discussions of individual cases or clusters of related cases. . . . This is among the very best works published on the history of crime and policing in Latin America and is also a significant contribution to the history of Mexico City. The discussions of popular culture, masculine concepts of honor, and crime against women are among the best I have read." — Lyman Johnson , Journal of Social History

"In his thoughtful examination of early twentieth-century Mexico City, Piccato also provides us with an exceptional vision of the capital." — Patience A. Schell , Journal of Latin American Studies

"There is much in this book worth pondering. . . . [T]he author’s originality in his approach to crime both fascinates and challenges the reader." — Paul J. Vanderwood , American Historical Review

City of Suspects offers a perceptive and original analysis of crime and punishment in early twentieth-century Mexico City. Spanning the authoritarian twilight of the Porfiriato, the violent catharsis of the Revolution,and the flawed social reformism of the 1920s, it roams the streets and households, barrios and penitentiaries of the city,exploring changing state policy and social mores, while illuminating concerns—crime, policing, moral panics—which are as relevant today as they were a century ago.” — Alan Knight, Oxford University

“An important, accessible book on a difficult and significant subject. City of Suspects will be warmly appreciated by historians of modern Mexico and historically-minded sociologists and political scientists who sympathize with Piccato’s ambition to keep crime and the state within the same field of inquiry.” — William B. Taylor, University of California, Berkeley


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pablo Piccato is Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

I. The Context 13

1. The Modern City 17

2. The Policed City 34

3. The Construction of Mexican Criminology 50

II. The Practices 73

4. Honor and Violent Crime 77

5. Violence Against Women 103

6. Money, Crime, and Social Reactions to Larceny 132

III. The Consequences 161

7. The Invention of Rateros 163

8. Penal Experience in Mexico City 189

Conclusions: Crime Contested 211

Appendix: Statistics of Crime 221

Notes 237

Bibliography 319

Index 349
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2747-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2750-9
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