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Unlawful Violence
Mexican Law and Cultural Production

Author(s): Rebecca Janzen

Violence has only increased in Mexico since 2000: 23,000 murders were recorded in 2016, and 29,168 in 2017.

The abundance of laws and constitutional amendments that have cropped up in response are mirrored in Mexico's fragmented cultural production of the same period. Contemporary Mexican literature grapples with this splintered reality through non-linear stories from multiple perspectives, often told through shifts in time. The novels, such as Jorge Volpi's Una novela criminal [A Novel Crime] (2018) and Julián Herbert's La casa del dolor ajeno [The House of the Pain of Others] (2015) take multiple perspectives and follow non-linear plotlines; other examples, such as the very short stories in ¡Basta! 100 mujeres contra la violencia de género [Enough! 100 Women against Gender-Based Violence] (2013), also present multiple perspectives.

Few scholars compare cultural production and legal texts in situations like Mexico, where extreme violence coexists with a high number of human rights laws. Unlawful Violence measures fictional accounts of human rights against new laws that include constitutional amendments to reform legal proceedings, laws that protect children, laws that condemn violence against women, and laws that protect migrants and Indigenous peoples. It also explores debates about these laws in the Mexican house of representatives and senate, as well as interactions between the law and the Mexican public.

Biography of Author(s)


  • "This book is very ambitious in scope. From a novel (Volpi's Una novela criminal) to documentaries, children's rights, and migration, Janzen traces a country in struggle to find a symbolic meaning after neoliberalism—what we could call post-sovereignty. It is a very sharp reading of reality through cultural materialities."
    Pedro Ángel Palou García, author of Mestizo Failure(s): Race, Film, and Literature in Twentieth-Century Mexico
  • "This is a brilliant and original monograph that has considerable potential to shift how scholars think about texts in general and in the relationship between state-produced texts and literary responses to these in Mexico."
    Niamh Thornton, author of Tastemakers and Tastemaking: Mexico and Curated Screen Violence