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Chris Garces

Assistant Professor

Chris Garces


Scholarly Interests:  

Carceral Geographies  |  Humanitarianism  |  Contemporary Prisons  |  Spanish American Monasteries  |  Saintly Ethics  |  Political Theology  |  Colonial and Postcolonial History  |  Critical Race Theory  |  Ethnographic and Archive Research Methods  |  Ecuador  |  Latin America |  United States

Short Bio:

I consider myself an urban political anthropologist and interdisciplinary scholar with field specialization in Andean Latin America.  Almost all my ethnographic work explores interconnections between state politics and Catholic activism in Ecuador.  However, this abiding interest in politico-theological struggle has also led me to research and publish on diverse political processes and ethical problems across the Andes, Western Europe, and the United States.  


(A) Humanitarian Politics

The ethnography I am currently finishing, Saintly Ethics: Political Lives of Charity and 'the Enemy' in Ecuador, considers how Catholic humanitarian sympathies and affects shifted across Ecuador’s 19th and 20th centuries, when this small Andean country became a regional paragon of capital extraction and Catholic hospitality. Drawing on archive research and fieldwork in the clinics, orphanages, schools, prisons, shelters, and streets of Guayaquil, my ethnography tracks how parish-based priests and laypersons incorporated expert labor and biomedical knowledge within their pastoral work—revitalizing the traditional Catholic injunction to care for the poor.  In the modern Ecuadorian state, Catholic charity becomes inseparable from “saintly ethics,” or acts of personal sacrifice that are “good to do, but not bad not to do”.  In my ethnography, however, I read Ecuadorian accounts of local or nationally recognized saints against the grain to critique how hagiographic discourses also help to produce the figure of the enemy.  This allows me to analyze how the Life of the Saint--whether "religious" or "secular"-- becomes part and parcel of state biopolitical formations beyond civil or human rights.

(B) Contemporary Carcerality

I am also preparing a second book project, Through the Prison Threshold, which analyzes penal state developments in Guayaquil, Ecuador, against the broader backdrop of the hemispheric war on drugs and new carceral technologies.  This work examines the Ecuadorian state’s haphazard implementation of neoliberal and, more recently, neo-socialist criminal justice reforms, in order to confront intransigent problems of prison overcrowding, indefinite pre-trial detention, normalized guard-inmate collusion, and the latent violence of experimenting with inmate custody.  Focusing especially on religious responses to carceral crises, the manuscript contributes to a critical anthropology of security in the contemporary world.  I have published a number of essays as part of this broader work, analyzing "zero tolerance" policing in schemes of urban renewal (2004); successful religious protests in prison (2010); informal prison dynamics (2013) and outlaw religions born of normalized carceral experience (forthcoming); the state’s implementation of "supermax" security facilities to segregate "dangerous" inmates in conditions of punitive reclusion (2014); and the rapid growth of the religious NGO as both an instrument of prison reform as well as a non-reformist spur to identification with prisoners as moral subjects (forthcoming). 

(C) Odds and Ends

In addition to these larger projects, I have been researching and writing (i.) on the secularized Protestant charisma of public assemblies in the Occupy Wall Street movement, (ii.) on the global expansion of security checkpoint technology as a spectral mode of population governance, and (iii.) on the emergence of Andean colonial-era saints of color, and what they signaled for early modern notions of political agency, or "licencia," in Spanish Peru.


I presently teach classes on “Christianity and Global Politics,” “Inter-war Anthropologies,” “Prison Worlds,” “Anthropology of Sacrifice,” "Ethics and Nonhumans," and “The New Latin American State”.

Access to Publications:

Examples of my scholarship can be browsed or downloaded at



  • Anthropology
  • Religious Studies Program

Graduate Fields

  • Anthropology
  • Latin American Studies


Peer Reviewed Articles

2014 Abstracting the Checkpoint: American Dream-lives and Security Nightmares. Journal of Postcolonial Writing 50(1):31-44.

2014 American Race & Charismatic License: Finding Martín de Porres in Obama. Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 97(3):376-384.

2014 Denuding Surveillance at the Carceral Boundary. South Atlantic Quarterly 113(3):447-473.

2014 Ecuador’s ‘Black Site’: On Prison Securitization and its Zones of Legal Silence. Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 68:18-34.

2013 People’s Mic & Democratic Charisma: Occupy Wall Street’s Frontier Assemblies. Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 66:88-102.

2013 “Informal Prison Dynamics in Africa and Latin America” (with Tomas Martin and Sacha Darke). Criminal Justice Matters 91(1):26-27.

2011 El Poder de la Pólvora: Apuntes Sobre la Paramilitarización. Urvio: Revista Latinoamericana de la Seguridad Ciudadana 10(3):123-133.

2011 Occupy Wall Street, Open Ethnography, and the Uncivilized Slot. iNtergraph: The Journal of Dialogic Anthropology 3(2).

2010 The Cross Politics of Ecuador’s Penal State. Cultural Anthropology 25(3):459-496.

2009 Mauss Redux: From Warfare's Human Toll to L'homme Total (with Alex Jones). Anthropological Quarterly 82(1):279-309.

2007 The Ethical Turn… to Saintliness? An Ethnographic Challenge. Anthropology and Humanism 32(2):213-217.

2004 Exclusión Constitutiva: las ‘organizaciones pantalla’ y lo anti-social en la renovación urbana de Guayaquil. Iconos: Revista de Ciencias Sociales 20:53-63.


2014 The Interspecies Logic of 'Race' in Colonial Peru: San Martín de Porres' Animal Brotherhood. In Sainthood and Race: Marked Flesh, Holy Flesh. Molly H. Bassett and Vincent W. Lloyd, eds. Pp. 82-101. New York: Routledge U.P.

2006 Saints and Saintliness. In Iberia and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Michael Francis, ed. Pp 909-914. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Press.