PhD Project

The Making of a Sicario Class: Youth Mobilisation into the Mexican Criminal War (2007-2020)


In 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed the Mexican Army into southern Mexico streets to dismantle criminal drug trafficking organisations. Since then, homicide rates have escalated from 8 to 25 homicides per 100 thousand inhabitants, according to the National Institute of Statistics in Mexico. A broad academic debate has taken place to understand this conflict. This thesis asks why do young men decide to join deathly activities in the context of widespread conflict? This research addresses the current gap in the mobilisation question.

This research argues that this mobilisation happened in the Mexican regions connected to international drug trafficking with a significant share of young men labour ready to join the conflict. These young men experienced low social mobility and were employed in agricultural and informal occupations with relatively low salaries. Criminal organisations in Mexico aimed to recruit these young, marginalised men to have enough violent workforce to confront the military’s deployment by the Mexican government. This process happened in a relatively weak state prone to corruption and with the presence of illegal guns flowing from the deregulated firearms market in the United States.

To demonstrate this argument, this research approaches the subject by testing the divergences and convergences in diverse research fields in sociology, political science, and criminology regarding violent crime and conflict with the case of the Mexican Criminal War case using a mixed-methods approach. This thesis uses novel databases on inmates and homicide victims and will conduct focus groups and oral stories of young men students, ex-convicts, and juvenile detainees. This study aims to draft a middle ground theory of mobilisation into criminal wars and mercenary armies’ class-formation from a political economy perspective