Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Nicholas Barnes

Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs


Nicholas Barnes was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he also attended Coe College. He then received a Master’s in Science from University College Dublin in Nationalism and Ethno-Communal Conflict and spent a year in Israel as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Nicholas is currently a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His research has been funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council’s Drugs, Security and Democracy in Latin America and the International Dissertation Research Fellowships as well as the Department of Education through the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad.


My research agenda focuses on the intersection of organized crime, violence, and politics. My first book project, tentatively titled The Politics of Violence: Gang Governance in Rio de Janeiro, examines the governance practices of drug trafficking gangs in hundreds of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas where they maintain monopolies of violence and can be considered the dominant political authority. Yet the relationships gangs develop with local communities vary considerably across Rio. In some favelas, gangs implement responsive systems of law and justice, maintain a relatively high degree of social order and provide some forms of welfare. In others, gangs implement more violent and unresponsive governing institutions while offering residents little in terms of security and public goods. Based on almost three years of field research in Rio including 18 months living in several gang-controlled favelas, the book employs participant observation data, 175 interviews with current and former gang members, community organizers, public security officials, and local politicians, as well as a longitudinal dataset on anonymous gang denunciations to account for this variation.


2016, “Crime and plural orders in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” Co-authored with Enrique Desmond Arias. Current Sociology 65(3): 448 - 465.