Recent social science research analyzes how armed non-state actors govern territories, populations, and economies. Much of this research focuses on rebel and paramilitary groups in wartime settings (Arjona 2016; Mampilly 2012; Metelits 2009; Revkin 2020). But there is also an exciting and growing literature focused primarily – though not exclusively – on Latin America. The emphasis on Latin America in the criminal governance literature likely reflects the empirical reality of a region that is the most violent in the world and where diverse criminal organizations operate illicit economies, control territory, and challenge and distort state institutions. Scholars of criminal governance concur that armed criminal organizations engage in diverse forms of governance that shape political subjectivity, democratic rule, and economic development (Arias 2017; Barnes 2017; Lessing 2020).
Although these two forms of non-state governance share important points of overlap, they also diverge along multiple dimensions (Kalyvas 2015). However, this has not prevented scholars working on these topics from either overlooking relevant insights from the other or drawing on such insights without carefully reflecting on their portability to different empirical contexts. We have reached an important moment in the existing studies where we need to interrogate how these research agendas can inform each other and, more broadly, for the social sciences to develop a clearer conceptual and theoretical foundation in studying non-state armed governance (NSAG) in general. Collectively advancing analytic and substantive insights into a phenomenon that shapes the everyday lives of millions across the Americas and beyond will require greater debate and dialogue between scholars working across these issues.