Violent Intermediaries and Political Order in Bangladesh

  • David Jackman
Original Article


The need for intermediaries to access resources, seek opportunities and mitigate risks has been observed in societies across the world. In poor people’s lives such actors are often violent, however why this is the case remains under examined. This article offers a response to this question from Bangladesh based on an understanding of political order. When violence is not consolidated by a central state, political order stems from balancing the interests of diverse violence specialists dispersed throughout society. In such contexts mediating access to resources can be a means by which these actors accrue power and wealth, helping explain the link between intermediation and violence. This argument is developed through an ethnographic case of labourers in a large bazar at the centre of Dhaka city. The case illuminates the dynamics of political factionalism and violent mobilization within a fractious period in Bangladesh’s recent history.


Violence State Intermediation Brokerage Labour Politics Bangladesh 



This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Numbers ES/J50015X/1 and ES/P500653/1). I would like to thank Joe Devine, Geof Wood, Mathilde Maitrot and Sam Hickey for reviewing earlier drafts of this article, as well as the guidance of anonymous reviewers.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interests

The author confirms that there is no conflict of interest


  1. Andersen, M.K. 2013. The Politics of Politics: Youth Mobilization, Aspirations and the Threat of Violence at Dhaka University. PhD Thesis, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark.Google Scholar
  2. Arias, E.D. 2017. Criminal Enterprises and Governance in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atkinson-Sheppard, S. 2015. The Gangs of Bangladesh: Exploring Organized Crime, Street Gangs and ‘Illicit Child Labourers’ in Dhaka. Criminology & Criminal Justice 16 (2): 1–17.Google Scholar
  4. Auyero, J. 2001. Poor People’s Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baiocchi, G., and B.T. Connor. 2008. The Ethos in the Polis: Political Ethnography as a Mode of Inquiry. Sociology Compass 2 (1): 139–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berenschot, W. 2010. Rioting as Maintaining Relations: Hindu-Muslim Violence and Political Mediation in Gujarat, India. Civil Wars 11 (4): 414–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berenschot, W. 2011. Everyday Mediation: The Politics of Public Service Delivery in Gujarat, India. Development and Change 41 (5): 883–905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bergman, D. 2015. Political Crisis of 2015—Analysis of Death. Bangladesh Politico blog. Retrieved 24 Feb 2015.
  9. Bierschenk, T., J. Chauveau, and J.O. de Sardan. 2002. Local Development Brokers in Africa: The Rise of a New Social Category. Working Paper 13, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität.Google Scholar
  10. Blok, A. 1974. The Mafia of a Sicilian Village. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Chatterjee, P. 2004. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Devine, J. 2002. Ethnography of a Policy Process: A Case Study of Land Redistribution in Bangladesh. Public Administration and Development 22 (5): 403–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gay, R. 1998. Rethinking Clientelism: Demands, Discourses and Practices in Contemporary Brazil. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 65: 7–24.Google Scholar
  14. Goldstein, D., and E.D. Arias. 2010. Violent Pluralism: Understanding the New Democracies of Latin America. In Violent Democracies in Latin America, ed. D. Goldstein and E.D. Arias, 1–34. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hackenbroch, K., and S. Hossain. 2012. “The Organised Encroachment of the Powerful”—Everyday Practices of Public Space and Water Supply in Dhaka. Bangladesh. Planning Theory and Practice 13 (3): 397–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hansen, T.B., and O. Verkaaik. 2009. On Everyday Mythologies in the City. Critique of Anthropology 29 (1): 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hassan, M., and S. Nazneen. 2017. Violence and the Breakdown of the Political Settlement: An Uncertain Future for Bangladesh? Conflict, Security and Development 17 (3): 205–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jackman, D. 2018. The Decline of Gangsters and the Politicization of Violence in Urban Bangladesh. Development and Change.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, H.N. 2005. Incivility: The Politics of ‘People on the Margins’ in Jamaica”. Political Studies 53: 579–597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Khan, M.I.A. 2000. Struggle for Survival: Networks and Relationships in a Bangladesh Slum. PhD thesis, University of Bath, Bath, UK.Google Scholar
  21. Khan, M.H. 2010. Political Settlements and the Governance of Growth-Enhancing Institutions. SOAS Working Paper.Google Scholar
  22. Khan, M.H. 2013. Bangladesh: Economic Growth in a Vulnerable Limited Access Order. In In the Shadow of Violence: Politics, Economics and the Problems of Development, ed. D. North, J. Wallis, S. Webb, and B. Weingast, 1–69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. LeBas, A. 2013. Violence and Urban Order in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria. Studies in Comparative International Development 48 (3): 240–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Martin, N., and L. Michelutti. 2017. Protection Rackets and Party Machines: Comparative Ethnographies of “Mafia Raj” in North India. Asian Journal of Social Science 45 (6): 693–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meehan, P., and S. Plonski. 2017. Brokering the Margins: a Review of Concepts and Methods. Working Paper No. 1. SOAS and the University of Bath.Google Scholar
  26. Michelutti, L. 2007. The Vernacularization of Democracy: Political Participation and Popular Politics in North India. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13: 639–656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. North, D., J. Wallis, and B.R. Weingast. 2009. Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Opel, A.E.A. 2000. The Social Content of Labour Markets in Dhaka Slums. Journal of International Development 12 (5): 735–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ribot, J.C., and N.L. Peluso. 2003. A Theory of Access. Rural Ethnography 68 (2): 153–181.Google Scholar
  30. Rodgers, D. 2006. Living in the Shadow of Death: Gangs, Violence and Social Order in Urban Nicaragua, 1996–2002. Journal of Latin American Studies 38 (2): 267–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ruud, A.E. 2014. The Political Bully in Bangladesh. In Patronage as Politics in South Asia, ed. A. Piliavsky, 303–325. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Scott, J.C. 1972. Patron-Client Politics and Political Change in Southeast Asia. The American Political Science Review 66 (1): 91–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stokes, S.C., T. Dunning, M. Nazareno, and V. Brusco. 2013. Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism: The Puzzle of Distributive Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Suykens, B. 2015. The Land that Disappeared: Forceful Occupation, Disputes and the Negotiation of Landlord Power in a Bangladesh Bastee. Development and Change 46 (3): 486–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Suykens, B. 2016. Segmentary Opposition, Vertical Integration and the Structure of Political Relations in Bangladesh: A Descriptive Model. Journal of Asian and African Studies 52 (8): 1141–1158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Suykens, B. 2017. The Bangladesh Party-State: A Diachronic Comparative Analysis of Party-Political Regimes. Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 55 (2): 187–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. The Daily Star. 2015. Bus Driver Hurt in Karwan Bazar Crude Bomb Blast. Accessed 10 Dec 2015.
  38. Tilly, C. 2003. The Politics of Collective Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tilly, C., and S. Tarrow. 2007. Contentious Politics. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
  40. Volkov, V. 2002. Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the Making of Russian Capitalism. New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Von Lieres, B., and Piper, L (eds.). 2014. Mediated Citizenship: The Informal Politics of Speaking for Citizens in the Global South. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  42. Wheeler, J. 2014. ‘Parallel Power’ in Rio de Janeiro: Coercive Mediators and the Fragmentation of Citizenship in the Favela. In Mediated Citizenship: The Informal Politics of Speaking for Citizens in the Global South, ed. B. Von Lieres and L. Piper, 72–89. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  43. Wolf, E. 1956. Aspects of Group Relations in a Complex Society: Mexico. American Anthropologist. New Series 58 (6): 1065–1078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wood, G. 2003. Staying Secure, Staying Poor: The “Faustian Bargain”. World Development 31 (3): 455–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wood, G. 2010. The Security of Agency: Towards a Sociology of Poverty. Paper Presented at Promoting Social Inclusion in South Asia: Policies, Pitfalls and the Analysis of Welfare/Insecurity Regimes, University of Bath.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2018

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Development StudiesSchool of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)LondonUK

Personalised recommendations