Monopoly on violence in Mexico

By Lauren Wessel

Among social scientist, Tilly’s theory that “war makes states, and state maker war”, is very dominant in the state making theory in Europe. Tilly defines states as having a monopoly on violence. When one applies this theory outside Europe, it seems as if states do not always have a legitimate monopoly on violence. Can these states be seen as failed states?

In Latin America, there are organized crime groups that control specific territories. In these territories, they have the monopoly on violence, and can thus according to Tilly’s definition of a state be considered “states-within-states”. A lot of these groups are involved in drug trafficking, and their territories are appropriately called “narcostates". For instance, in Mexico, Culiacan, the Sinaloa Cartel is very active. It does not only have a monopoly on violence, but the influence of the cartel goes deep, as the area’s economy is dependent upon the income of the cartel. This is because cartels are able to influence state (and non-state) actors through intimidation or bribery. In some instances, the state has even made deals with cartels about drug-trafficking to ensure that the drug-related violence would not get out of control. Although these cartels do have some influence on a national level, the cartels are not able to exercise the same level of influence as they have locally, nationally. Therefore, Mexico is rather a state with failed cities, in which they do not have a monopoly on violence.

There are several ways to see whether Tilly’s definition of a state applies to Mexico. Either, the Mexican State is still in the state-building process, and has yet to reach its monopoly on violence; on the other hand, Mexico can be seen as a state with failed cities, in which it can only ensure a monopoly on violence indirectly by cooperating with other drug cartels. 

Facebook algorithm: a virtual creation of Gladwell’s Tipping Point Theory

By Lauren Wessel

Aware of all the beauty the world has to offer, I often find myself sitting behind my laptop, scrolling through Facebook. Sometimes, my entire timeline seems to be in the grip of something. This can range from topics like the Paris attacks, to people hyping over this white and gold (or is it black and blue?) dress that kept the community busy for a solid 24hs. In his book “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell explains that certain messages can be spread as epidemics, which are determined by “The Three Rules of Epidemics": The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. It seems as if Facebook has exactly included these characteristics in its algorithm to ensure that a post goes viral.

Facebook, instead of randomly picking posts from your (probably way too extensive) friend list, has designed an algorithm that determines what and who is visible on your timeline. This is a very complex algorithm, but it comes down to these variables: the interest of the user in the creator, the performance of the post among other users, how popular the creator has been amongst other users, the type of post the user prefers, and the recency of the post.

The success a post is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts, which Malcolm describes as Law of the Few. Furthermore, the content of a post weighs heavily, which resembles the Stickiness Factor. If a post is usually interesting to the user, it will appear sooner. Furthermore, the Power of Context is important. It could be that a post has all it takes, but is overshadowed by other things that are posted at exact the same moment.

Facebook’s algorithm is complicated, and cannot be explained in one blog post. However, it should be clear that like Malcolm’s Tipping Point, popular posts do not go viral on accident: it is a combination of all these variables that allows Facebook’s algorithm to spread these posts like epidemics.

Choir practice

By Lauren Wessel

Pierson argues examining temporal processes help explain fundamental social mechanisms. However, after readings these texts, I noticed that many things in my personal life could be explained through path dependence too.  

On a drizzling Sunday morning during choir practice, I was dreaming away in my sheet music whilst listening to solo auditions. This led me wonder: why are always the same people auditioning? In my choir, choristers start when they’re about 10, and get assigned to the alto or soprano section. The development of your voice has “increasing returns” over time, meaning that once your voice develops as an alto, it becomes increasingly difficult to switch to the soprano section. Most solos were for the sopranos, which resulted in the same people getting chosen every time. These people were used to getting solos, so the risks of choosing someone else, got greater over time.

However, once at dress rehearsal, half of the choir was missing due to a flu epidemic. This left the conductor with a choice: hoping the usual solo singers would get better before the concert, or holding open auditions. The latter option turned out to be a good one as great solo singers were discovered. Afterwards, the conductor introduced open auditions to give all choristers equal opportunities. This did, however, not have the desired effects. Mahoney points out that after a critical juncture, the relative benefits of maintaining the status quo increase over time. The people that seized the opportunity to audition right after the introduction of the open auditions, became better at auditioning for solos, and thus solo performances, as they had more experience than the other. This has now resulted in equilibrium again, where a select group gets chosen for solos. 

This blog post does not explain large social mechanisms, and this was not my intention. It does show that in my daily life, seemingly small choices made by actors can have large consequences for the institutional structure.