Violent Actors and Embedded Power: Exploring the Evolving Roles of Dons in Jamaica
The Jamaican don is a non-state actor who wields considerable power and control inside that nation's garrison communities. A don is a male figure, usually from the community in which he plays a leadership role. Garrisons in Jamaica have often emerged as neighborhoods that are don-ruled shadow versions of the official State. These are poor inner city communities characterized by homogeneous and, in some cases, over-voting patterns for one of Jamaica's two major political parties: the Peoples National Party (PNP) or the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). This dissertation explores the major roles dons played in Jamaican garrisons. It focused on one community in the downtown metro area of one of the nation's cities. Additionally, it investigated the factors that account for the evolution of such roles performed by dons from the 1960s to the present. I used governance theories and the concept of embeddedness as an analytic framework to interpret the power and authority dons have in garrisons. Dons, as it turned out, perform four central roles in garrisons: security/protection, social welfare, partisan mobilization and law, order and conflict resolution via "jungle justice" measures. Different types of dons perform alternate mixes of these roles. The case study described here led me to develop a taxonomy of these informal community leaders by separating them into Mega, Area and Street Dons. I argue overall that dons are embedded governing authorities in Jamaican garrisons based on the socio-economic and political roles they carry out. By examining the responsibilities of dons in Jamaica, this analysis contributes to the literature on the activities of non-state criminal actors and their forms of influence on governance processes. The study suggests that it may now be appropriate to re-think the nature of governance and the actors we broadly assume are legitimate holders of power and authority in developing nation contexts.