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Anthony W. Fontes

Assistant Professor

School of International Service

American University

Washington, D.C.

Current work

I am engaged in two book projects. Prison Power: Kingpins, Snitches, and Innocents (manuscript completed in June 2024) maps the politics of survival inside the Guatemalan prison system—one of the world’s most overcrowded and dangerous—while tracing the evolution of power in prison and prison’s power in 21st century society. Prison Power is based on the life histories of dozens of incarcerated men and their families as well as extensive fieldwork on state-criminal networks operating within and across prison walls and in communities across Central America. Recent peer-reviewed articles in Society & Space (2022) and Punishment & Society (2022) illustrate the project’s conceptual and empirical stakes.


Meanwhile, funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation, I am conducting fieldwork for “No Escape from the Criminal State," a book project building on several years of ethnographic fieldwork and activist engagement with 21st century criminal governance and forced migration in the Americas. Drawing on multi-sited ethnography along the length and breadth of Central American migrant itineraries, this project explores how state-criminal networks in Central America and the US immigration apparatus (among other US institutions) track, control, and exploit marginalized populations. The aim is to explore and expose an evolving transnational governance regime based in the entwinement of licit and illicit power that both props up and trespasses international borders. See my article "'The Kidnappers are the Police': Forced Migration and Criminal Governance in Central America" (Political Geography, forthcoming) for more background on this project.


I earned a PhD in Human Geography from the University of California, Berkeley in 2015, and spent two years at the University of Wisconsin as a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Center for Humanities. In August 2017, I joined the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. as an Assistant Professor. My scholarship and teaching focus on the practices and assumptions of power as they relate to violence, inequality, illicit economies, and forced migration, with a regional focus on the Americas, particularly Northern Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and the United States. For the past decade, my work in Northern Central America has mapped the blurred boundaries between the underworld, the state, law-abiding society, legacies of civil war, and violence in all its forms. This research has been supported by grants from the OSF/SSRC Drugs, Security, and Democracy Program, the International Center for Global Conflict and Cooperation, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

Before all of this, I was a freelance journalist in Egypt and Guatemala, an actor in South America, an environmental justice advocate in India and Thailand, and an immigration legal advisor in California. Today, I continue to work as an expert witness in Central American asylum cases.





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