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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)



Graham Denyer Willis is Professor of Global Politics and Society in the Department of Politics and International Studies, and a Fellow of Queens’ College.

A political ethnographer, Graham's research and teaching is concerned with practices and assumptions of power amidst inequality, as they work through cities, institutions and informality. He approaches these questions from historical and contemporary Brazil, to question how direct and indirect forms of violence and social organisation matter in the production and maintenance of political authority. He is especially motivated to identify and question forms of entrapment and escape from power and capitalism, globally. 

He is the author of two books, both published by the University of California Press. His first book, The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime, and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil (2015), accompanies homicide detectives in São Paulo as they negotiate an incipient organised crime group and police who kill 2.3 times per day. I argue for a conceptualisation of organised crime as 'nested’ in the state’s regulation of life and death and rooted in a shared understanding of which kinds of killings matters, where and why in the city. 

His second, Keep the Bones Alive: Missing People and the Search for Life in Brazil (2022)examines how and why 20,000 - 25,000 people go missing, per year, in São Paulo. Keep the Bones Alive explores this phenomenon and why there is little concern for those who vanish. he accompanies family members, state workers, and gravediggers to examine the rationalization underpinning why bodies are missing in space including cemeteries, the criminal coroner’s office, and prisons. By following the bereaved as they confront an indifferent state and suspicious society and search for loved ones against all odds, this book reveals where missing bodies go and the reasons why people can disappear without being pursued. Recognizing that disappearance has long been central to Brazil’s everyday political order, with some people pursued and others not, this humanistic account of the silences surrounding disappearance shows why a demand for a politics of life is needed more than ever. 

He is now at work on a third ethnographic monograph, which examines the practices and logics of 'trust and safety' in Silicon Valley as vital to a global regime of security and accumulation rooted in platform capitalism. 

He welcomes emails from anyone seeking an expert witness for asylum and/or deportation concerns because of police or organised crime violence in Brazil. 

Graham is interested in supervising PhD students whose work touches on development, freedom and unfreedom, race, governance, everyday political contestation, violence and informality, and especially those wishing to do ethnographic inquiry and/or who are interested in Latin America. Prospective students should familiarise themselves with Graham's general line of inquiry and research interests.


Key publications: 


Recent publications


Denyer Willis, G. (2022). Eating pizza in prison: Failing family men, civil punishment, and the policing of whiteness in São Paulo. American Ethnologist, doi:10.1111/amet.13071

Denyer Willis, Graham. (2022).  Keep the Bones Alive: Missing People and the Search for Life in Brazil. Oakland: University of California Press.


Denyer Willis, Graham. (2021). Mundane Disappearance: The Politics of Letting Disappear in Brazil. Economy and Society, 50(2), 297-321.

Bueno, Samira and Graham Denyer Willis. (2019). The Exceptional Prison. Public Culture. 31(3), 645-663.

Lessing, Ben and Graham Denyer Willis. (2019). Legitimacy in Criminal Governance: Regulating a Drug Empire from Behind Bars. American Political Science Review, 113(2), 584-606. 

Denyer Willis, Graham. (2018). The Potter’s Field. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 60 (3), 539-568.

Denyer Willis, Graham. (2015). The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil. Oakland: University of California Press. 


Other publications


Denyer Willis, Graham. (2015). The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.



(Awarded 2014 Best Dissertation, Brazil Section, Latin American Studies Association and Honorable Mention, Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT.) 
Denyer Willis, Graham and Mariana Mota Prado. (2014). Of Process and Pattern: The Police Pacification Units in Brazil as an Institutional Bypass Reform. World Development, 64, 232-242.
Denyer Willis, Graham. (2014). Antagonistic Authorities and the Civil Police in São Paulo, Brazil. Latin American Research Review, 49(1), 3-22.
Davis, Diane E. and Graham Denyer Willis (2011). Anti-Crime Social Movements in Latin America. In: Snow, David A., Donatella Della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam (Eds.) Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford.
Denyer Willis, Graham. (2009). Deadly Symbiosis? The PCC, the State and the Institutionalization of Violence in São Paulo. In: Rodgers, Dennis and Gareth A. Jones. Youth Violence in Latin America. New York: Palgrave, p. 168-181.
Selected Policy and Media
The Gun Library.  (Apr. 14, 2014). Boston Review.
What Happens What Governments Negotiate with Criminals. (Oct. 30, 2013). Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
Uncovering Sao Paulo's Blood Feud.  (Dec. 10, 2012). The Stream. Al Jazeera.
What’s Killing Brazil’s Police? (Dec. 2, 2012). New York Times Sunday Review.



Professor of Global Politics and Society
University Teaching Officer
Fellow, Queens' College

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