Mobilizing Law in Latin America: An Evaluation of Black's Theory in Brazil


  • Data for the analysis were made available by the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida. The contributions of the second and third authors are equal. Their names are listed in alphabetical order.

Kristin Tennyson Graham received her MA in Latin American Studies and her PhD in Criminology from the University of Florida. Her research focuses on crime, gender, and victimization in Latin America. She is currently a Research Analyst for the Department of Defense where her work focuses on Central American issues and involves analysis of public opinion polls and surveys from around the world. Her email is

Marian J. Borg is Associate Professor of Sociology and Undergraduate Coordinator in the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law at the University of Florida. Her research focuses on issues pertaining to social control and conflict management. She teaches courses on the sociology of crime, deviance, and law. Her publications have appeared in Law & Society Review and Criminology. Her email is

Bryan Lee Miller is an Assistant Professor of Justice Studies at Georgia Southern University. His research has focused on issues of offender reentry, drug prevalence, drug policy, and sociology of law. Recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Journal of Criminal Justice, and Punishment & Society. His email is


This research addresses two separate but related questions. First, to what extent are sociological theories proposed to explain legal behavior in Western societies applicable to non-Western contexts? And second, to what degree is Black's theory of law generalizable, as he contends, “across time and space?” Our research merges these questions by exploring the applicability of Black's theory in a Latin American context. Data collected from a nationally representative survey in Brazil suggest support for Black's propositions regarding the impact of vertical, horizontal, cultural, and normative status on the likelihood of mobilizing the law, as well as the feasibility of using his framework for understanding legal behavior in non-Western settings. Our discussion considers implications and directions for future analyses in both the Brazilian and cross-cultural contexts.