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On the Importance of Wolves

By Kevin Lewis O’Neill

Cite As:
O’Neill, Kevin Lewis. 2018. “On the Importance of Wolves.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 3: 499–520.


What would it mean for pastoralism to be a matter of wolves rather than sheep? Across Guatemala City, Pentecostal drug rehabilitation centers provide one possible answer. These are onetime factories and apartment buildings that have been renovated for rehabilitation with razor wire and steel bars. Largely unregulated, these centers keep pace with Guatemala’s growing rapprochement with illicit drugs by holding drug users (often against their will) for months, sometimes for years. They also warehouse the mentally ill, whom the faithful call wolves (lobos). While Pentecostals understand these wolves as incapable of governing themselves, a mix of faith and pharmaceuticals has made this otherwise surplus population central to the management of populations. Providing a provocative counterexample to celebrated ethnographies that tell terrible tales of societies that let die rather than make live, this essay details how and to what effect pastors actively acquire rather than abandon these so-called wolves.


Pentecostalism; pastoralism; captivity; pharmaceuticals; mental illness; Guatemala