Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Navigating Turbulent Waters: Flooding, Property Rights, and Access to Justice in the Urban Brazilian Amazon

This project examines the legal needs of the urban poor in Brazil's Amazon by looking at its largest urban center: the Belém Metropolitan Region (BMR). Over the past thirty years, investments in housing and urban development in the BMR exceeded 300 million USD. Yet, in reality, about half a million people in the BMR live in informal or squatter settlements, where the living conditions make them vulnerable due to persistent risks of floods and resettlement. These individuals, who are in dire straits, rarely mobilize the law as a means of relief in Brazil, a country where housing and legal assistance are constitutional rights. When these citizens do exercise their constitutional right to legal assistance, only 145 state legal aid attorneys are available to them, which is wildly insufficient. With the state not fulfilling its constitutional duties on this front, two questions are of focus: Why are the vast majority of these aggrieved citizens not seeking legal assistance? What are the obstacles for the urban poor to accessing lawyers and using the legal system to achieve their desired outcomes? As the plight of the needy in Brazil's Amazon grows worse, they have enormous difficulty gaining access to legal aid lawyers. Even when they do, we know little about how these lawyers operate. This project is the first effort to examine how these lawyers screen cases, what happens if these cases make their way to court, and why some people seek these lawyers while others do not. As the fourth-largest democracy in the world, it is a critical time for a study of this type in Brazil's Amazon. The recent 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro poses potentially greater challenges to the poor and the indigenous in the Amazon, because of his overt promises to strip some communities of their land rights. This inquiry, therefore, is uniquely situated to study social problems in the region, contributing to the debate on access to justice across law, political science, public policy, and sociology.