Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of Massachusetts / Amherst
Decolonizing Cities: Afro-Descendant Movements and Territories of Life in Brazil

This research investigates how Afro-descendant movements in Latin America have organized urban communities as alternatives to Western modernity. This form of modernity is based on worldviews that value individualism, profit, environmental exploitation, and elimination of differences. In contrast, Afro-descendant movements have created self-determined collectives rooted in ethnic traditions and ancestral worldviews that value community, distribution of resources, connection to earth-beings (non-human life), and cultural difference. Thus, these movements have created communities where people can experience new forms of sociability, economies, and politics – what I call territories of life. Decolonial authors who have studied these communities define them as a path to promote decoloniality - a rupture with Western modern/colonial logics. However, decolonial studies have focused on rural areas, limiting confidence in their utility as lessons for decolonial resistance more generally. After all, it is easier to visualize territories of life alongside rural groups that can claim a distinct ancestral ethnicity. "Being urban," in contrast, is often treated as synonymous with "being modern" and with Western urbanity – a way of life associated with an individualistic and secular culture. Taking this into account and considering that most of the world's population are urban dwellers, this research explores the specificity of territories of life in an urban space. Informed by activist research principles, I employ an ethnographic and participatory methodological approach to analyze three Afro-descendant groups creating territories of life in Belo Horizonte, a city located in Brazil. More specifically, this research employs participant observation, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and participatory workshops to explore the territories of life organized by the groups under study, how they are constructing them, and the limit and potential of these territories to promote decoloniality.