Becoming the State: How Civic Organizations are Recreating Democracy in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas

Tufts University

Abstract

“This project examines how democracy is being recreated in poor urban neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro as civic organizations respond to the abandonment of the state during the pandemic. Across Latin America, the CO VID-19 pandemic provoked a new phase of governance. Where once states governed poor, primarily Black and brown urban residents through violent and disjunctive democratic practices, the formal government has now retreated from these communities, leaving residents to govern themselves. News stories of civic organizations in urban slums have proliferated as community-based organizations attempt to help starving and sick residents, locate and distribute resources, educate residents about the virus, and keep the neighborhood functioning. A new form of democratic governance is emerging: rather than make demands of the state, disillusioned civic actors are instead “becoming” the state. Given this new paradigm, this project asks: How is democracy being reconfigured in abandoned urban neighborhoods? What new forms of governance and citizenship are being created? How are these political forms gendered and racialized? The project will focus on Cidade de Deus, a “favela” in Rio de Janeiro that had the first reported favela COVID-19 case. It builds upon a mixed-methods, participatory action research project conducted between 2020 and 2021 on the impact of the pandemic on local residents. In this new study, we will carry out focus groups and interviews with civic leaders, recipients of aid, private funders and local government actors to explore emergent forms of autonomous governance and how these are is shaped by gender and racial dynamics.”

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Anjuli Fahlberg

Assistant Professor, Tufts University

  • Bio ▾

    Anjuli Fahlberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Tufts University. Her work specializes in social movements, urban violence, and Participatory Action Research in Latin America. She has published in Politics & Society, Cities, Qualitative Sociology, Journal of Urban Affairs, Habitat International, and others. Her forthcoming book, Activism Under Fire: The Politics of Non-Violence in Rio de Janeiro’s Most Dangerous Favela (Oxford University Press), documents through ethnographic fieldwork how activists mobilize for citizenship rights in a context of political repression by drug traffickers and militarized policing.

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