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Non-Governmental Organizations and Anti-Racist Resistance in Greater Rio de Janeiro



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This dissertation investigates the relationships between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local anti-racist activists and organizers in Greater Rio de Janeiro. Through fieldwork carried out from 2019 to 2021, this work considers how the region’s contemporary organizing and activist terrains become dominated and dictated by the directives of NGOs to the detriment of the radical possibilities of the activism and organizing these same organizations claim to support. What sits at the heart of this study is how Greater Rio de Janeiro’s local organizers and activists navigate a political and social terrain commanded by such organizations, what this means for human rights organizing and struggles against racism, and how this comes to change the very nature of activism, its work and its future.

This dissertation follows community human rights and anti-racist activists and organizers throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro and its neighboring municipalities of Baixada Fluminense. It focuses primarily on their work with and around international, national, and local non-governmental organizations that saturate the region’s social and political landscapes. The work’s analytical elements are marked by the temporal divide wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. To begin, I trace the phenomenon of the NGO-ization of resistance, conceptualized by Sonia Alvarez (1999, 2009), throughout Greater Rio de Janeiro between 2013 and 2016. Following the life experiences of community activists Gizele Martins and Dudu do Morro Agudo, I untangle the relationship between the entrenchment of this phenomenon and the escalation of violence in Greater Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The following chapter tells the story of Coletivo Papo Reto, a community collective turned NGO from the favela of Complexo do Alemão. In conversation with co-founder Thainã de Medeiros, I explore the motivations and rationale behind Coletivo Papo Reto’s transition from community collective to official NGO, as well as the realities and challenges community organizing experiences when confronting the world of highly professionalized human rights organizations.

In the final chapters, I situate Greater Rio’s Covid-19 pandemic experience in conversation with Bedour Alagraa’s (2021) conceptualisation of the interminable catastrophe, to unpack the recession and responses of the region’s NGOs I observed in the face of global and local humanitarian crises. I argue this moment can be thought of as a break wherein a space of radical imagination, and possibility of the present, was made real beyond the confines determined by the NGO and the NGO-ization of resistance.

In reflecting on both before and during the pandemic, I offer an analysis of how activists across Greater Rio de Janeiro are able to move beyond the NGO-ization of resistance and organize on terms of their own making. I argue that the NGO is further evidence of the sociospatial logics of neoliberalism in the city where the appearance and presence of NGOs is another facet of the neoliberal state’s self-preservation. While the NGO-ization of resistance is by no means absolute, the NGO-ization of anti-racist activism in Greater Rio de Janeiro is an attempt by the neoliberal state to mask the root causes of the forms of violence that target Black and favela communities. NGOs therefore become another institution dedicated to the protection of the status quo.





Moreno Figueroa, Mónica


anti-racism, community organizing, Covid-19 pandemic, non-governmental organizations, Rio de Janeiro, social movements


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge International Trust King's College, University of Cambridge Centre of Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge Society for Latin American Studies