'Não são tijolos; são histórias': The Favela Housing Rights Movement of Rio de Janeiro

Change log

My doctoral research consisted of fourteen months of fieldwork following anti-eviction activity within informal settlements called favelas on public land in Rio de Janeiro. In the dissertation, I make a series of arguments. The first is that despite a lack of scholarly attention post-2016 Olympics, Rio is experiencing its own favela housing rights movement, land rights, and government investment in upgrading projects that deserves academic attention. Implied in the term is a concomitant fight for land rights—both of which are needed to avoid eviction. Secondly, I explain how government officials and others antagonistic to favela housing rights use environmentalist discourse to justify evictions of informal settlements—charging them with being ‘invaders’ that spoil the natural habitat of the city. In response, favela residents have re-appropriated the discourse of environmentalism to position and re-brand themselves as conservationists instead of ‘invaders’ as one of two alternative strategies to avoid eviction.

Thirdly, and regarding the second alternative anti-eviction strategy, I explain how those against favela housing rights view favelas as places without culture or history that do not need to be saved from eviction. To subvert this narrative, residents have created favela museums and initiated tourism enterprises to prove that their communities have cultures and histories that are worth preserving. The fourth and fifth arguments correspond to the gender, class, and racial implications of these alternative strategies as interpreted through emotional politics. I argue that women (the predominant demographic in the movement) feel they must justify their leadership positions and participation in the movement by engaging in what I call performative vulnerability. Lastly, I explain how residents interpret the common justifications for favela removal (i.e. environmental destruction, favelas as places without history) as being truly about classism, and to a lesser extent racism. I contend that the general lack of awareness about the role of racism in favela evictions stems from the lingering ambivalence towards racial categorisation and the false belief that Afro-descendants do not face discrimination. This research engages with academic debates on the forced eviction of informal settlements, housing rights versus environmental rights, identity politics, and contributes to the literature on urban land and housing movements.

Miley, Thomas Jeffrey
Brazil, Informal Settlements, Housing Movements, Identity Politics, Forced Eviction
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Royal Geographical Society