The current paradigm of ‘favela integration’ in Rio de Janeiro requires that the favelas themselves become an object of knowledge. That is, favelas cariocas must be constructed as knowable before institutions may successfully intervene. On the one hand this is common sense: you gotta know what you are getting into if you wish to have any chance at success. When state programs or development projects fail, critics often claim that those running the show held false presumptions or possessed only a superficial understanding of the problem in context. If only they had done their homework.
Alas, leave it to academics to complicate everything, for they remind us that knowledge and truth are subjective, that facts are constructed, and that power relations and socio-economic interests are imbued in what we know and how we know it.
The processes of ‘knowing’ are many, and they include academia, popular media, political rhetoric and other discourses that have interests in the knowledge-object (for example the ‘business community’ or ‘development’ agencies). Discourses compete, contradict, undermine and playoff one another, and the current socio-political context of the urban redevelopment scheme in Rio, including ‘favela integration’, is no exception. NGOs and activists argue that the current state actions repeats the classic tale of dispossession in the name of globalist progression. Politicians paint a picture of a united city (see video below). The Olympic Committee makes claims of responsible social legacies all-the-while complicit in the destruction of historical urban places. And the press struggles to work the whole thing out, mostly by telling you that everybody and nobody is sure of much of anything. Each of these discourses take ‘the favela’ as a knowable object, and subsequently constructs their arguments and lays their claims to truth based on that knowledge.
A specific example that recently caught my attention is a course being offered by the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, a prestigious and Jesuit University in the exclusive neighborhood of Gávea. ‘Rio’s Favelas: Past and Present’ (Favelas Cariocas: Otem e Hoje) seeks to offer a foundational theoretical and historical review to favela residents, civil society leaders, and various professionals so that they may successfully implement social projects within the city’s favelas. As the university’s website does not publish the reading list or post detailed information about curriculum, it is difficult to make any judgments as to the quality or ontological merits of the course. I guess they can’t just give the knowledge away, could they?
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Hey Tucker, hope you are well! One thought from me….how does this ‘knowing’ of the favelas now shift when we have access to direct communication and application of local knowledge by residents themselves? See projects by Agencia das Redes para a Juventude and the ever increasing broadcasts from within the community through digital means….
Thanks for the comment, Mary. I think that grassroots media production is a great tool to magnify local voices and engage with popular media and official government discourse.
‘Local knowledge’, ‘community knowledge’, needs based assessment models… these ideas have been around since the 1980s, but unfortunately we don’t see too many governments applying them beyond rhetoric and empty gestures. My understanding of the projects in Providência, for example, is that the government claimed to develop their plans in accordance with local needs, but researchers I know working in Providência can’t find anyone who says to have participated in the planning process. A colleague who has examined the bureaucracy of planning in Rio de Janeiro in relation to Favela-Bairro argues that public policies regulating planning simply don’t favor community participation.
One problem, that I’m sure frustrates all but surprises none, is that planning is political; a no combination of expert knowledge or community participation can actually depoliticize urban redevelopment.
Groups like Agencia das Redes para a Juventude are important to foster participation and debate; and many argue that these grassroots organizations are the most important social component to ‘integrate’ the favelas (see my earlier post (or google) ‘Underground Sociabilities’) but what would they do with 1.6 billion reais (the estimated cost of the Teleférico to be built in Alemão)? Sometimes the povo does need the state; unfortunately some groups have to fight like hell to be heard.
Hello! Yes, planning is intensely political but that does not necessarily imply the exclusion of citizens – just that the political framework has to shift, drastically. I don’t think you can depoliticize the urban environment – communal life is political by nature -the challenge is in innovating and establishing effective mechanisms for engagement. The state has its place, for sure – but is it the construction of a Teleferico? Hospitals, schools, train lines, but the Teleferico? I think Rio’s civil society organisations, or at least some of them I know, could spend 1.6 billion reais in a much more constructive way.
We’re in agreement, Mary. I didn’t mean to imply that small civil society organizations couldn’t literally build a teleférico; rather that most NGOs and community orgs that make up civil society operate on a micro level implementing small projects relative to hospitals, schools and transport infrastructure; and those large interventions will also need ‘expert’ and technical’ knowledges.
Hi Tucker! My name is Ava Hoffman and I am an undergraduate student at Princeton University. Through a grant that I have been awarded, I will be traveling to Rio this summer (mid-June to mid-August) to conduct a research project on the efficacy of civil society and the sociocultural production of identity of favelas. I’ve been reading many of your articles here on Favel Issues and I’m really interested in your work particularly about the implications of favela tourism. I would love to know more about your research and possibly connect with you when I arrive this summer–if you will still be in Rio. If you could send me an email, I would greatly appreciate any guidance that you can offer me or people you can refer me to as I begin my project. Thanks! Hope to hear from you soon.