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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