Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela

Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela: Urban Violence and Daily Life

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela
    Book Description:

    The residents of Caxambu, a squatter neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, live in a state of insecurity as they face urban violence.Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favelaexamines how inequality, racism, drug trafficking, police brutality, and gang activities affect the daily lives of the people of Caxambu. Some Brazilians see these communities, known asfavelas, as centers of drug trafficking that exist beyond the control of the state and threaten the rest of the city. For other Brazilians, favelas are symbols of economic inequality and racial exclusion. Ben Penglase's ethnography goes beyond these perspectives to look at how the people of Caxambu themselves experience violence.

    Although the favela is often seen as a war zone, the residents are linked to each other through bonds of kinship and friendship. In addition, residents often take pride in homes and public spaces that they have built and used over generations. Penglase notes that despite poverty, their lives are not completely defined by illegal violence or deprivation. He argues that urban violence and a larger context of inequality create a social world that is deeply contradictory and ambivalent. The unpredictability and instability of daily experiences result in disagreements and tensions, but the residents also experience their neighborhood as a place of social intimacy. As a result, the social world of the neighborhood is both a place of danger and safety.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6545-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 “To Live Here You Have to Know How to Live”
    (pp. 3-33)

    On one hot and drowsy day, I was sitting in Dona Carmen’s backyard. Dona Carmen was one of my neighbors in Caxambu, afavela(squatter neighborhood), in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.¹ Dona Carmen supplemented her husband’s retirement pension by selling meals to people in the neighborhood. The food could be taken home on paper plates wrapped up in tinfoil (known asquentinhas) or eaten under the shade of a mango tree in Dona Carmen’s backyard, where her chickens, grandchildren, and a large pet German shepherd named Hulk chased each other in circles, creating an atmosphere of...

  5. 2 “Now You Know What It’s Like”: Ethnography in a State of (In)security
    (pp. 34-66)

    When I describe how I conducted research in Caxambu, I often tell a story about one of my first encounters with the police. Heavily influenced by Clifford Geertz’s archetypal description of fleeing from a police raid, I have often presented this moment as one where I managed to gain an inside view into living in a state of (in)security. As I have reflected more critically on my fieldwork, though, I have realized how my research has been deeply shaped by pervasive representations of favelas as spaces of insecurity and danger. I offer this ethnographic vignette, then, to open a discussion...

  6. 3 A Familiar Hillside and Dangerous Intimates
    (pp. 67-103)

    In Caxambu, daily life and alternating structures of security and insecurity, danger and safety, are experienced in a particular space, one that is both a site of marginalization and a place of pride, deeply connected to residents’ identities. When I asked residents of Caxambu what they thought about their neighborhood, they often responded in either of two ways. On the one hand, some residents—like Seu Oscar, quoted above—spoke about overlapping forms of marginalization. Significantly, Seu Oscar saw the morro as both “the place of blacks” and “where the poor live,” pointing to how patterns of racial discrimination and...

  7. 4 Tubarão and Seu Lázaro’s Dog: Drug Traffickers and Abnormalization
    (pp. 104-136)

    Daily interactions between residents of Caxambu and drug dealers were shaped by local factors, such as joint social ties and the shared experience of living in a neighborhood that is both deeply familiar and often dangerous. In addition, residents of Caxambu had to navigate a citywide structure of authority constructed by a network that reaches far beyond Rio’s poor neighborhoods. The drug gangs in Rio’s favelas are part of what Carolyn Nordstrom calls a shadow economy. The shadow economy, Nordstrom argues, can be thought of as “complex sets of cross-state economic and political linkages that move outside formally recognized state-based...

  8. 5 “The Men Are in the Area”: Police, Race, and Place
    (pp. 137-164)

    Drug dealers were not the only group that abnormalized daily life in Caxambu. The strategy that drug traffickers used to build their authority—instituting the rules that governed “normality” while simultaneously violating these rules—was founded upon local distrust of the police. Though the police were not a common presence in the morro—when the police entered the neighborhood this was commonly called aninvasão(invasion)—they exerted a pervasive impact on daily life. This chapter examines police practices in Caxambu by focusing on the mundane, everyday interactions between the police and residents of Caxambu. I argue that the police...

  9. 6 Conclusion: “It Was Here That Estela Was Shot”
    (pp. 165-178)

    One afternoon I was interviewing Zeca. We began talking while sitting on the sidewalk at the top of the hill, leaning against the rough concrete wall of the local Catholic church. Although everyone referred to the building as theigrejinha(the little church), the local Catholic parish had abandoned the building long ago. What remained was a large, two-story brick building with broken windows and a badly leaking roof, half of which was occupied by the residents’ association. In front of the church was a large ten-foot-high concrete cross decorated with red light bulbs. The local drug dealers made sure...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 179-184)
  11. References
    (pp. 185-196)
  12. Index
    (pp. 197-210)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)