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From ‘prison’ to ‘paradise’?: Seeking freedom at the rainforest frontier through urban-rural migration

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Article number106077
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/12/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>World Development
Number of pages14
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date27/08/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The lives of the urban poor in the majority world are unfree: blighted by social injustice in its manifold forms, from violence and ill-health to absent economic opportunities. We explore the pursuit of freedom through migration away from the metropole to ramais (colonisation tracks) at the rainforest frontier. Drawing on a case study in Brazilian Amazonia, we reveal urban rural migration as a frontier dynamic driven by the search for a good life. We theorize freedom and the good life using the capabilities approach, starting from the observation that people in the ramais reported feeling better and asking why that is. We find that frontiers provide a safer environment, which fosters individual and collective capabilities. A lower risk of violence reduces fears around bodily integrity, pervasive in Latin American cities. This safety fosters freedom and dignity by reducing worries and anxieties, leading to improvements in emotional wellbeing. We understand this increased sense of freedom as enhanced agency, that is, empowerment. In addition to new forms of political activity and subjectivity, we report a flourishing of senses, imagination and affiliation with others. Inequalities are reduced, positively influencing dignity and self-worth. These new freedoms are threatened by lack of rights provisioning by the State, however. We recommend that the Brazilian state should address social and environmental dimensions of these new forest frontiers. The state should recognize and support these settlements as valid forms of development, because they so clearly contribute to human wellbeing and flourishing. The state should guide and assist livelihood and landscape management toward more ecological approaches such as agroecology and agroforestry, to mitigate deforestation risks typical of forest frontiers.