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  • 2021LucianaPhD

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“Risk areas or rich areas?”: State-led precarity and resistance to favela removal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2021
Number of pages290
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • CAPES Foundation, Ministry of Education of Brazil, 70040-020 Brasília, DF, Brazil
Award date6/01/2021
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


After the severe landslides that affected Rio de Janeiro in April 2010, causing 67 deaths, the city authorities implemented what they called “a paradigm shift” in responding to disasters. This new approach, which echoes international discourses on urban resilience, builds on the government of urban uncertainties through risk technologies. Such technologies have underpinned a biopolitics of favelas removals. From 2009 to 2016, approximately 21,000 families were expelled from their homes due to ‘disaster risk prevention’, now one of the core repertoires of urban policy in Rio. This research aims to understand how risk and resilience are mobilised to govern marginalised areas and groups, how this is grounded in a long history of state-led precarization of favelas and how favela dwellers have responded to and resisted attempts to remove their right to stay in place.
The study builds on the results of a multi-sited case study in Rio by analysing five favelas over a total of 10 months between 2016 and 2017, involving archival research, politically engaged participant observation, semi-structured and in-depth interviews with key participants. The approach to data analysis draws on a hybrid thematic analysis driven by a feminist and postcolonial conceptual framework, moving between concepts of biopolitics, precarity, vulnerability and resistance.
Analysed through the concepts of (urban) biopolitics and precarity, this new mode of risk-based urban governance appears as a depoliticised and de-historicised form of risk management in favelas, producing precarity and displacement rather than ‘resilience’. Along these lines, the thesis presents three key findings. First, the characterization of favelas as ‘high-risk areas’ through the governmental technologies of risk assessment serves to justify displacements, undermine favelados' agency and obscure the historical process of governmental precarization. Second, state-led precarization has been the key driver of favelas and favelados’ vulnerability, while simultaneously exposing both displaced and those left behind to further risks. Third, by articulating an interpretation of vulnerability as both a deliberate exposure to power and an essence of political resistance, this research shows how
favelados have successfully mobilized their shared and produced vulnerability to resist disaster risk displacements through epistemic, temporal, affective and material forms of contestation.