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Subversive formalization: efforts to (re)form land, labor, and behavior in a carioca favela

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State entities in Brazil have rolled out numerous programs to “integrate” precarious settlements into the so-called formal city of Rio de Janeiro. Two of the most visceral integration projects in Rio’s favelas have been infrastructural upgrading and public security via military police occupation. Drawing on participant observation, interviews, and policy analysis, in this paper I trace how these projects attempt to formalize land, labor, and behavior in a complex of favelas called Complexo do Alemão. Inspired by postcolonial urban approaches to formalization, I argue that formality/informality as it operates through these projects is, in part, a performative distinction deployed by the state, echoing elite and popular socio-spatial imaginaries. I add, however, that non-state actors are also involved in their own practices of formalization. Residents themselves are re-making diverse forms of property, employment, and behavior through processes of subversive formalization, informed by their geographically-embedded and historical relationships with one another.
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Keywords: Formalization; favelas; informality; infrastructure; postcolonial urbanism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

Publication date: November 26, 2019

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