Insurgent Citizenship in an Era of Global Urban Peripheries



The extraordinary urbanization of the 20th century has produced urban peripheries of devastating poverty and inequality in cities worldwide. At the same time, the struggles of their residents for the basic resources of daily life and shelter have also generated new movements of insurgent citizenship based on their claims to have a right to the city and a right to rights. The resulting contemporary metropolis is a site of collision between forces of exploitation and dispossession and increasingly coherent, yet still fragile and contradictory movements for new kinds of citizen power and social justice. This essay examines the entanglements of these insurgent urban citizenships both with entrenched systems of inequality and with new forms of destabilization and violence. Using the case of Brazil, it argues that these clashes entail conflicts of alternative formulations of citizenship and that sites of metropolitan innovation often emerge at the very sites of metropolitan degradation.

We live in a time of unprecedented global urbanization. In a matter of decades, countries that were mostly rural have become mostly urban. At the same time, we live in an era of unprecedented global democratization. Since 1970, the number of electoral democracies has doubled, increasing in just thirty years from 33 to 63 percent of the world's sovereign states. Urbanization and democratization are deeply related transformations. Not only have their global scope and speed been extraordinary but their combined developments in particular places have also produced a remarkably similar condition worldwide: most city people live in impoverished urban peripheries in various conditions of illegal and irregular residence, around urban centers that benefit from their services and their poverty. Yet this new urbanism also generates a characteristic response: precisely in these peripheries, residents organize movements of insurgent citizenship to confront the entrenched regimes of citizen inequality that the urban centers use to segregate them. Not all peripheries produce this kind of insurgence, to be sure. But enough do to qualify this collision of citizenships as a global category of conflict.

The results of these processes of urbanization and democratization have been contradictory. If the latter would seem to hold special promise for more egalitarian citizenships, and thus for greater citizen justice and dignity, in practice most democracies experience tremendous conflict among citizens as principle collides with prejudice over the terms of national membership and the distribution of rights. If cities have historically been the locus of citizenship's expansion, contemporary peripheral urbanization creates especially volatile conditions, as city regions become crowded with marginalized citizens and noncitizens who contest their exclusions. Thus the insurgence of urban democratic citizenships in recent decades has disrupted established formulas of rule and privilege in the most diverse societies worldwide. Yet the result is an entanglement of democracy with its counters, in which new kinds of urban citizens arise to expand democratic citizenships and new forms of urban violence and inequality erode them.

the result is an entanglement of democracy with its counters, in which new kinds of urban citizens arise to expand democratic citizenships and new forms of urban violence and inequality erode them

In this essay, I focus on conflicts specific to these entanglements of citizenship. Foremost, I want to show that these insurgent citizenships confront the entrenched with alternative formulations of citizenship; in other words, that their conflicts are clashes of citizenship and not merely idiosyncratic or instrumental protest and violence. In making this point, my aim is also to show that although insurgent urban citizenships may utilize central civic space and even overrun the center, they are fundamentally manifestations of peripheries. In so far as the urban civic square embodies an idea of centrality and its sovereignties, its architectural design, institutional organization, and use represents the hierarchies, legalities, segregations, and inequalities of the entrenched regime of citizenship that the insurgent contests. The forces of centrality are entrenched in the civic square by design and that entrenchment establishes the terms of an official public sphere. Insurgent movements may adopt these terms to frame their protests—property rights, urban infrastructure, justice, even motherhood, for example. But whereas the center uses the structuring of the public to segregate the urban poor in the peripheries and to reduce them to a “bare life” of servility, the very same structures of inequality incite these hinterland residents to demand a life worthy of citizens.

My point is that it is not in the civic square that the urban poor articulate this demand with greatest force and originality. It is rather in the realm of everyday and domestic life taking shape in the remote urban peripheries around the construction of residence. It is an insurgence that begins with the struggle for the right to have a daily life in the city worthy of a citizen's dignity. Accordingly, its demands for a new formulation of citizenship get conceived in terms of housing, property, plumbing, daycare, security, and other aspects of residential life. Its leaders are the “barely citizens” of the entrenched regime: women, manual laborers, squatters, the functionally literate, and, above all, those in families with a precarious stake in residential property, with a legal or illegal toehold to a houselot somewhere far from elite centers. These are the citizens who, in the process of building and defending their residential spaces, not only construct a vast new city but, on that basis, also propose a city with a different order of citizenship.

That citizenship and its rights have become both the medium and the message of these struggles is a recent and still emerging transformation of urban conflict. It is especially an achievement of the poor in cities of the global south who have posed their struggles of urban life much more in terms of residence and basic everyday resources than in terms of the kinds of conflicts of labor and factory discipline that characterized working-class movements in Europe during the last century. When, in Paris in the 1960s, Henri Lefebvre (1996) published his incitement to change the world by renewing the right to urban life, he imagined “the right to the city” as emerging from the struggles inherent in the daily lives of poor residents. He predicted that the priorities of this struggle would shift from “production to reproduction” as the “urban revolution” overwhelmed the world. Although roundly criticized from within the Marxist tradition in which he wrote for emphasizing this shift—by Castells (1977) and Harvey (1973) in their classic works, for example—it seems clear today that he was correct.

However, the conflicts that consolidated this revolution as a question of rights to the city occurred not in Paris but primarily in cities of the metropolitan south, like São Paulo and Johannesburg. Moreover, in moving south, so to speak, the foundations of this right developed in ways that Lefebvre did not suppose, either conceptually or empirically. Lefebvre understood the right to the city as a claim by the working classes to a presence in the city that legitimated their appropriation of urban spaces and their refusal to be excluded from them. Although one may argue that Lefebvre's understanding is ultimately based on a Marxist notion of needs, his right to the city remains nevertheless unmoored to any framework or formulation that would articulate it as a right. If a right is a kind of social relation that distributes various sorts of powers and liabilities between people, then in Lefebvre's conceptualization it seems free-floating and devoid of such relationality. Certainly, it arises as he supposed in the conflicts of flesh-and-blood agents. However, Lefebvre does not theorize it in terms of any articulation of social relatedness other than conflict itself on the one hand and, on the other, a vanguard of intellectuals (philosophers, artists, and planners) who give it the sense of an oeuvre. So why call it “right” if it does not refer to any objective rule that generates subjective power or does not articulate needs in terms of a specific set of claims, powers, and obligations sanctioned in law?

If we follow the development of struggles over daily life among the dispossessed of global urbanization since Lefebvre wrote, we discover that indeed an insurgent notion of right to the city emerged among them in circumstances of degradation and peripheralness. However, the right to the city that was for Lefebvre (1996:158) “like a cry and a demand” in 1967 lost its metaphorical quality and became moored to a particular articulation that he did not imagine—indeed, that Marxism has consistently criticized if not rejected. For many of the urban poor, it became a specific kind of demand: a claim of citizens, a citizen right, a right articulated within the framework of citizenship and its legal, ethical, and performative terms. In the last few decades, precisely people uprooted and dispossessed by the 20th century's unprecedented urbanization developed urban peripheries as their place in the city. They did so by building their own shelter and way of life, generally appropriating the city's soil through some from of illegal residence and demanding legalization and legal access to resources. Especially in the global south, they articulated this appropriation as rights of urban citizenship, the right to inhabit the city becoming a right to rights that constituted an agenda of citizenship. Such agendas are by no means necessarily just, good, or egalitarian. They may be nativist, racist, communalist, and elitist, qualities that Lefebvre did not anticipate. But they have made many autoconstructed metropolises strategic arenas for the development of new formulations of citizenship in large measure based on the struggles of residents of the urban peripheries for rights to urban residence, for the right to reside with dignity, security, and mobility.

The idea that this global peripheral urbanization produces new kinds of active citizens and citizenships contrasts sharply with the predictions of urban social and environmental catastrophe that have never been in short supply

Insurgent citizenship movements have now been described in many regions of the global south. In most cases, they coalesce through organized movements of poor urban citizens confronting entrenched national regimes of citizen inequality. To date, they have emerged most fully in a number of Latin American countries and in South Africa, where the transformations of urban citizenship have produced national ones as well. The Brazilian case has been extensively studied in these terms beginning in the 1980s (e.g., Abers 2000; Avritzer 2004; Baiocchi 2005; Caldeira 2000; Holston 2008), as has the Bolivian somewhat later (see Postero 2007). As Murray (2008), Beall et al. (2002), and others show, the South African examples are like the Latin American in that new formulations of urban citizenships and their distributions of rights unsettle national citizenship while remaining dangerously unstable themselves. Cases from Asia demonstrate similar developments. In Thailand, as in Brazil and South Africa, squatter movements have organized nationally around participatory urban planning initiatives based on new conceptions of rights to the city (Somsook 2005). In India, Patel et al. (2002) and Appadurai (2002) show how struggles for urban infrastructure ignite new kinds of organizations and strategic thinking among squatters. These organizations are able to form alliances with middle-class, non-governmental, and international groups in terms that emphasize their citizen rights, thereby providing alternatives to client patronage and creating new modes of Indian democracy. Beijing's “floating population” of illegal residents redefines China's official regime of urban citizenship by claiming and exploiting new spaces in the city as successful entrepreneurs (Zhang 2001).1

The idea that this global peripheral urbanization produces new kinds of active citizens and citizenships contrasts sharply with the predictions of urban social and environmental catastrophe that have never been in short supply. Their 19th-century versions presented urban problems as diseases of the social body and provided urban reformers justifications for the “Haussmannization” of cities throughout Europe and the Americas. These interpretations turned some urban populations into “dangerous classes” and targeted them for both scientific study and policing.2 Recently, a new round of books with alarming titles about city “slums” and their “billions of slum dwellers” feed an evidently large professional and popular appetite for apocalyptic descriptions of planetary degradation due to current urbanization.3 I do not doubt that many people live and work in miserable urban conditions, suffering brutally from segregation and pollution. My point is rather that the terms of this urban catastrophe genre—especially the lead term slum—homogenize and stigmatize a global urban population. It is not only that these terms immediately identify “billions” of people with horrific urban conditions. It is also that the stigma of slum leaves little space for their dignity and vitality. It squashes people into totalizing characterizations and, in that reductive way, reproduces an over-determination of urban poverty that has difficulty recognizing emergent spaces of invention and agency.

The problem I raise here is not only one of confronting homogenization with anthropological difference, though that confrontation is itself crucial both to undermine imperial regimes of knowledge and policy and to detect potentials for different futures. It is not, in other words, only an empirical question of demonstrating that processes of urbanization are always multilayered, entangled, and contradictory. Although such superimpositions create complex cityscapes, my argument is not only about inevitable anthropological complexity. It is also and most importantly about showing that sites of metropolitan innovation often emerge at the very sites of metropolitan degradation. My argument is thus about developing concepts that can discern this kind of insurgence.

To do so requires studying contemporary urban conditions through a combination of ethnography and history generally antithetical to the urban catastrophe genre, which thrives on the bird's eye view of history to aggrandize predictions. As it hovers outside and above, this view cannot recognize “slums” as places in which residents use their ingenuity to create daily a world of adaptations, connections, and strategies with which to inhabit modern metropolises on better terms than those imposed by the powerful local and international forces that would have them segregated and servile. Such ingenuities regularly and predictably coalesce into insurgent movements that redefine the nature of social incorporation and the distribution of resources—movements, in short, of new urban citizenships.

To focus on this creativity is not to neglect the impositions of global forces of capitalism, neoliberalism, IMF-styled democratization, and the like. Nor is it in any way to deny factors of class and race in structuring urban life chances. Nor is it to wax romantic about the difficulties of putting new citizenships into practice. But it is to rub these forces, factors, and difficulties against the grain of local vitalities, to show that they do not preclude them, and that they are, often, reshaped by them. In resisting their reductions, it emphasizes the capacity of “slum-dwellers” to produce something new that cannot be readily assimilated into established conceptual frameworks. To emphasize the creativity of practice is also to bring to the surface that very possibility among the many conditions that exist as potentials in the city. In that way, developing a paradigm of analysis of contemporary urbanization that reveals such insurgence is to produce critical research that is not totalizing, reductive, or complacent.

Insurgent Performances

In what follows, I give several examples of insurgent citizenship from my research in Brazil that begin in the peripheries and work their way to the civic square. The first takes place in neighborhoods of the poor peripheries of São Paulo where I have worked for over fifteen years. These peripheries were settled by workers in the 1960s who built their own homes—through a process called autoconstruction (autoconstrução)—on lots without any infrastructure that they purchased on installment plans from private land speculators. Autoconstruction continues today as a principal means of residence for the urban poor, both in the neighborhoods in which I work which are now mostly settled, and in new neighborhoods of the ever-expanding peripheries.4

One day, in 1972, an official from the São Paulo courts went to Jardim das Camélias to notify residents that a writ of possession had been issued against them, ordering their eviction. It was the first indication residents had that their deed contracts were fraudulent and their tenure in jeopardy. A crowd gathered in the streets as the news spread. When it encountered the official delivering his orders from house to house, the men assaulted him. They knocked him down, roughed him up, scattered his papers, and chased him out of the neighborhood. He returned with the police, who arrested several of the assailants. A group of residents commandeered a truck and rode to the police station to spring them. Several more were arrested. Over the next few weeks, residents gathered into an association to fight the eviction—or, rather, were gathered by local politicians who suddenly appear offering their services—and hired one of the lawyers accompanying them. Soon afterward, however, the lawyer was gunned down, murdered as he left one of the neighborhood houses. As one resident told me, “at that time, it was a war, between us and the land-scammers. The law didn't exist. The only law was might; it was violence. We didn't know anything about rights. All we knew was to beat up the court official.”

Thirty-one years later, in 2003, another official came to a different but similar neighborhood in which I also work, Lar Nacional, to demand the cancellation of a resident's title to his houselot because of a discrepancy in measurements. The courts had recently issued this title as an original deed of ownership by virtue of adverse possession—a statutory method of obtaining original title by demonstrating certain kinds of possession over an uninterrupted period of time. Organized by their neighborhood association, residents had spent more than ten years petitioning the courts for such validation. This was the first case to return from the justice system favorably judged, by which the resident received a new title in his name with its own site plan and tax number. Now, an official from the Municipal Treasury Department wanted it cancelled because the measurements recorded on the title did not match those on file with the Department of Engineering. The residents knew why: The area's developers had superimposed so many subdivision plans over the years in their efforts to usurp land and swindle buyers that none corresponded to what had actually been built. As requested by the Association's attorney, however, the courts had appointed an official appraiser in each case of adverse possession to create an accurate site plan that would supersede all other plans by defining the actual conditions of occupation as original for any title eventually issued.

Aguiar, an executive director of the Society of Friends of the Neighborhood, has followed all cases of land conflict in the area for over three decades. As a result, he told me, “we of the Society were prepared, expecting that this [kind of contestation] would happen sooner or later.” Hence, the Association had issued standing orders to all residents: “Never enter into any polemic or fight with any official who appears at your door; send him to the Society to talk.” When the Treasury official claimed that the resident's “house was wrong,” as Aguiar put it, “we knew that it wasn't because we had the [new] title, ratified by the judge; and the judge only ratified it based on the official appraiser, who is the eye of the law.” Armed with that knowledge, Aguiar confronted the Treasury official by law talking him. He defied him to produce a better document than the court-ratified title and site plan, one which would, he argued, have to overturn the judge's ruling. Moreover, he challenged the official “to look for the law,” by which he meant to find out exactly what the law stipulated in this case, what the courts had ruled, and to what effect. Then, he meticulously explained to the official what he would find if he went to all that trouble. He elucidated the purpose and consequences of adverse possession, and he exhibited documents from the Society's archive to show that the earlier plans had been cancelled by court order and superseded by the new title. In this manner, he rebutted the official's claim that the measurements were off because the resident had encroached on someone else's lot. After about an hour of this law talk, the official left, conceding that his claim seemed indeed to have “no merit.” Neither he nor anyone else from the Treasury returned to pursue the matter.5

What happened to residents of the poor urban periphery during these three decades that converted their violence into law talk, their belligerent reactions into the proactions of citizens using rights strategically? When I first went to Brazil in 1980, I noted that although people certainly spoke about having particular rights, they seemed to consider them conferred by statuses other than citizen, such as worker. When they used “citizen,” it generally meant someone with whom they had no relation of any significance, an anonymous other, a “nobody”—a person, in fact, without rights, usually in an unfortunate circumstance. They said it to make clear that the person was not family, friend, neighbor, acquaintance, competitor, or anyone else with a familiar identity; to establish, in short, not only the absence of a personal relation but also the rejection of a commensurable one that would entail social norms applied in common. “Citizen” indicated distance, anonymity, and uncommon ground. This formulation considered, moreover, that what such others deserve is the law—not law as rights but law as disadvantage and humiliation, a sense perfectly expressed in the Brazilian maxim “for friends, everything; for enemies, the law,” a sense enacted by the residents in 1972 who beat up the court official. In 2003, however, the law talk of residents indicated an inversion of the assumptions of this maxim about what is near and far in the social order.

“Citizen” indicated distance, anonymity, and uncommon ground

Let me give another example of everyday encounters that have been transformed by a new paradigm of citizenship. I was standing in line at a bank in downtown São Paulo in the mid 1990s. Like most other interactions with bureaucracy in Brazil, bank lines are notorious for humiliating the poor and the unprivileged. Lines are long because all bills (from utility charges to installment payments to state fees) are paid at banks and because most people pay them in person. However, privileged customers do not wait in line. Those who have so-called special accounts get preferential treatment from bank managers. Others employ errand “boys” to pay bills. A few other categories of people are privileged as well. Pregnant women, seniors, and the physically challenged have the right to cut the line or go to a special window. The rest wait. In my experience, unfortunately extensive in this regard, people in line do not complain, at least publicly. When I asked fellow-line sufferers to explain why the preference, privilege, or right of some and on what basis, they would shrug off the special treatment by saying “that's the way it is for them” (the rich), or “it's the law,” or “the bank authorizes it” (for certain people), pointing to a sign saying as much hung above a teller's window. Sometimes, they would explain that these kinds of people deserve special treatment and the authorities recognize that. In other words, those I asked raised issues of authority and the authorization of privilege, different rights for different categories of persons, relative public standing and worth, need and compensation, and resignation to the reinforcement of social inequality in everyday public interactions. They did not raise issues of fair treatment, accountability, or other aspects of equal worth.

These submissive responses to everyday negotiations of public standing occur when citizenship disempowers citizens, strange as that might seem. Empowerment happens when a citizen's sense of an objective source of right in citizenship entails a corresponding sense of subjective power—power to change existing arrangements (legal and other), exact compliance, compel behavior. In turn, such citizen power establishes the liability of others to it. However, when some people lack citizen power in relation to other people, the latter benefit from an immunity, an absence of liability. The one is powerless, the other immune. These relations of powerlessness for most and immunity for some precisely characterize the public realm of the entrenched regime of Brazilian citizenship dominant for centuries.6

In the bank line, I recognized ahead of me a manicurist who works in a beauty salon near my home. I imagined the occupations of others in line: domestic workers, clerks, errand boys, drivers, store attendants, many of them people of color. Most, if not all, of them lived in the peripheries in neighborhoods like Jardim das Camélias and Lar Nacional and commuted to work in the center. Nearer the front was a decidedly more middle-class-looking man, dressed in a tie and jacket. Suddenly, a teenager cut the line in front of this man. He was dressed in a recognizably middle-class style for his age. Neither the man nor the teenager—who would both have been called “white”—said a word to each other or exchanged a glance that I could see. At that point, the manicurist stepped forward and objected: “You can't cut the line.” Others nodded, and someone added: “You can't; your place is at the back.” The teenager said nothing and remained at the front. Then, the man in the tie and jacket turned to the manicurist and announced: “I authorize it.” If the man had said, “he's my son,”“he's my friend,” or even “he's with me” that would surely have been a satisfactory explanation. But regardless of whether the two even knew each other, which was not clear, the man had used the language, tone, and gesture of power and privilege. His was a predictable response to achieve what he assumed would be the predictable outcome of this classic encounter of Brazilian social identities in public space. Without retreating a step, however, the manicurist turned this world of assumptions upside-down: “This is a public space,” she asserted, “and I have my rights. Here, you don't authorize anything. You don't rule [mandar]. You only rule in your kitchen and over your wife.” She replied with such assurance that the man turned around without a word, and the teenager went to the back of the line.

Leaving aside the issue of “kitchens and wives,” the manicurist's performance indicates the force of a new conviction about citizenship among the working classes. Her demand for respect and equality, assertion of rights in public and to the public, and realignment of class, gender, and race in the calculations of public standing are evidence not only of being fed up with the old formula of civic assumptions. They also articulate essential premises of a new formulation of citizenship. They establish a radically common measure among Brazilians who are anonymous to each other—neither friends nor enemies, but citizens who, for some purposes, are equal.

This performance of a new civility has not, I stress, replaced the historic one of citizen privilege for some and degradation for many—as the higher-class man assumed and tried to enact. Rather, the two formulations coexist, unhappily and dangerously, creating the mix of contradictory elements that constitutes Brazilian public space today. Thus, within a decade of the manicurist's protest, banks massively installed automated teller machines that offer equal access to most banking services. This was a technological change driven not only by massive increases in the number of poor Brazilians with bank accounts but also by their insistence on more equitable treatment. Yet most Brazilian banks also responded to the latter by building entire branches or separate sections of existing branches that are exclusively reserved for their elite customers. Now, the rich and the poor have no contact at banks, and the proximity of different statuses that made social inequality palpable has been eliminated. Thus the demand for greater equality and dignity has also produced new forms of separation and incivility in reaction. In fact, the severity of this reaction is proof that the insurgence of a new formulation of citizenship among the urban poor seriously threatens many long-term and deeply entrenched assumptions about the compact of Brazilian society.

Thus the demand for greater equality and dignity has also produced new forms of separation and incivility in reaction

Indeed, this insurgent citizenship finally marched out of the residential peripheries, out of the everyday institutions like bank lines that had become battlefields in this conflict of citizenships, and overran the central civic square itself. In 2002, I was in São Paulo for the victorious presidential campaign of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers' Party (PT). It was a massive, ecstatic victory that resignified the central spaces of São Paulo with the red banners of “citizenship,”“democracy,” and “social justice.” I realized that Brazilians voted for Lula not only to demand future change but also to acclaim as emblematically theirs a life-story about what has already changed: a story of industrialization, urban migration, city transformation, and citizen struggle that has remade Brazil in the last fifty years. It is a history that Lula personifies charismatically. Although he grew up poor in the urban peripheries of São Paulo, the urban conditions of poverty were not stagnant: he became both a factory worker and an urban pioneer, as he and legions of other migrants powered São Paulo's industrial boom and transformed its hinterland by turning the shacks they had to build for themselves into masonry homes and urbanizing their neighborhoods. Through their labor, they became modern industrial workers in the urban peripheries they constructed out of “bush.” By 1980, they had defied military rule to mobilize factories and founded a political party of their own, the PT, that organized the periphery's neighborhoods through a mix of left politics and popular Catholicism. After three failed presidential bids, Lula and the PT won, with more than 60 percent of the national vote, by pledging to forge a “social pact” for all citizens and a “social justice” for the poor.

Lula represents this laboring Brazil precisely because he comes from the autoconstructed peripheries in which a majority of Brazilians now live and in which they build their own houses, neighborhoods, and urban life. As my ethnographic examples of conflicts in everyday public spaces show, they also construct a new realm of participation, rights, and citizenship in their urban practices. Lula embodies, in other words, not only the individual self-making of an immigrant and industrious São Paulo. He also exemplifies the collective experience of the city-making of peripheries and their citizenry throughout Brazil. That Lula's administration got sunk in profound corruption, having apparently traded its project of social justice for one of mere power, is another if tragic matter that I cannot consider here. On that October night in 2002, his election affirmed the body and spirit of this complex autoconstruction, synthesizing the unprecedented national force the peripheries had become. In just a few decades, the urban working classes had constructed a civic force capable of striking hard at that still dominant Brazil in which the historical norm of citizenship fosters exclusion, inequality, illegality, violence, and the social logics of privilege and deference as the ground of national belonging. The development of the autoconstructed urban peripheries had thus engaged a confrontation between two citizenships, one insurgent and the other entrenched. For a moment, at least, the law-talking and rights-acting citizens of the peripheries had taken over the central square.

Differentiated citizenship

To follow the emergence of this new urban citizenship, we need to understand the existing conditions of working-class citizenship within which alternatives developed. This is a complex historical problem, as it is in the case of every city and its “slums.” The working-class development of São Paulo is grounded in a reiteration of centuries-old relations between land, labor, and law: in land policies designed to anchor a certain kind of labor force and in illegalities that initiate settlement and precipitate the legalization of property claims. The residential illegalities of today's peripheries repeat these old patterns. But they do so with an unexpected outcome that, ultimately, generates new formulations of citizenship. Given the historical depth of these patterns and the limitations of space in this essay, I can only give the briefest sketch.7

To consolidate their rule of the new nation-state at the beginning of the 19th century, Brazil's landed elites formulated a regime of citizenship using social differences that were not the basis of national membership—differences of education, property, race, gender, and occupation—to distribute different treatment to different categories of citizens. It thereby generated a gradation of rights among them, in which most rights are available only to particular kinds of citizens and exercised as the privilege of particular social categories. I describe it, therefore, as a differentiated citizenship that uses these social qualifications to organize its political, civil, and social dimensions and to regulate its distribution of inequalities. The citizenship system thus created was universally inclusive in membership but massively inegalitarian in distribution.

To maintain this differentiated citizenship in response to independence in 1822 and the abolition of slavery in 1888, ruling elites developed a two-fold solution. To control political citizenship, they made suffrage direct and voluntary but restricted it to the literate in 1881. This restriction immediately reduced the electorate to a fraction of the population (about 1 percent). Moreover, in the Republic's founding constitution (1891), they eliminated the right of citizens to a primary education that would have given them the rudiments of literacy and that had been enshrined (though not much realized) in the independence charter (1824). Enacted with the stroke of a pen, the literacy restriction denied most Brazilians their political citizenship for an entire century, until it was repealed in 1985. To dominate civil and economic matters, elites created a real estate market to legitimate the ownership of private property and finance the immigration of free labor. Adapting the English theorist of colonialism E.G. Wakefield, they kept land prices high and wages low to deny the working masses legal access to land and independent production and to force them, as a result, to remain a source of semi-servile cheap labor. Thus, political and civil citizenship developed in step: both became more restrictive as Brazil changed from an imperial nation based on slave labor to a republican nation based on wage labor over the course of the 19th-century.

Subsequent regimes in the 20th century perpetuated this paradigm of an inclusively inegalitarian citizenship by giving it modern urban industrial form, incorporating the new urban workers into a public sphere of labor law without equality or autonomy. As a result of the persistence of this paradigm of differentiated citizenship, most Brazilians in 1972—when the court official was beaten—had been denied political rights, excluded from property ownership, estranged from law, incorporated into the labor market as servile workers, and forced into segregated and often illegal conditions of residence in hinterlands that lacked infrastructure.

However, the new densities of urban life in these peripheries created a paradoxical possibility, that of developing a sphere of independence precisely in the interior and—from the perspective of central authority—remote spaces of neighborhoods in the peripheries. There, organized around the social life and necessities of residence, beyond immediate state, party, and employer sanction, a new space of civic participation, rights, and collective imagination emerged.

Urban citizenship

The paradigm of differentiated citizenship remains contemporary, having survived—indeed nourished—every political regime over the last 200 years, thriving under monarchy, military dictatorship, and electoral democracy. It perdures through its enabling conditions: exclusion from property, denial of political rights, residential illegality, misrule of law, servility. However, these conditions changed after the 1940s as the majority of Brazilians moved to cities and built the peripheries. In the autoconstructed city, these very same historical sites of differentiation fueled the irruption of an insurgent citizenship that destabilized the differentiated, as the urban poor gained political rights by becoming functionally literate, established claims to property through house building, established rights to urban infrastructure, made law an asset through their struggles with eviction, became modern consumers, and achieved personal competence through their experience of the city. These achievements validated their standing as city-builders. Moreover, they produced an unprecedented involvement in law that made their leaders confident to confront justice officials with legal reasoning.

The sum of these experiences generated a new urban citizenship among residents in the poor peripheries based on three core processes. The first generated a new kind of participation in an alternative public sphere, one based on residents' own grassroots organizations through which they articulated their needs in terms of rights and in so doing constituted an agenda of citizenship. The second gave them a new understanding of the basis of these rights and of their dignity as bearers of rights. The third transformed the relation between state and citizen, generating new legal frameworks, participatory institutions, and policy-making practices. I consider that these processes constitute an urban citizenship when they develop under four conditions that all refer to the city: when urban residence is the basis of mobilization; when the agenda of mobilization is about “rights to the city”; when the city is the primary political community of comparison for these developments; and when residents legitimate this agenda of rights and participatory practices on the basis of their contributions to the city itself.

Instead of domesticating the “dangerous classes,” the material and legal difficulties of autoconstruction politicized them, becoming core issues of grassroots organizations and movements

Although I do not have space here to examine these three processes in depth, I want to highlight the quality of new civic participation and the change in conception of rights as fundamental in developing this insurgent citizenship.8 Instead of domesticating the “dangerous classes,” the material and legal difficulties of autoconstruction politicized them, becoming core issues of grassroots organizations and movements. In ways that contradict Chatterjee's (2004) arguments about politics among the urban poor “in most of the world” (see Note 2), they formed into voluntary associations to demand the regularization of their property and the delivery of basic urban services as citizens who claim rights to the city. Most of these organizations developed with considerable autonomy from the established domains of citizenship officially available to the working classes. In effect, the very conditions of remoteness in the peripheries enabled an off-work and out-of-sight freedom to invent new modes of association. Moreover, segregation motivated residents to demand inclusion in the legal city, in its property, infrastructure, and services.

These mobilizations politicized people around the redistributive claims of rights to the city focused on the residential conditions of daily life in the new autoconstructed peripheries. Residents demanded urbanization of their neighborhoods, forcing the state to provide infrastructure and access to health services, schools, and child care. During the last twenty years, for example, the residents of Lar Nacional have waged protest campaigns for potable piped water, sewage lines, street paving, public lighting, bus service, trash collection, a preschool, and a health clinic. Remarkably, they achieved all of these objectives—the sole exception being definitive title to their houselots.

In mobilizing these campaigns, women emerged as some of the most effective leaders of this new civic chorus of organized residents, thus achieving a doubly new and unsettling voice. They developed new strategies of protests and politicized motherhood as a means of making demands. Moreover, their engagements in the city yielded an unprecedented knowledge of bureaucracy and law.9 With some of the men, they became researchers, investigating the requirements for each infrastructure they demanded, conducting extensive archival investigations at municipal departments, courts, and registries into land titles, subdivision plans, surveyors' records, and so forth, in an effort to unravel the tangled history of titles in the area and substantiate their own claims as good-faith buyers who had been swindled. In the process, they gained both a legal education and an idiom for engaging the state and its elites. One of the most active researchers and leaders in Lar Nacional, Arlete Silvestre, told me how she learned about the courts.

To tell the truth, I couldn't even tell one court from another; I didn't know what their names meant or anything about them. I was a house-wife with a baby. I had only finished elementary school . . . I didn't know anything, but I kept learning things after I joined the [neighborhood association].

In becoming knowledgeable and pressing their demands, residents confronted the state with its negligence as provider of the well-being of citizens. In this confrontation, a much more autonomous sphere of self-interested and competent citizens emerged. It challenged a fundamental conception of Brazilian society inherent in the modernizing state that has dominated Brazil, namely, that Brazil's masses are ignorant citizens who are incapable of making competent decisions on their own and who therefore need to be led into modernity by an enlightened elite. In the insurgent formulation, by contrast, the residents of the peripheries imagine that their interests derive from their own experiences, not from state plans, and that they are informed and competent to make decisions.

The neighborhood associations also forged new horizontal confederations of citizens concerned with housing, land conflicts, infrastructure, human rights, and urban administration that became city-wide and even national movements. The most significant was their massive participation in framing the 1988 Constitution at the end of military rule. This movement turned the insurgent citizens of the urban peripheries into key protagonists in a national struggle over the democratic imagination of a new charter for Brazilian society. They fought not only to make the constitution formally democratic. They insisted on participating directly in its elaboration. Their objective was to insure that it embody their experiences—those of modern urban working classes—as a basic source of substantive rights and social justice.10

During the constitutional convention (1986–1988), combinations of 288 plenary organizations, representing thousands of groups throughout Brazil, submitted 122 popular amendments, backed by more than 12 million signatures. Some had more than 700,000 each. Many of these initiatives concerned new forms of guaranteeing popular participation in the business of government and the management of citizen affairs. For example, they require citizens to participate in developing annual municipal budgets, mandate public debates for master urban plans, and create advisory citizen councils. They are, without doubt, innovations in participatory democracy. Other popular amendments that developed into constitutional principle and statutory law address the urban conditions of the poor, especially those of housing, land rights, and squatting. These are innovations in social justice. Both types of innovation assume and require that the masses of Brazil, “silent and backward” just forty years prior, have become an organized participatory citizenry.11

This participatory citizenship so strongly marked the development of a democratic imagination among residents in the peripheries that almost ten years after the Constitutional Assembly (the Assembléia Constituinte), I still noticed a striking lexical phenomenon in my interviews. One woman in Lar Nacional told me: “It's beautiful to read, look, I have this right. If you take the Constituinte to read—I have read various parts—you look at it and say: Wow, can this be a fairy tale? Is it true? But if I don't use it, I won't know if what is written really works.” I first thought this use of Constituinte was an idiosyncratic error in syntax. But after transcribing many interviews, I realized that this switching of terms is consistent: When residents talk about the Constituição, they frequently use the word Constituinte instead. That is, they often refer to the text of the national charter by the agency—their insurgent agency—in making it.


Why do you think you have rights?

Well, one part is just what we were saying. I am an honest person, thank God. I don't steal from anyone. I am a worker. I fulfill my obligations at home, with my family. I pay my taxes. But today I think the following: I have rights because the Constituinte[i.e., Constitution] gives me these rights. But I have to run after my rights. I have to look for them. Because if I don't, they won't fall from the sky. Only rain falls from the sky. You can live here fifty years. You can have your things. But if you don't run after your rights, how are you going make them happen? [Resident of Jardim das Camélias since 1970, SAB member, retired textile worker]

The public spheres of citizenship that emerged in Brazilian peripheries forced the state to respond to their new urban conditions by recognizing new kinds and sources of citizen rights. These rights concerned issues of both substance and scope that the state's existing laws and institutions had generally neglected. In that sense, they developed on the margins of the established assumptions of governance: they addressed the new collective and personal spaces of daily life among the poor in the urban peripheries; they concerned women and children as well as men; they established duties to provide state services. Without doubt, the greatest historical innovation of these rights is that they initiate a reconceptualization: their advocates began to conceive of them as entitlements of general citizenship rather than of specifically differentiated categories of citizens, such as registered worker. In these ways, the emergence of new participatory publics in the peripheries not only expanded substantive citizenship to new social bases. It also created new understandings and practices of rights.

Yet, as the statement above suggests, this foundation of rights remains a mix of new and old formulations. As one of the failures of research on “urban slums” has been to neglect changing conceptions of rights, I want to emphasize their importance. When I ask residents in the neighborhoods why they think they have rights and on what basis, they consistently invoke an amalgam of three conceptions. As the textile work stated, they speak about rights as privileges of specific moral and social categories (“I am an honest worker”), as deriving from their stakes in the city (“I pay my taxes,”“I built my home and helped build this neighborhood”), and as written in the Constitution (“the Constituinte gives me rights”). In other words, they present a hybrid of what I call special treatment rights, contributor rights, and text-based rights. This typology has a temporal organization, following the strategies residents deploy in their housing and land conflicts. For example, text-based rights appears only after the Constitutional Assembly and remains mixed with the other two in discussion. This is not to say that people never referred to earlier constitutions and laws. But when a few occasionally did, it was to complain that, with the exception of labor rights, these charters did not apply to them.

In these three formulations, people use the same concept to describe the realization of rights. They speak of “looking for your rights” or “running after them.” However, doing so generally means something different in each case, with a different outcome. The conceptualization of rights as the privilege of certain kinds of citizens has grounded, in various incarnations, the entrenched system of differentiated citizenship. As long as it prevails, citizenship remains overwhelmingly a means for distributing and legitimating inequality. In the post-Constitution peripheries, however, this conception confronts an insurgent one of generalized text-based rights. The latter proposes that citizens have an unconditional worth in rights, not dependent on their personal social or moral statuses. It therefore creates conditions for the realization of a more equalitarian citizenship. Organized around home ownership, the concept of contributor rights ambiguously propagates both systems of citizenship. It does so because, although widespread, autoconstruction excludes some residents (e.g., renters).12 But as it is universally recognized as the generator of the peripheries, it emphasizes the self-determination and accomplishment of residents, both individually and collectively. It tends, therefore, to promote a citizenship of universal “autoconstruction” and has a kind of egalitarian agency absent from the differentiated paradigm. In the contemporary peripheries, all three conceptualizations of rights remain vital and mixed in the development of citizenship.

Dangerous spaces of citizenship

Let me close by complicating this story of insurgent urban citizenship. Its study shows that the insurgent perpetuates key features of the entrenched. In Brazil, this means perpetuating the values of property ownership, the practice of legalizing the illegal, and the norm of special treatment rights because insurgent citizens continue to use these attributes in their reformulations of citizenship. Yet it also shows that rather than merely nourish new versions of the hegemonic, the insurgent disrupts: it remains conjoined with the entrenched, but in an unstable entanglement that corrodes both.

Under the political democracy that Brazilians achieved in 1985, this corrosion became perverse: as the working classes democratized urban space and its public, new kinds of violence, injustice, and impunity increased dramatically. Brazilian cities experienced a generalized climate of fear, criminalization of the poor, criminal violence, support for police violence, abandonment of public space, and fortification of residence. The judiciary and the police became even more discredited. Thus, at the moment that democracy took root, the entanglement of democracy and its counters eroded some aspects of citizenship even as it expanded others. This coincidence is the paradox of Brazil's democratization.

Thus, at the moment that democracy took root, the entanglement of democracy and its counters eroded some aspects of citizenship even as it expanded others

Yet we would hardly expect insurgent citizenship to be stable in its expansion. It too has holes into which it collapses. Exactly because the old formulas of differentiated citizenship persist, new incivilities and injustices arise with democratization. Hence the intertwining of the differentiated and the insurgent has contradictory effect. It erodes the coherence of taken-for-granted categories of domination that gave daily life its sense of order and security. If it did not, it would be inconsequential. Democracy is not the only force of such destabilization, and it gets tangled with others such as urbanization and privatization. But in itself, democracy provokes violent reactions, some to restore old paradigms of order and others to express outrage that their elements—now more visible because disrupted—persist. Thus democracy brings its own kinds of violence that irrupt where it destabilizes older formulations of order and repression.

Emblematic of this unstable mix of old and new formulations of citizenship is the high levels of everyday violence by both criminals and police. This mix finds a particularly perverse expression in Brazilian society when both criminal drug cartels and police-based death squads use the language of democratic rights and rule of law to justify their especially brutal violence.13 As much has now been written about these everyday and exceptional violences, I want to draw attention to other expressions in the urban public of the sense of violation and outrage that the unstable mix of insurgent and entrenched citizenships produces. I refer to the in-your-face incivilities and aggressive aesthetics now common in everyday public interactions in São Paulo. On the one hand, I refer to elite practices of fortifying and privatizing the city in the name of “security” that criminalize the poor; on the other, to a set of social and artistic practices developed in the poor peripheries that are also aggressive: the complex of hip-hop and funk that uses music, dancing, and graffiti to homogenize and antagonize and that rejects the “made in Brazil” culture of inclusion, race mixing, and consensus consolidated in Brazilian popular music (MPB), carnaval, and capoeira for Americanized idioms of racial and class polarization (see Caldeira 2006 for hip-hop in São Paulo and Yúdice 1994 for funk in Rio); the affirmative action campaign in higher education that biologizes “race” and assigns Brazilians to bipolar categories (see Fry 2000; Htun 2004); the penetration by the “servant classes” of residential spaces previously reserved for “masters only” (see Holston 2008:275–284); the falsification and display of elite commodities to assert knowledge of and access to globalized fashion (ibid); everyday acts of transgression and “dissing” in public space (in traffic, for example) that indulge and in that sense celebrate the norm of impunity. To those who for centuries have expressed their rule through the demonstration of privilege, all these practices replace expectations of lower-class deference and accommodation with attitudes of nonnegotiation.

As Caldeira (2006) analyzes it, the rap music in the hip-hop movements of São Paulo is performed by young men who deliberately homogenize the peripheries they identify with into spaces of despair, into emblems of the worst inequality and violence: “They position themselves in the peripheries, identify themselves as poor and black, express an explicit class and racial antagonism, and create a style of confrontation that leaves very little space for tolerance and negotiation. Their raps and literature establish a nonbridgeable and nonnegotiable distance between rich and poor, white and black, center and periphery” (ibid:117). In a different idiom, graffiti “taggers” mainly from the peripheries “go all city,” to use the New York expression that characterized its graffiti movement in the 1970s. Targeting especially surfaces that seem least accessible, they leave no cityscape unmarked by their repetitive verticalized script. Their objective is not only to assault by these means the security-driven privatizations of São Paulo. It is also to create a new visual public of city surfaces that people cannot avoid seeing, a new urban skin that taggers know most residents condemn as ugly, unintelligible, and criminal, as unequivocal proof of the deterioration of urban space and its public. The point is that taggers celebrate that condemnation.

Can we view such incivilities as expressions of insurgent citizenship, as forms of protest and civic actions, when they seem intended to disrupt assumptions about the sorts of inclusions, deferences, and hierarchies that have sustained differentiated citizenship? Indeed, elites predictably view them not as new proximities but as intrusions into public and domestic spaces they once ruled completely. Thus they respond by creating new kinds of distance. Motivated by fear, suspicion, and outrage, elites withdraw from the sort of everyday personal contact that made their style of rule—their regime of differentiated citizenship—famous for its surface congenialities, ludic ambiguities, and apparent inclusions. Instead, they develop an array of new social and physical barriers. On the one hand, they exhibit explicit disdain. This mindset culminates in racist criminalizations of the lower classes, which oppose human rights and support police violence. On the other, they wall themselves into residential and commercial enclosures, guarded by private security and high-tech surveillance, that make explicit the hard facts of the “know-your-place” rule that used to be far more implicit.

It may be stretching credibility to call these “marginal” idioms of tagging, rap, fashion, racial polarization, “dissing,” and defiance expressions of insurgent citizenship. Yet they do disrupt the ideologies of universal inclusion that have sustained the ruling elite's formulation of differentiated citizenship. These ideologies effectively blur—in the sense of making less appreciable—its massively and brutally inegalitarian distributions. Expressed in a variety of nationalist ideologies, cultural institutions, and social conventions (e.g., “racial democracy,”carnaval, and play of race classifications), the civility of the entrenched regime thus accentuates inclusion, accommodation, ambiguity, and heterogeneity as idioms of social relation. These idioms of inclusion are further complimented by cultural conventions of seduction that give personal relations of gender, racial, and economic difference a gloss of complicit accommodation, a sense of intimacy that obscures but maintains fundamental inequalities: I refer to the seductive ambiguities produced through such (untranslatable) artifices as jetinho, malícia, malandragem, jinga, jogo de cintura, and mineirice, and universalized in the institutions of samba, carnival, and capoeira—all celebrated in Brazilian culture but beyond my purpose here to describe.

As insurgent citizenship disrupts the differentiated, these dominant formulations of inclusion wear thin and the inequalities they cover become intolerable

My point is that these ideologies and conventions of inclusion have only recently become less convincing. As insurgent citizenship disrupts the differentiated, these dominant formulations of inclusion wear thin and the inequalities they cover become intolerable. Increasingly exhausted, they get replaced in everyday relations by in-your-face incivilities. The problem for contemporary Brazilian society is that although the inequitable distributions remain, their blurrings have lost efficacy. This exhaustion increasingly exposes the hard facts of inequality “for Brazilians to see.” Hence, in claiming the city through their various practices, those of both center and periphery view each other as speaking through idioms of insult.

The undeniable exaggerations of violence, injustice, and corruption in the current period of political democracy may thus be considered in these terms: the gross inequalities continue but the political and cultural pacts that have sustained them are worn out. This flaying of a social skin transforms city and society. It produces rawness, outrage, and exaggeration. In this sense we may say, perhaps, that the deep democratic changes embodied in this process necessarily produce incivility as a public idiom of resistance and insistence.

I conclude that although Brazil's democratization has not been able to overcome these problems, neither has the counter-configurations of violence and injustice been able to prevent the development of significant measures of democratic innovation. Above all, it has not prevented the widespread legitimation of an insurgent democratic citizenship. For the time being in Brazil, as in so many places, neither democracy nor its counters prevails. Rooted, they remain entangled, unexpectedly surviving each other.


  • Acknowledgments. I would like to thank Joshua Barker and Ato Quayson for their invitation to participate in the conference “Street Life” at the University of Toronto in 2007, for which I prepared this essay. Parts of it are drawn from my book Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (2008). An earlier version appeared in a bilingual Catalan/English edition, published as a booklet by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.

  • 1

    In his study of politics among India's urban poor, Chatterjee (2004) presents a different analysis. Although overwhelmingly based on Calcutta and without reference to cases outside of India, he claims that his conclusions describe popular politics “in most of the world.” He dichotomizes Indian society into two spheres: a “civil society” that is the domain of “proper citizens” who are middle and upper-class elites, in contrast to a “political society” that is the domain of the rest of Indians who are “only tenuously rights-bearing citizens” and “not, therefore, proper members of civil society” at all but rather a “population” for the state to govern (38). Based on this dichotomy, he describes the politics of the former in terms of citizenship and the urban conflicts of the latter in terms of governmentality and clientalistic patronage. I find this scheme both conceptually and empirically mistaken. The empirical work of other Indian researchers (see above) suggests a far more complex awareness of rights among India's urban poor. Furthermore, governmentality and citizenship are not opposed as Chatterjee would have it but surely overlapping conditions. Citizens are both simultaneously and disjunctively targets of policy and participants in sovereignty, especially in contemporary cities where insurgent citizenship movements turn those who are subject to government technologies into agents of rights as well—as I analyze with a Brazilian example in the following sections.

  • 2

    See Rabinow (1989) and Rose and Osborne (1999) for studies of the pathologization of 19th-century European cities. During this period, both government and medical science came to view rapid urbanization and the urban conditions for mass populations it produced as the generator of multiple pathologies—of disease, crime, revolution, and moral degeneracy—and therefore targeted them as legitimate objects of intervention and regulation. See Coleman 1982 for a history of this epidemiology. For industrial, modernist, and suburban planning responses, see Rabinow (1989), Le Corbusier (1973), Holston (1989), and Nicolaides and Wiese (2006).

  • 3

    Examples include Davis (2006) and Neuwirth (2006). With the rise of new pandemics (e.g., HIV/AIDS and SARS), cities are once again being viewed as radiating nodes of infection. In the 21st century, however, the stakes are presented as global. The prime targets for new systems of surveillance and response have shifted to cities of the global south and their extraordinary rates of urbanization. The current “urban catastrophe” literature views these cities as sites of emerging pathogens that are especially lethal because they spread through the very global flows that constitute contemporary urbanization. See Davis and Siu (2007) and Morse (1995). I thank Lyle Fearnley for these references.

  • 4

    Let me emphasize a point often misunderstood by outsiders (Brazilian and foreign): the majority of “slum dwellers” in most Brazilian cities, of those who live in the poor peripheries, are good-faith purchasers of house lots in subdivisions (loteamentos) who have been defrauded in one form or another. They are not squatters and do not live in favelas. A favela is a land seizure without any payment and is only one of several types of illegal land occupation in Brazil's urban landscape. Thus, favela residents have no claims to land ownership, although they own their houses—an ownership that the state generally recognizes in various ways. In São Paulo, for example, approximately 10 percent of the municipal population lives in favelas. Although in a few neighborhoods in São Paulo and in some cities—notably Rio de Janeiro—it is as high as 30 or 40 percent, these are exceptions. I do not want to minimize the importance of favelas as home to poor Brazilians. After all, 10 percent of São Paulo's municipal population is more than one million people. But the more important point is that dividing the Brazilian urban world into a dichotomy of favelas for the poor and fortified enclaves for the rich is demographically and morphologically false. This world is infinitely more complex, tangled, contradictory, and vital. For further discussion of differences and relations between poor lot owners and squatters in São Paulo and of the significant but decreasing importance of this distinction for citizen mobilization, see Holston (2008) and Caldeira and Holston (2005).

  • 5

    That it is generally only the most active members of neighborhood organizations who exhibit the competence of law talk is beside the point for my arguments about new citizenship. Although the rank and file typically do not understand the complex legal reasoning involved and are unable to produce it, they refer problems to those who do—namely, their community leaders and attorneys—rather than express their frustrations violently. Neighborhood leaders and archives constitute a collective resource that residents as a group construct and utilize individually and collectively when necessary. Thus, law talk among them is publicized, generalized, and becomes public knowledge.

  • 6

    I draw my use of power and liability here from Hohfeld's (1978) correlative scheme of socio-legal relations. Both the civil law tradition (descendant from Roman law and dominant in Europe and Latin America) and the common (Anglo-American) recognize these relations in somewhat different ways. The former holds that objective law is the rule to which an individual must conform, and subjective right is the power of an individual that derives from the rule. The latter uses the notion of remedy, which entails empowerment, holding that where there is a right there must be a remedy.

  • 7

    A fuller account is found in Holston (2008).

  • 8

    See my book Insurgent Citizenship, especially 203–267, for a detailed historical and ethnographic examination of these processes of change.

  • 9

    See also Caldeira's (1990) analysis of the emergence of women leaders in the residentially-based social movements of the peripheries of São Paulo.

  • 10

    The history of this organized popular participation in the Constitutional Assembly is related in Michiles et al. (1989).

  • 11

    On the new forms of democratic participation and association, see Avritzer (2004) (for essays on São Paulo). For a discussion of participatory budgeting, see Abers (2000) and Baiocchi 2005; and for new democratic initiatives in urban planning, Caldeira and Holston (2005).

  • 12

    The rates of home ownership in the peripheries of São Paulo are remarkably high, between 70 percent and 90 percent according to various measures (see Holston 2008:183–84). These rates include squatters, who generally own their homes but not the land. Thus, the identity of home owner is overwhelming though not quite universal in the peripheral neighborhoods.

  • 13

    On violence, crime, and fortification during the contemporary period of political democracy in São Paulo, the classic study is Caldeira (2000). On the use of the language of democracy, rights, and justice by both gangs and police, see Caldeira (2006) and Holston (2008:271–309).