Performances of Police Legitimacy in Rio's Hyper Favela


  • Erika Robb Larkins

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    • Erika Robb Larkins is Wick Cary Assistant Professor of Brazilian Studies at the University of Oklahoma. The author thanks Neil Whitehead, Bea Jauregui, Dan Emory, Lisa Foster, and Emily Rook-Koepsel, as well as the three LSI anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments on earlier versions of this piece. Research was funded by the University of Oklahoma Research Council, a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, the UW Chancellor's Fellowship for the Public Humanities, and the Scott Kloeck Jenson Fellowship for Social Justice at the University of Wisconsin.


Rio de Janeiro is home to over one-thousand favelas (slums), the majority of which are controlled by armed drug traffickers engaged in a long-standing war with police. This article shows how state legitimacy is challenged by the everyday reality of dual power, postcolonial legacies of inequality and marginalization, and a porous culture of law. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in one of the largest favelas in the city, I argue that police actions revolve around the enactment of violent spectacle, performed by the Elite Special Forces, BOPE. The use of performative violence, however, rather than shoring up state control at the margins of city life, works instead to undermine police (and state) authority.