13.09.2012 - UNESCO Office in Brasilia

New research about favelas is launched during international seminar in Rio de Janeiro

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Hervé Photos - Cantagalo, RJ, Brazil. One of the favelas (slums) that took part in the "Underground Sociabilities" study.

Subject: International Seminar Underground Sociabilities: identity, culture and resistance in marginalized communities

Date: September 13th 2012, from 10am to 6pm.

Venue: Auditorium of Espaço Criança Esperança at Cantagalo – Rio de Janeiro, RJ

In what way are favela communities in Rio de Janeiro finding alternative forms of integration, socialization and social regeneration capable of breaking the barriers of exclusion and marginalization? Unveiling those forms of sociability was the main goal of the study launched on Thursday, September 13th, in Rio, during the International Seminar Underground Sociabilities: identity, culture and resistance in marginalized communities. A London launch will take place in November 2nd.

The study was conducted by the British institution, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), in partnership with UNESCO in Brazil, AfroReggae, CUFA, Itaú Cultural, and Itaú Social. It involved speakers from universities, social movements, the government and private initiatives.

The launch had the presence of the study coordinator, head researcher and director of the Masters Program in Social Psychology of LSE, Sandra Jovchelovitch, of national and international specialists in public security and human rights, of  NGO leaders and authorities of the Federal Government and of the State of Rio de Janeiro. At 15:45 the Executive-Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil, Rogério Sottili, mediated the round table "The Routes to Underground Sociabilities". 

The research project consisted of an investigation on the world of favelas by means of interviews with 204 people living in the communities of Cantagalo, Cidade de Deus, Madureira, and Vigário Geral. It also involved a study about AfroReggae and CUFA organizations, with the analysis of 130 social development projects and interviews with their leaders, besides an evaluation with specialists, observers and partners of the two institutions in Rio de Janeiro, with a special emphasis on the police.

The study casts light on the so-called underground sociabilities in the favelas, the practices of a social life that is part of the day-to-day of Brazilian society, but remained invisible due to geographic, economic, symbolic, behavioral, and cultural barriers. The research found out that those underground sociabilities are characterized by a complex institutional arrangement, marked by family, drug traffic, absence of the State – with the police as its sole representative connected to drug traffic –, churches, and NGOs such as AfroReggae and CUFA.

Some results of the research

  • Ever since the 1990s new social actors – youngsters, blacks, favela inhabitants – began to make themselves present in the public sphere with organized responses to poverty, violence and segregation, defying traditional models of non-governmental organizations and repositioning the favelas in the agenda of Brazilian society.
  • The family is central to the favela-dwellers despite being an unstable reality in their lives. Almost 70% of 12 to 17 year-olds report having an absent father, more than 25% report an absent mother and almost 20% report the absence of both parents. Grandmothers and mothers have a central role in the stabilization of life trajectories.
  • The centrality of drug trade is unequivocal: drug traffic has been provider, legislator and organizer of everyday life in favelas, offering a parallel system of behavioral codes as well as a ‘professional career’. It also defines the right to the city.
  • The police is the main representative of the State, seen by favela-dwellers as a persecutory and aggressive, making no difference between the mere inhabitant and the drug smuggler, the criminal.
  • Security is a central matter in the favela universe and the ways of socializing. There are complex relationships between the area residents, the police and the traffic factions.
  • The favela residents live with two sets of security norms: those dictated by drug traffic and those imposed by the police. In order to survive, they must learn to recognize them and to adopt either one according to different situations in their daily lives.
  • The area residents feel more threatened living outside the favela than inside them. The outside world is the unknown; discrimination and prejudice are very much present and the rules of the city are seen as strange and unreliable.
  • The favela-dweller avoids crossing the favelas/streets frontier because the city limits are seen by the individual as a source of stigma and discrimination.
  • People in the favelas hardly talk about their right to public security. They report frequent abuse from the police and they know they are often seen as criminals.
  • There is scarce reference to the concept of citizenship and to the fact that it is the State’s duty to offer a safe environment for its citizens.
  • The Police Peace Units (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora – UPPs) represent change in the relationships between favela residents and the police. There is a renovated dialogue between the police and the community, bringing forth a new sense of security.
  • 93% of participants enjoy living in Rio de Janeiro, but the effective bonds that link favelas to the city are marked by ambivalent representations of Rio as both beautiful and violent city.
  • Favela-dwellers cope with a divided society developing two sets of representations: they perceive the city as a place regulated by ambivalent rules, where one is just an isolated and vulnerable ‘individual’; the favela, to the contrary, have clear rules and one is a ‘person’ supported by family and friends.
  • The favela-residentes inhabit a world apart, with fragile institutions and the presence of an illegal enterprise (drug traffic) that until recently represented a public order parallel to the State.
  • The overwhelming majority of the population in favelas works, fights, to keep themselves within legality and shows determination to escape the appeal of drug traffic.
  • Results show that resistance to criminal activities is possible and disseminated in the favela world. That resistance is supported by psychosocial scaffoldings that help individuals build a positive identity and face difficulties within their favela context, building alternatives for their own lives.

About the work of Afroreggae and CUFA

Afroreggae and Cufa are hybrid organizations that offer psychosocial scaffoldings: they act as family, state and private sector, developing competencies, offering support, organizing job opportunities and generating a new set of positive representations of the favelas and the city as a whole.

  • They ‘compete’ directly with drug traffic by offering an alternative way of life. Their actions and interpersonal supporting structures protect against marginalization and are essential conditions for social integration.
  • They constitute fundamental aspects in the trajectory of underground sociabilities. They are present in the voices of residents, in the manner with which they report their personal life, their experience within the community and, above all, in the relationship between the favelas and the city. 
  • They perform tasks belonging to social movements, cultural enterprises, businessmen, artists and social workers. They are a product of the favelas and are deeply rooted in their world.
  • They make use of art, culture, imagination and creativity to subvert stereotypes, connect urban spaces, rendering the culture of favelas visible and attractive in the eyes of the city, the country and the world.
  • They build unforeseen partnerships with social movements, media, State and private sector to push favelas into the agenda of the city and offer new lenses to read favela environments.
  • They act as conflict mediators. They ensure the access to the favelas and communicate both with drug traffic and the police. They regenerate the built environment of favelas and construct spaces for positive sociability in the city, such as Waly Salomão Cultural Center, in Vigário Geral, and the Viaduto in Madureira.

Conclusion and recommendations

According to study coordinator Sandra Jovchelovitch, an important research conclusion is that the work conducted by AfroReggae and CUFA consists of an innovative social technology that can be adopted in other parts of the world. “The efficacy of those organizations derives from the wisdom, culture and identity present at the communities they belong to and represent. Their projects fulfill multiple functions and offer lessons that must be heeded. The social capital of Brazil and the social development model found in Rio can be transferred – and hugely contribute – to improve life conditions of excluded populations all over the world”.

Among the conclusions and recommendations of the study are the need for investment in Girls Education, the creation of sponsored programmes for women and the development of male role models, strengthening the position of the father or other male caretakers in the route to socialization.

The study also suggests an increase the range and quality of the services in favela environments, particularly in Education, and that the design and implementation of social policies be done along with the favela organizations. It is also recommended that the private sector understands the favela economy and the ethics of business development in areas of social exclusion.

More information about the study

Event schedule

LSE Press Release (pdf)

Press contacts:

UNESCO Brazil – Press office
Isabel de Paula, (61)2106-3538/98468061, isabel.paula(at)unesco.org.br

Itaú Cultural
Conteúdo Comunicação
Larissa Correa, (11) 2168-1950/98139-9786 Larissa.correa(at)mailer.com.br
Cristina R. Durán (11) 5056-9800. Cristina.duran(at)conteudonet.com

Fundação Itaú Social
Conteúdo Comunicação
Rose Silva, (11) 5056-9825/99230-0689, rose.silva(at)conteudonet.com

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