Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Summer 2011 NAVE Recipient – Nicholas Barnes

Nicholas Barnes atop Morro Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers Hill), where the Vidigial and Rocinha favelas are located

Nicholas Barnes was the Summer 2011 NAVE Short Term Field Research Grant recipient. He provided LACIS with some information about his experience conducting research in Rio de Janeiro. 

I spent two months last summer in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.  I focused on travelling to as many different favelas that I could, which included those that the state had already “pacified” and those that remain under gang control. The majority of my time was spent in Complexo do Alemao, Vidigal, and Complexo do Mare.  In these favelas, I conducted interviews with NGO workers and fellow researchers, in addition to speaking with as many residents as possible.  I also spent a couple of days a week teaching English at Community in Action, a small non-profit in Complexo do Alemao, in an effort to give back to the community.  This preliminary research provided me with a deep knowledge of several favela communities as well as a better understanding of the complex ways in which these areas are governed and how they are connected to larger municipal politics.  I am now working on a dissertation project about the variation in the forms of gang governance in the favelas and hope to carry out a full year of dissertation research in 2012-2013.  Without the NAVE grant, this work and the progress I have made in designing this project would not be possible.

Nicholas will travel to Rio de Janiero again this summer after receiving the Title VI Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship.

The Sheraton Hotel and its private beach with the Vidigal favela on the hillside behind it
Picture of the base of the Vidigal favela. It is important to note that this particular favela has trash pick-up though residents have to carry their own trash to the bottom

Spring 2012 Interview with Nicholas:

How did you develop your research interest in Brazil and, more specifically, in the favelas in Rio?

My interest in the favelas began when I started reading some literature on them, including Janice Perlman’s “Myth of Marginality”.  These communities fascinated me from the beginning in how they are designed and continue to grow and the way in which they interact with the rest of the city.  Then, upon visiting many of them last summer, my interest grew as I found such a diversity of types of communities and cultures within them.

Rio’s state and city governments initiated the Favela Pacification Program in early 2009. How does the increasing intensity of this pacification process affect your research?

The Favela Pacification Units which have, so far, been stationed in 19 favelas affects my research in several ways: first, my of the favelas in and around the center of the city are no longer outside of the control of the state; second, even those favelas that have not yet been pacified are being impacted by the movement of traffickers to other, “unpacified”, favelas and the shifting of illegal networks.  Many of the dynamics related to the favelas are in the process of change at the moment.

Do you think that you will notice a difference in the level of public safety in Rio between last summer and this summer as a result of the continued pacification process? 

I don’t know.  Trafficker violence will surely decrease.

How do you address safety concerns when you enter favelas to participate in community projects or to conduct surveys for your research?

I never go into favelas in which I don’t already have contacts and people who can show me around and know the community.

How do favela residents perceive the government’s efforts to pacify their neighborhoods?

The residents in the favelas are both welcoming and suspicious of the government.  The welcome all of the goods, services, infrastructure, schools, programs that the government implements but they are wary of the police presence and are unsure of whether or not the state is truly dedicated to staying beyond the Olympics and the World Cup.

Do you think that the global attention on Rio over the next few years will translate into increased public service provision and improved overall welfare for residents of Rio’s favelas?
I don’t really know how the World Cup and the Olympics and all of the increased attention and business will impact Rio. I’ve heard that the city is planning to remove several favelas in order to create room for development though this is not that common.  I have my doubts that such development will translate into benefits for the favelas directly but it may produce long-term benefits in the continuing attention of the government to the situation in the favelas.

A view from the Community in Action (NGO) office in the Complexo do Alemao favela of one of the Cable Car stations that has been built
A view of the Rocinha favela from the top of Dois Irmaos