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Between Trust and Fear – Mothers Creating Spaces of Security amid Violence in Vila Cruzeiro, Rio de Janeiro

By Sara Koenders


Rio de Janeiro sets the stage for varying expressions of the complex of violence, fear, and insecurity that are especially poignant in the city’s favelas (shantytowns). Against the backdrop of institutional failure, impunity, inequality, and social exclusion the ‘democratic’ Brazilian state fails to provide security to part of its citizens. As a result, the residents of favela communities in particular are often left in the hands of other armed actors, while they are at the same time subject to state violence. Informed by the insights that social relations are actively reconstituted and that people attend to their routine tasks and develop ways to ‘go on’ in the face of violence, the widespread stereotyping of the urban ‘poor’ and the popular neglect of the problematique of women living in favela communities this thesis investigates how mothers living in the favela community Vila Cruzeiro create spaces of security through (re)arranging their social relations, as they attempt to protect and provide for their children in a context of high-risk and violence. The evidence of this study has been collected during a four-month field research in Vila Cruzeiro from February till June 2008, using a variety of qualitative research methods, including participant observation, focus groups and in-depth interviews. I analyze how through the interaction between police, traffickers and residents an environment of violence, fear, and insecurity is created and constantly reproduced. Subsequently I claim that, under these circumstances, trust and fear are decisive in mothers’ performances of relationship-making and that social capital plays an important but limited and ambiguous role in their efforts to cope with violence. The main findings presented in this thesis add to a deeper understanding of why the perverse and undemocratic situation as it exists in many of Brazil’s favela communities is so persistent

Topics: Letteren, violence, urban violence, insecurity, coping, social capital, women, favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Year: 2008
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