Magoosh GRE

Essay about citizenship – Citizenship in São Paulo’s Favelas

| February 6, 2017


São Paulo is not only the biggest city in Brazil, but is the biggest proper in the Americas and in the southern hemisphere and not to mention, ranking seventh in terms of population in the whole world. Its metropolis is the second most populated in the Americas and ranks in the top ten largest in the world. This city is the capital of the state of São Paulo and a significant center in commerce, finance, arts and entertainment in Brazil. São Paulo has recorded a significant growth compared to other cities in Brazil in terms of population and with urbanization at 81 percent; it is witnessing an increase in slum housing. This problem started in the beginning of 20th Century with the segregation that existed between the affluent, who lived in the central districts, and the poor, who lived in the low lying floodplains. This pattern of urban settlement has changed with poor migrants moving into all city spaces. The rapid spread of slums began in the 1980s with the development of favelas in the urban peripheries and the cortices. Currently, the favelas are the dominant form of settlement and have broken its confinement into all parts of São Paulo, the insurgent citizens of the city. There has been an ongoing conflict between the residents of favelas and the public authorities because of the encroachment into the areas valued by the property market. In addition, the favelas are slowly being driven into the poorest, most peripheral and dangerous areas devoid of basic urban services, such as water, power, education. This paper intends to reveal that this insurgency is a conflict of citizenship and not just instrumental outcry and violence. Citizenship in this case refers to recognition of residents’ legal presence in the city and their rights to basic urban services.

Insurgency in São Paulo

São Paulo, like many other cities in the developing countries, is not planned. According to UN Habitat (2012), planning for social integration is important as it addresses policies that could or affect the poor. It is also recommended that these plans be done well in advance so as to tackle the issues before they occur rather than as they occur. Urban planning plays a key role in mitigating insurgent citizenship. As aforementioned, the peripheries of São Paulo were inhabited by worker back in the 1960s who constructed their homes through autoconstruction. They did this without any infrastructure; this process is still used today as a primary means of settling the urban poor in the city. Nonetheless, as evident, this process has done little to solve the problem of housing in the city. The city of São Paulo has experienced rapid economic growth, this growth, however, has been unevenly distributed among the population, and this has resulted in wide social and economic disparities. The favelas of São Paulo is a marked representation of these issues, with inadequate infrastructure and urban services, lack of the rule of law and adequate policing, as well as violence emerging from institutionalized poverty. The city has lost its appeal of a neutral entity; it has become a political and economic space, where the meaning of citizenship and urban life is regularly on trial, here power relations are forcefully maneuvered and sustained. There are notable examples where the residents of the favelas have taken action to claim ownership of the slums. Holston (2007) explains that, in 1972, the residents of Jardim das Camélias roughed up court officials, an incident that led to massive arrests by the police and for a week what seemed to be a conflict between the law and the residents ensued supported by politicians and lawyers. This was triggered by eviction notices that were to be delivered to the residents and which they ignored and used violence to evade, at least one person died. In 2003, an official went to Lar Nacional, to cancel one of the residents title that had been recently issued. This saw the beginning of long legal battle between the residents of the favelas and the court system. They had learnt to organize themselves as a unit, neighborhood association. The court official’s intention was to demand the cancellation of the title as a result of an anomaly in measurements. The title was issued through adverse possession a legal way of acquiring an original title by proving possession over an uninterrupted period. The residents spent more than a decade petitioning the judiciary for such validation, and it was a historical case as the first to return favorably decided, the resident was issued a new title, site plan, as well as tax number. Moreover, this insurgent citizenship came out of the peripheries and the favelas into the civic square, with the elections of 2002, the country witnessed one of the residents of the favelas rises to the highest office of the land. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers’ Party (PT) grew up poor in the urban peripheries of São Paulo, and this seemed as a victory for those who lived in these areas as they filled the central spaces of São Paulo with the red banners calling for citizenship.


It is critical to understand the condition of working class citizenship in São Paulo to examine the emergence of the citizenship in the favelas. Wolfe (2014) points at the fact that the establishment of a working class in São Paulo revolves around the long-time relationship between land, labor, and law that exist in land policies. These were meant to bring forth a particular kind of work force in addition to illegalities that result in settlements as well as legalization of property claims. Such illegalities resemble the current ones in the peripheries. The only difference is that this happens with an unexpected result that in the end generates a distinct formulation of citizenship. According to Holston (2007), the elites in the 19th Century introduced a regime of citizenship to strengthen their hold of power in the new formed nation state. In this process, they used social differences, such as education, race, gender to induce different treatment to different segment of citizenship. This was the beginning gradation of rights among the citizens, and here rights were based on segregation, there were certain sections treated better than others. It is this system that created the citizenship of inclusive membership, but largely inegalitarian in distribution.
For the elite to maintain the differentiated treatment to citizens after the country’s independence and the abolition of the slave trade, they came up with a dual pronged solution. They ensured direct suffrage and made it voluntary, but at the same time limited it to those who could read and write. This restriction made the electorate much smaller, furthermore in the constitution; there was an elimination of the citizens rights to basic education that provided them with some limited education. This restriction denied the citizens of their political citizenship for a long time until 1985 when it was repealed. According to Holston (2007), after the repeal, the elites still longed to control civil and economic matters. They established a real estate industry that facilitated legitimate the ownership of private property and one that supported free labor immigration. In addition, they created high price for the land and made wages low to restrict the many workers legal access to land forcing them to basically be source of cheap labor. The two citizenships developed in tandem and became restrictive as the country changed from a slave based nation to a republic based on wage labor. The regimes that followed in the 20th century followed this paradigm establishing an inclusively inegalitarian citizenship and adopting it to a modern situation. It incorporated the emerging labor force in the urban areas into a new arena of labor law devoid of equality.
According to , inclusively inegalitarian citizenship was the cause of the insurgency. Inegalitarian citizenship representative of inequality in his theory can be disapproved more so in the context of it use. If the residents of the favelas are unequal, that has not stopped them from moving up the economic and political ladder. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a good example of this scenario; he was raised in the favelas and emerged as the head of state. Therefore, the insurgence is not in demand for autonomy, but for residence and more so for the poor. The cause for the insurgency was lack of planning that takes into consideration the workers and the poor of the city. In addition, as much as Holston (2007) argues that favelas claimed their citizenship, this is far from the truth. They might have stopped evictions and initiated a new process of issuance of titles, but this calls for a redefinition of citizenship. Citizenship calls for recognition of the rights of each and every resident, as part of the urban populace; they have equal democratic right to environmental health as well as basic living conditions. The rights herein refer to basic urban services including but not limited to water, sanitation, power, and education. The favelas inhibit provision of these basic services, first of all it is not easy to gauge the population in these areas for planning purposes; they are not only congested, but also risky as a result of high crime rates. In addition, the houses constructed in favelas are not planned and are informal hence it is difficult to access them for the provision of certain services such as good roads, drainage, water supply and even power. These conditions render the favelas by default inaccessible to basic urban services.
Furthermore, Holston’s (2007) approach explores cultural phenomena, and he makes a persuasive case. There seems to be another problem in the favelas that have a direct bearing on the limited citizenship of the favela residents. There is a need for a clear ethnographic analysis of the key players in these areas, and Holston (2007) fails do provide this. The favelas have been invaded by cartels that would rather have them remain the way they are for business purposes. First, the drug cartels, they have a system of criminal leadership. These criminal gangs have control over most areas of the favelas making it difficult for the residents to receive much needed services due to fear. The middle class and the upper classes are of the opinion that favelas are loci of violence and the epicenter of criminality. This view is further perpetuated by the state officials as well as the law enforcement that result to a repressive approach, from regular police raids to forceful eviction of large populations and razing the structures. These actions are usually justified by the mere fact that the favelas are crime hotspots. Criminal gangs and activities play a significant role in preventing accessibility into the favelas, this leads to the government shortsightedness, police unaccountability, and most important lack of opportunities and services for the residents relegating them to a state of inegalitarian citizenship.

Rights in São Paulo Favelas

The emergence of citizenship in São Paulo’s public spheres forced the authorities to relook into these new urban conditions by allowing new kinds and sources of rights. These brought to the forefront issues of substance and scope that were previously ignored by the state’s current laws and institutions. The new citizenship rights developed at the edge of the manifested assumptions of governance: they resolved the new common and personal spaces of everyday life among the economically challenged in the favelas; the rights concerned men, women as well as the children and established work to give state services. The most notable fact of the rights is that they introduced reconceptualization, what Holston (2007) refers to as the greatest historical innovation of these rights. The proponents of these rights had initially thought of them as entitlements of general citizenship, as opposed to a differentiated category of citizens. In this regard, the emergence of participatory publics in the favelas introduced and established new understanding and exercise of citizenship rights as well as expanding substantive citizenship to new social frontier.
The foundation of rights, therefore, is a combination of new and old formulations. In addition, these rights are subjected to change in concepts. Nonetheless, there is a presentation of a mixture of rights that include treatment rights, contributor rights, as well as constitutional rights. It is evident that few people refer to constitutions and laws and if they do; it was to complain and that, with the exception of labor rights, most were not applicable. The concept of rights as a privileged few is grounded in several incarnations, entrenched in the system of differentiated citizenship. In other words, citizenship remains a means for the distribution and legitimizing inequality. This concept was prevalent in the post constitution favelas being used more than the insurgent one of generalized text-based rights. The generalized text, based rights, proposes that the residents of favelas have unconditional rights and that their rights are not based on personal, social or moral status. This sets the stage for the establishment of and the achievement of a more equalitarian citizenship. However, as the residents of favelas are organized in groups, propagates the concept of contributor rights one that adopts both systems of citizenship. This is because the autoconstruction in the favelas was not all inclusive; it excluded some residents. Despite this fact, it was recognized as the builder of the peripheries and emphasized the self-determination and accomplishment of the people in the favelas both at the individual and group level. In addition, autoconstruction promoted a universal citizenship distinct from the differentiated pattern. In the current peripheries, all the three concepts were significant in the development of citizenship.


This paper has highlighted the concept of citizenship, applying it to the city of São Paulo. The paper reveals that the insurgency witnessed in most of the informal settlements in the city are not mere instrumental outcry and violence, but a conflict of citizenship. As the city developed, there was no proper planning that took into consideration the low income earners or even the settlements that were earlier created by the workers. Therefore, there has been the emergence of new citizenship in São Paulo’s public spheres forced the authorities to look into these new urban conditions by allowing new kinds and sources of rights. The insurgency introduced new ways of accessing the situation; these brought to the forefront issues of substance and scope that were previously ignored by the state’s current laws and institutions. The new citizenship rights developed at the edge of the manifested assumptions of governance. Citizenship as examined in the paper calls for recognition of the rights of each and every resident of the city, as part of the urban populace; they have equal democratic right to environmental health as well as basic living conditions.


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