Urban trajectories. A comparative study between Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships.
Author / Authors:
My general objective with this thesis is to contribute to the search for connections between postcolonial and critical understandings in urban studies. Building on my analysis of the urban trajectories of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships, I argue for bringing the grammars of critical thought and postcolonial thought in urban studies closer together. The historical-geographies of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships show that critical theorization of urbanization must be somewhat pluralized and decentered. I also argue that such an agenda of research should be developed in the form of a critique of capitalist (urban) development. Therefore, in this study, I aim at contributing to the critical understanding of (urban) development by emphasizing how processes of (de)commodification and socio-spatial segregation have been taking place in these two contexts of urban marginalization. Concerning the temporal scope of the study, I put the emphasis on recent dynamics of social change in Brazil and South Africa that might have had consequences for the historically marginalized urban spaces of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships. Consequently, despite my attentiveness to the history of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships, I place the weight of the analysis on the period that starts somewhere between the 1990s and 2000s and goes on into the 2010s. As a comparative, historically attentive, multi-sited study, my research demanded a resourceful organization and combination of several methodological elements. In order to organize a comparative study of the urban trajectories of favelas and townships, I rely on a methodology that combines both secondary and primary sources. I draw upon the pertinent literatures about each of the two cities in order to delve into the histories of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships. On the other hand, this study depends largely on qualitative research methods, particularly on qualitative data I gathered during my fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships. The data coming from my fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and in Johannesburg in 2013 and in 2015 comprises in-depth interviews, field notes, and photos from the areas I lived in and visited. While approaching Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships through qualitative methodologies, and without neglecting a historical-comparative orientation, I show that we have a more complex picture that hardly fits into the general representation of them as static, indistinguishable, dreadful worlds. I also maintain that critique – which in our case might be also understood as a critique of (urban) development – must not be sidestepped. I argue that a strong engagement with the critical literature in urban studies is required while understanding the complex and evolving historical-geographies of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Johannesburg’s townships. We must take the unevenness of capitalist development and other debates around key issues like the production of space, accumulation by dispossession, and (de)commodification into account if we are to understand our urbanizing present.
Universitat de Barcelona ( España ) - Thesis (in Spanish)