A new year is approaching and it should be a promising one for Brazil given the recent change of governance and power. Ever since the death of Marielle Franco on the 14th of April 20181 the number of black cis and trans women seeking to occupy spaces of power in the Brazilian congress has only been rising.2 Albeit the slow change, their presence is vital for listening to the narratives of insurgent citizenship raised by grassroots organisations, self-organised groups and movements in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. In these terms, “narrating insurgent citizenship” is not an abstract or metaphorical action, but a concrete response from the favelas to oppose the militaristic control of Rio's State Government, led by the re-elected governor Cláudio Castro. This response comes in the shape of policy advocacy, favelas’ knowledge production, social mobilisation, spatial practices, multiscalar coalitions and so forth.
This final column proposes reflections for practitioners and researchers engaging with organisations and movements fighting for citizenship.
In the previous columns I brought fragments of experiences researching and collaborating with tecedores from Redes da Maré. From a close look to their daily activities I explored the features of “narrating insurgent citizenship”: residents’ protagonism and historical perspectives, the urban space as a narrative holder, the role of care to build a homeplace and the practice of articulação territorial to build a network of solidarity. This final column proposes reflections for practitioners and researchers engaging with organisations and movements fighting for citizenship. Although Redes da Maré’s case is grounded on the history of Maré and a specific nature of claims, the reflections here explored may appear in other contexts that relate with the denial or a differentiated citizenship.
Delivery of Maré de Notícias newspaper, photo by Douglas Lopes, © Redes da Maré, 2021.
“Narrating insurgent citizenship” is not an abstract or metaphorical action, but a concrete response from the favelas to oppose the militaristic control of Rio's State Government.
Maré is a context where fights for citizenship have been taking place since the 1970s and managed to consolidate the access to basic rights, such as the right to remain and have ownership of residence. However, other spaces of insurgent citizenship in the globe are fighting eviction, dispossession, segregation, circuits of illegality and informality, State control and human rights violations.3 Often, these places are located under the premise of “peripheries”. Gautam Bhan uses the term to explain that they are “peripheral in multiplesenses: peripheries of the world economic and political system both historically and today; peripheries within cities themselves; peripheries of geographies of authoritative knowledge.”4
Ever since the death of Marielle Franco on the 14th of April 2018 the number of black cis and trans women seeking to occupy spaces of power in the Brazilian congress has only been rising.
Preparation for the March Against Violence at Centro de Artes da Maré, photo by Bruna Montuori, 2017.
On that note, the first reflection builds on the denunciation within the narratives encompassing the right to live to self-determination and freedom from State control. Vanessa Watson and Richard Satgé argued that both control and the aim to “civilise”, inherited from colonial powers, were underlined by imported spatial urban planning models addressing the ills of late and rapid urban industrialisation.5
Going in an opposite direction from Eurocentric planning models, narratives of insurgent citizenship are grounded in the (in)visible histories of places and are situated with the experiences of residents. Therefore, they are inextricably linked with the relation of bodies and territory and informed by who is speaking. Seeing the work of tecedores and their accountability with Maré’s transatlantic history made me wonder: shouldn't the embodied stories and historical traces be the backbones of design and urban interventions? Shouldn't the technologies of favelas guide the collective processes of design to support the citizenship agenda?
Narratives of insurgent citizenship are grounded in the (in)visible histories of places and are situated with the experiences of residents, they are inextricably linked with the relation of bodies and territory and informed by who is speaking.
The second reflection concerns an embodied production (intellectual, academic and practical) in the fields of architecture and urbanism, as Brazilian author Gabriela Pereira (Gaia) discussed in her PhD dissertation.6 Gaia's research looked at the narratives of Carolina Maria de Jesus in the novel Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus (2003) to discuss three dimensions: body, discourse and territory. Carolina, a black single mother and paper collector residing in the favela of Canindé, São Paulo, in the 1950s wrote in her diaries the experiences of living in a favela planned to be removed.7 Gaia unfolded Carolina's words of precariousness, hunger, dispossession and concealment of rights, questioning the memories that constitute the city beyond its erasures and connections with an unequal past.
In between narratives, aesthetic manifestations and social mobilisation lies an amalgamation of experiences reflecting how citizenship is, in fact, exercised. In the dispute of narratives, the absence of voices that carry an embodied production, such as Carolina's or Maré’s authors, leaves an enormous gap to interpret and engage with the built environment.8 An embodied production should be grounded in these lived experiences and historicised in the body-territory relationship.
(In)visible inequalities, posters with public security data across Maré, graphics by Bruna Montuori, photo by Arthur Viana, 2019.
The last reflection concerns designers who, like me, invited themselves to collaborate to an ongoing fight. Positionality is a key aspect to reveal the power stances present in the research and processes of collaboration. I refer to a perspective of ethics of care, explored by feminist author Joan Tronto, which draws on values of accountability, reciprocity and care.9 This relational approach seeks to avoid a romanticised gaze over tecedores’ work, identify our differences without losing sight of the aims in order to guarantee that rights are equally distributed and Maré is a legitimate part of the city. While living there from September 2019 to January 2020 I experienced the privilege of being an outside white woman, and what advantages this condition gave me in terms of security and freedom.
In the dispute of narratives, the absence of voices that carry an embodied production, such as Maré’s authors, leaves an enormous gap to interpret and engage with the built environment.
Living and breathing the territory on a daily basis revealed my location as a speaker. I observed the rights that favelas’ residents had to lose in order for Southside residents to experience privileges in the city - of better transportation, quality public services, safety, racial protection and so on. I will never speak from the position of a tecedor(a) who is there everyday, nor as a resident or cria (a person who grew up in the favela). However, that does not obliterate my agency and how design skills may be instrumental in the fight - to raise awareness, propose spatial interventions, build paths for residents to occupy spaces of power and support the implementation of policies.
Maré’s everyday life, photo by Douglas Lopes, © Redes da Maré, 2016.
Narrating insurgent citizenship is an interpretative lens to visualise who is behind the homogenous representation of favelas telling the stories of how citizenship is exercised through making. It is a process of reimagining the future of favelas, embracing the urgency of struggles while reconfiguring the centrality of residents' roots, memories and histories.
Read the whole column "Narrating Insurgent Citizenship" by Bruna Montuori.
Bruna Montuori is a designer and urban researcher based in London and Rio de Janeiro. She is currently a PhD Candidate at the School of Architecture, Royal College of Art in London. Her work investigates the intersection between insurgent citizenship, space and narratives through an on going collaboration with the local organisation Redes da Maré in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Bruna is an Associate Lecturer at the London College of Communication and Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London. She is anda PGR Representative of the Participatory Geographies Research Group from the RGS/IBG. Through her research and practice, she has been weaving participatory methods with graphic design, ethics of care, insurgent citizenship and decolonial and gender theories.
1 Marielle Franco was a black, lesbian, Mareense council woman who fought for rights to citizenship in Rio de Janeiro peripheries and was murdered a few months before the elections. Her loss was a symbolic threat to activists from peripheries and favelas, particularly black women fighting for rights both in the congress and in the streets.
2 Soledad Domínguez, “Las 29 parlamentarias negras y mestizas en Brasil,” El País, October 9, 2022, [link]
3 Ananya Roy, “Strangely familiar: planning and the worlds of insurgence and informality” Planning Theory 8, no. 1 (February 2009), 10.
4 Gautam Bhan, In the Public’s Interest: Evictions, Citizenship and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi (New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan), 15.
5 Vanessa Watson and Richard Satgé, Urban Planning in the Global South: conflicting rationalities in contested urban space (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 38. [link]
6 Gabriela Leandro Pereira, “Corpo, discurso e território: a cidade em disputa nas dobras da narrativa de Carolina Maria de Jesus” (PhD diss., Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2015), 228–32.
7 Carolina Maria de Jesus,Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, trans. David St Clair (New York: Mentor, 2003).
8 Pereira, “Corpo, discurso, território,” 228.
9 Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (London: Routledge, 1993), 127–56.
Bhan, Gautam. In the Public’s Interest: Evictions, Citizenship and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2016.
Domínguez, Soledad. “Las 29 parlamentarias negras y mestizas en Brasil, una minoría en un Congreso conservador.” El País, October 9, 2022. [link]
Jesus, Carolina Maria de. Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus. Translated by David St Clair. New York: Mentor, 2003.
Pereira, Gabriela Leandro. “Corpo, discurso e território: a cidade em disputa nas dobras da narrativa de Carolina Maria de Jesus.” PhD diss., Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2015.
Roy, Ananya. “Strangely familiar: planning and the worlds of insurgence and informality” Planning Theory 8, no. 1 (February 2009), 7-11.
Tronto, Joan. Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. London: Routledge, 1993.
Watson, Vanessa, and Richard Satgé. Urban Planning in the Global South: conflicting rationalities in contested urban space. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). [link]