“What use do we have for history? If I am powerless, I have no need of it. History serves those who tell it.” Beatriz Nascimento1
This sentence was phrased by Beatriz Nascimento, a black Brazilian historian that questioned the position of black peoples in the country and the ways history has been told from one particular point of view. She was referring to the systematic erasure of documents, archives with ancestral stories, and a formulation of a homogenised black identity under the control of a white gaze. While carrying out my research with Redes da Maré, an organisation based in the compound of 16 favelas of Maré in Rio de Janeiro, I often heard stories not seen in academic publications. The stories were part of the narratives organisation members disseminate to support the fight for rights and to make visible the long term history of struggles. Narratives, in that sense, embedded a perspective of insurgency, which counterposes the sovereignty of states that historically undermine or deny the access to citizenship. As discussed by James Holston’s Insurgent Citizenship (2008), it is at the intersection of daily life, space and lived experiences that citizenship is refrained: when residents are affected by police operations under a logics of a war on drugs2, or when basic services such as sanitation, water and internet are limited or unavailable. At the same time, the same intersection evokes from residents and supporters the urge to change the imagination and representation of this place as a location of knowledge production and power (potência).
As discussed by James Holston’s Insurgent Citizenship (2008), it is at the intersection of daily life, space and lived experiences that citizenship is refrained.
Homi Bhabha argued for the right to narrate, seeing narratives as a “sign of civic life” that entangles agency, linguistic acts, and enunciation.3 Narratives can also be understood as storytelling,4 dialogues, testimonials, or simply non-speech acts and gestures.5 When placed as an action for insurgent citizenship, they seek to recuperate the parts of history that have been buried by the mischievous and dominant project to capitalise the city of Rio de Janeiro. Simultaneously, they reveal voices and lived experiences aiming to amplify a collective consciousness of rights that recognize Maré to be part of the city. They acknowledge favelas as the city themselves thus benefitting from regulations and policies that are based on residents’ needs and demands despite stigmas and segregation. The fights attained to these narratives hold a multiplicity of tactics, as posed by Michel De Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), that have been disrupting the whitening urban governance that shaped and built Maré since the 1940s. I prefer to call these tactics as the Brazilian historian and popular educator Pâmela Carvalho did in one occasion of my fieldwork: the social technologies of the favelas.6 These technologies encompass a range of situated knowledges passed across generations that resort to self-organisation, collective action, research on-the-ground, mutual cooperation, recipes, homemade medicine, music, spirituality — all of which together weave a network of solidarity that propose relearning the history taken as official.
When placed as an action for insurgent citizenship, narratives seek to recuperate the parts of history that have been buried by the mischievous and dominant project to capitalise the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Celebration of the anniversary of Casa das Mulheres da Maré (House of Women of Maré), 2019, Bruna Montuori
Under the official history lies a territory reimagined from its afrodiasporic roots, politics, traditions and rituals. One of the key aspects to understand this past is the recognition of Maré as a transatlantic territory. According to the Maré population census circa 62% of residents self-declared as black or pardo (mixed race with African descent).7 Looking at the flows of migration, Maré hosts residents who arrived from the Brazilian northeast to work as a labour force in the city’s modernisation, displaced residents from dismantled favelas in the Southside under the removal policies in the 1960s, and by Angolans coming since after the war for independence with Portugal, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. Maré is transatlantic as the reminiscences of history lost in these flows are reconstituted to build another imagination for the future generations. Drawing from my experiences with the local organisation, (counter) narratives were pivotal to change the residents and a wide audience’s perception of life in the favelas and to guarantee citizenship is exercised.
Drawing from my experiences with the local organisation, (counter) narratives were pivotal to change the residents and a wide audience’s perception of life in the favelas and to guarantee citizenship is exercised.
Mural painting for MaréAção Project by Redes da Maré, 2019, Bruna Montuori
The practices to narrate insurgent citizenship in the daily life and work of Redes da Maré members were deeply connected with the dynamics in the favelas and a multi scalar exchange with internal and external institutions to change policies and promote small scale spatial interventions. The technologies of the favelas conveyed in the process of narrating are not linear in time and space. They draw from the autonomous popular movement in the 1980s that granted access to water, nurseries, pavement and education and are meticulously sophisticated in the activities of Redes da Maré since its foundation in 2007. A few of them are: mobilising people knocking from door-to-door to inform them about their rights to public security, holding workshops for elderly residents to tell their stories from the past and draw their homes in tiles for an open exhibition, delivering newspapers that focus on the protagonism of residents beyond the gaze of mainstream media and the list continues. "Narrating insurgent citizenship" is both a discursive asset to advocate for urban equality policies and a spatial practice to transform precarious living conditions.
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 Beatriz Nascimento, "For a (New) Existential and Physical Territory," Antipode 53, no. 1 (January 2021): 306.
2 Eliana Sousa Silva, The Brazilian Army's occupation of Maré. Residents’ impressions of the armed forces’ occupation of Maré (Rio de Janeiro: Redes da Maré, 2017), 22.
3 Homi Bhabha, “The right to narrate,” Harvard Design Magazine, January 1, 2014, 38, [link]
4 Leoni Sandercock, “Out of the Closet: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Planning Practice,” Planning Theory & Practice 4, no. 1 (2003), 12.
5 James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 4.
6 Museu de Arte do Rio, “Encontro Diálogos e Confluências - Palestra com Pâmela Carvalho,” YouTube, August 29, 2020, [link]
7 Redes da Maré, Censo Populacional da Maré (Rio de Janeiro: Redes da Maré, 2019), 27.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Right to Narrate. In: Sigler, J. 2014. Do you read me? Harvard Design Magazine, n. 38. Available at: [link]
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Holston, James. Insurgent citizenship. Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008.
Museu de Arte do Rio, “Encontro Diálogos e Confluências - Palestra com Pâmela Carvalho,” Youtube video, August 29, 2020, [link]
Nascimento, Beatriz. “For a (New) Existential and Physical Territory.”In ‘In Front of the World’: Translating Beatriz Nascimento, edited by Christen Smith, Archie Davies, and Bethânia Gomes, 305-314. Antipode 53, no. 1 (2021): 279–316. [link]
Redes da Maré. Censo Populacional da Maré. Rio de Janeiro: Redes da Maré, 2019.
Sandercock, Leonie. “Out of the Closet: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Planning Practice.” Planning Theory & Practice 4, no. 1 (2003): 11–28. [link]
Scott, J. C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.
Silva, Eliana Sousa. The Brazilian Army's occupation of Maré. Residents’ impressions of the armed forces’ occupation of Maré’. Rio de Janeiro: Redes da Maré, 2017