Erika Robb Larkins
The Spectacular Favela
Violence in Modern Brazil
University of California Press 2015
After the emancipation of slavery in the late nineteenth century, Afro-Brazilians moved to cities like Rio de Janeiro in search of employment. Because of the lack of opportunity and a shortage of resources, Brazilians set up their own housing arrangements on the hillsides above the city. These neighborhoods are known today as favelas. Since their inception, governments and modernists have considered favelas to be an obstacle to the realization of Brazil as a modern state. The early republic, the military dictatorship of the Cold War era, and the post-dictatorship return to democracy have all used a “state of exception” to justify aggressive policing, or pacification, policies.
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games will take place in Brazil next year, and increased attention has been placed on favelas as the government works to pacify the neighborhoods and secure the cities for international visitors. Tourists, however, occasionally opt to cross established boundaries and engage in favela tourism, seeking to observe the spectacle of these neighborhoods firsthand.
Erika Robb Larkins, an Assistant Professor in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma, recently completed The Spectacular Favela: Violence in Modern Brazil (University of California Press, 2015). Her book is an ethnographic study of the Rocinha neighborhood, a favela in Rio de Janeiro and one of the most famous favelas in Latin America. Dr. Larkins’s experience and research demonstrates that the violence frequently observed in favelas is not native to those neighborhoods. Rather, the spectacle of violence for which favelas are notorious is a response to the lack of housing, education, and medical resources for some of the nation’s poorest residents. Governments continue to assert a state of exception to justify welfare spending and security policies. Yet a constant lack of resources due to corruption causes a turn towards drugs and crime for subsistence. Thus, traffickers are empowered create and enforce rules of law in favelas.