Theses defended

Can the right to the city be emancipatory? Presences, absences and emergencies in the articulation of the right to the city in Brazil

Eva Maria Garcia Chueca

Public Defence date
July 11, 2018
Doctoral Programme
Post-Colonialisms and Global Citizenship
Boaventura de Sousa Santos e Giovanni Allegretti
Current postmodern cities have been built on the basis of a neoliberal logic with serious consequences in terms of segregation and social exclusion. The call into question of this urban model framed the theoretical underpinnings of the right to the city in the late 1960s (Lefebvre, 2009 [1968]). In Latin America, and in particular Brazil, the idea of the right to the city emerged from the late 80s as an important political banner that voiced the concerns of a multitude of civil society groups. The mobilisations that ensued in this regional context, and in the Alter-globalisation movement, enabled this narrative to take root in a number of countries and to be adopted by a large range of actors. As a result of these different uses and appropriations (some more emancipatory than others), a notable conceptual ambiguity arose round this concept, which makes it a necessary requirement to conduct a detailed analysis about its meaning.

The purpose of this work is to deepen understanding of the right to the city, not only from a theoretical perspective, but especially how it has been used as an icon of some social struggles. One of the main objectives of analysing the notion of the right to the city from a "bottom-up" perspective, is to determine to which extent it has effectively contributed to provide a voice for the condemned of the city, to paraphrase Fanon (2002 [1961]). This apprehension prompted the question underpinning the title of this volume: can the right to the city be emancipatory? To answer this question, the research looks closely at the Brazilian experience, with a particular focus on the city of São Paulo, where the presences, absences and emergences of the political enunciation of the right to the city are explored. To this end, the analyses draws on the methodology of the extended case method (Burawoy, 1991, 2009, Santos, 2009a) and the theoretical lenses of post-colonial studies, specifically the epistemologies of the south, and the sociology of absences and emergences (Santos and Meneses, 2009; Santos 2005).

The principal challenge of the investigation was indeed identifying some of the main absences and emergences of the right to the city. The working hypothesis has been framed in an exploration of the symbolic world and the collective imaginary as spaces that contain manifestations of "ascending vibrations", representative of social discomforts that are not expressed through conventional social movements. Against the backdrop of an increased juridification of social life, the research gave precedence to an opposite rationality which is often considered inferior: aesthetic expressive rationality- fertile ground for the problematisation of reality and the construction of proto-political utopias. In particular, some expressions of São Paulo's urban art, known as the aesthetics of the peripheries (Leite, 2013) were explored, such as protest hip-hop and peripheral literature, defined in this work as decolonial artistic dissidences. One of their greatest achievements has been the appropriation of art and culture by groups that define themselves as "poor, black and peripheral". The aesthetics of the peripheries have thus become an important political tool for the creation of an insurgent citizenship, and a means to level strong criticism against the "urban apartheid" situation experienced by these stakeholders (Santos, 2009a). This, in turn, made possible the gestation of a self-valorising identity discourse and a collective memory.

These results demonstrate that the right to the city needs to be resignified by welcoming new actors and new struggles so that its emancipatory potential can be renewed. Through the lens of a non-institutionalised view of the law, provided by "legal pluralism" (Santos, 2009a), it is argued that certain "bottom-up" social processes are also an expression of the right to the city which result in a de facto extension of citizenship status. The aesthetics of the peripheries are a good example of this because they have contributed to the creation of multiple "spaces of representation" (Lefebvre, 2000), through which the inhabitants of the peripheries of São Paulo appropriated the city, resignifying these urban areas and building symbolic spaces where utopias could flourish. Art is the breathing space of dreams, and without dreams it is not possible to develop an imagination and to think about alternatives, that which is of utmost importance in the struggle for social emancipation.

In short, this work argues that it is necessary to move towards a dejuridification and decolonisation of the right to the city, with the view to capture the experiences (such as those that constitute decolonial cultural-artistic expressions) that, without explicitly utilising the banner of the right to the city, effectively embody a non-normative expression of it.

Key words: right to the city, sociology of absences and emergences, social emacipation, Brazil, aesthetics of the peripheries