The limits of Brazilian participatory democracy: middle-class dwellers and informal street vendors in Belo Horizonte

Authors: Mara Nogueira*, London School of Economics
Topics: Urban Geography, Latin America, Political Geography
Keywords: middle-class, informality, participatory democracy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In its November 2009 cover, the magazine “The Economist” portrayed a picture of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue as a rocket with the headline “Brazil takes off”. The article commended Brazil’s emergence as a global player, comparing the country favourably to the other BRICS. One of the points stressed was the apparent stability of its democracy. Since then, the country has experienced major social unrest in 2013, a deep economic crisis and currently faces the real threat of authoritarian right-wing populism. This paper will argue that the contradictions that are now leading the country towards a democratic rupture were already present in the “interpretation war” (Rolnik, 2013) that dominated the 2013 demonstrations. Drawing from the case of Belo Horizonte, I show how the FIFA World Cup served as an umbrella that covered a multiplicity of rights-based claims, allowing an inconsonant crowd to march together in protest against the Brazilian state identified as corrupt, inefficient, and violent. The research then looks at two particular groups; middle-class dwellers and informal street vendors. I argue that by exploring the relationship of those two groups with the state it is possible to grasp some of the deeply entrenched and unresolved inequalities of Brazilian society that are latent in the current crisis. Finally, the paper looks at one case of a cross-class alliance between those groups, exploring two aspects; the limits of the Brazilian participatory democracy and the possibilities of insurgency as a terrain of innovative practices.

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