Luiz Bernardo Pericás
The cangaço was a social phenomenon related to rural banditry in the backlands of the Brazilian Northeast (an area referred to as the sertão). Beginning in the nineteenth century, the cangaço reached its peak with the actions of Virgulino Ferreira, popularly known as Lampião, the most important and emblematic leader of these outlaws, during the 1920s and 1930s. Its demise came with the start of the dictatorial Estado Novo regime in 1937. The cangaço received widespread coverage in the local press and was amply depicted in the visual arts, literature, and cinema, enduring as one of the most distinctive and controversial subjects in Brazilian cultural history.
Matthias Röhrig Assunção
Capoeira is a martial art that developed from combat games enslaved Africans brought to Brazil. It is systematically documented since the beginning of the 19th century in Rio de Janeiro and later in other port cities. During the 19th century capoeira was increasingly practiced by the poor free people, black and of mixed ancestry, and also by white immigrants. Capoeira gangs controlled their territories against intruders and allied with political parties until the Republican purge of 1890. Capoeira survived best in Bahia, where it remained more associated with other forms of Afro-Brazilian culture and acquired many of its features still extant in present-day capoeira. From the 1930s onward, capoeira masters such as Bimba and Pastinha modernized capoeira, leading to the emergence of the Regional and Angola styles. Bahian capoeiristas migrated to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in search of better opportunities during the 1950–1970s. There they and their students developed what later became known as “Contemporary capoeira” (Capoeira Contemporânea) which is the most practiced style today. Capoeira was and is practiced in various ways: as a friendly game or as a fight, as a combat sport, or as an Afro-Brazilian cultural activity. Since the 1980s, capoeira has undergone a process of globalization and is now practiced in many countries around the world. Capoeira is the only martial art of the African Diaspora that is known and practiced worldwide. Writing on Capoeira has rapidly grown in a number of disciplines, leading to the constitution of its own interdisciplinary field of study.
Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.
Júnia Ferreira Furtado
Cartography in the administration of Portuguese America can be related to three major processes—first, to allow the exploration and occupation of territory from the coast to the interior; second, to improve the organization of the colonial administration system; and third, as a basis for diplomatic negotiations of territory with other European nations. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, during the Atlantic maritime expansion through which new lands and new worlds were unveiled to Europeans, the Portuguese constructed a solid cartographic mapping of Brazil—a process in which they were the pioneers. The objective was to allow their vessels to cross the ocean and afterward to guarantee their dominion over the newly discovered lands, which resulted in a progressive increase of geographic knowledge of the world that was being unveiled to the Europeans. For these reasons, maps produced during these two centuries showed the increasing expectations and knowledge of the New World and reflected the manner of how the Americas, particularly Brazil, were gaining visibility among the European public; the maps satisfied the public’s curiosity about the recently discovered lands, with information related to geography and nature.
Initially, as Spanish, Portuguese, and even French explorers began to reach the west coast of the continent, parts of the coastline began to appear on Portolan charts, which were used at that time for maritime sailing and are very rare today. Later the cartographers started portraying the interior of Brazil. Representations of local geography began to progressively replace images of natives and local flora and fauna. It became common on 17th-century maps to design a chain of rivers that allowed Brazil to be portrayed as an island. It was not by chance that this representation appeared in Portuguese maps at the same time as the Spanish and Portuguese crowns were unified, from 1580 to 1640. In the 17th and 18th centuries administrative cartography was mostly performed and supervised from Portugal by the Portuguese Crown or the Overseas Council, which handled all colonial policy.
Two features characterized this activity: the impact of Portuguese colonization as it moved toward the western and central regions of the continent; and technical changes to cartographic practice that began at this time, characterized by Enlightenment rationality. The discovery of gold in the southeastern and central-west regions of Brazil, the Portuguese exploration of the Amazon basin, and the incessant disputes between the Spanish and Portuguese over Colonia del Sacramento in the south demanded better definition of both internal and external frontiers. Internal frontiers included divisions between captaincies, comarcas (a subdivision of captaincies originally of an ecclesiastical nature), bishoprics, and various other administrative divisions. External frontiers, by contrast, usually represented borders with Spanish American colonies.
Marcia Guedes Vieira
The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 12.5 million children and adolescents under the age of fifteen currently working in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these, 9.6 million (77%) perform tasks that pose a risk to their physical and psychological health. This article presents a brief comparative analysis of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay in order to discuss the challenges of confronting this phenomenon in two very different countries that have embraced divergent strategies to deal with similar problems. To do this, the article presents an overview of the incidence of child labor in Brazil and Uruguay and seeks to demonstrate how far the category of labor is from a universal definition in the academic world, which is also repeated in the debate on the definition of child labor. It is possible to identify different moments of the debate in Latin America regarding the concept of child labor. Some approaches have been more contextualized than others, but all remain controversial and are sometimes considered incomplete. It will also consider the changes in the world of labor and how they interfere in this phenomenon. Despite advances in the fight against child labor overall, Brazil is starting to stagnate in its efforts to reduce the number of child and adolescent workers, and its challenge is to find new political solutions to address this problem. Uruguay still needs to place the issue more centrally on the nation’s political and social agenda in order to guarantee consistent research on the problem that can guide its policy responses.
Rafael de Bivar Marquese
The coffee economy was decisive for the construction of independent Brazil. By the middle of the 19th century, the country was responsible for about half of the coffee global supply; in 1900, that number had increased to about three-quarters of the world’s production. In the Brazilian monarchical period (1822–1889) the center of the activity was located in the valley of the Paraiba do Sul river. Brazilian coffee production from its very beginnings demonstrated an inherent spatial mobility and a great demand for workers. Before 1850, labor supply was guaranteed by the transatlantic slave trade; after that, by an internal slave trade. The two basic characteristics of the coffee economy created during the era of slavery (the intensive exploitation of workers through the extensive exploitation of natural resources) were maintained after the crisis and the abolition of the institution (1888), when the center of the coffee economy moved to the West of São Paulo. Now counting on a new arrangement of free labor (the colonato) and on the subsidized immigration of European peasants, the São Paulo coffee economy in the new republican regime (founded in 1889) underwent a huge productive leap. Overproduction and falling prices became the new problem. The coffee valorization policy adopted by the State of São Paulo after 1906 and then the federal government indicates the reconfiguration of the class relations experienced in the new republican era, which nevertheless kept many of the historical structures of the slave legacy intact.
Brasilio Sallum Jr.
In December 1989, Fernando Collor was elected President of Brazil, in the first election after the 1988 democratic Constitution. The election occurred under the threat of hyperinflation. The winner did not have strong parliamentary support, but the urgency for fighting high inflation gave to the President some time to govern without Judiciary and Legislative resistance. Soon after his inauguration, on March 15, the President launched heterodox stabilization measures—the Collor Plan—to “liquidate inflation.” This plan froze prices, changed the currency, and retained part of checking and saving accounts and other financial assets in Central Bank accounts, to be returned to the owners from September 1991 on. The government also started liberal reforms, privatizing state-owned enterprises and reducing barriers to international trade. The Collor Plan reduced the high inflation, but prices soon increased. On March 31, 1991, the government launched the Collor Plan II, once more against inflation. Having had bad results with the original plan, the government adopted economic orthodoxy, but high inflation remained. The center and left-wing party opposition grew, claiming legal protection for lower salaries and other demands for a substantive democracy. The conservatives pressed for more participation in the Executive in exchange of parliamentary support. President Collor resisted these pressures but finally made a ministerial reform in April 1992, to please the conservative parties and to strengthen his power. However, in May, a magazine published two interviews where the President’s younger brother accused him of corruption. In reaction, the center and left opposition parties made a coalition, and the Congress decided to organize a Mixed Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPMI) to investigate the accusation. After three months of inquiry, the CPMI approved, on August 26, a report saying that the President had committed crimes that allowed Congress to impeach him. Since August 16, the CPMI had been supported by a huge mass mobilization for impeachment. The mobilization continued until the Chamber of Representatives decided, on September 27, to allow the judgment of the President by Senate. This decision was achieved because conservative parties were included in the alliance around Vice President Itamar Franco. In December 1992, the Senate voted for Collor’s impeachment.
João Fragoso and Thiago Krause
Portuguese colonists carried their conceptions of social organization to the Americas. Their ideal was to “live like a gentleman,” that is, to own land and command laborers in order to distance themselves from manual labor and exercise patriarchal authority over a large household. Their property also allowed them the time and resources to be active in local politics and serve the Crown. They intended to reproduce in the New World the lifestyle of the Portuguese provincial nobility. There were, however, huge differences, since in Brazil the elite lorded over enslaved persons instead of peasants. The first elite families made their fortunes through the conquest and enslavement of Native Americans in the second half of the 16th century, but many of them did not manage to maintain their position during the transition to enslaved African labor in the following decades. Especially in the most dynamic areas, such as Pernambuco and Bahia, the first half of the 17th century was a period of flux in elite composition. By mid-century, however, a small number of families controlled most local offices, slowly fashioning themselves into local nobilities and wielding these claims to negotiate with the Crown and its representatives. Planter elites also established broad patron-client networks that included even their enslaved property. Nevertheless, their preeminence was threatened by the rise of merchant power in the 18th century, boosted by the huge demographic and economic expansion derived from gold discoveries in the southeast and the development of the internal market. Nevertheless, the noble ideal did not lose its appeal, and many rich merchants linked themselves to old noble families through marriage and the adoption of an aristocratic lifestyle.
Lilia Katri Moritz Schwarcz
This article provides a larger panorama of the cultural politics of the Brazilian Empire during the 19th century and following the long Second Reign of Pedro II. The central figure of the emperor—as a kind of animator of cultural, scientific, and artistic life—and the conservative profile of the national movement are key issues. The article analyzes the development of the main professional schools of the country, which taught medicine (in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador) and law (in São Paulo and Recife), and also tells the story of the Historical and Geographical Institute and the origins of the museums of art in Rio de Janeiro, the former capital of the court, and scientific museums in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Belém.
Ana Maria Mauad
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
Since its creation in 1982, the Laboratory of Oral History and Image (LABHOI), a division of the History Department of Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), Brazil, has been developing projects on the history of memory of different Brazilian communities, based on both oral and visual sources and the relationship between them.
The main purpose of LABHOI’s projects, despite its academic origin, is to engage communities in the production of their own history through visual and oral records. One of the results of this work is the organization of a digital database, accessible for a large public, that covers three fields of interest: Memory, Africa, and Slavery; Memory, Art, and Media; and Memory, City, and Communities.
LABHOI has become an important source for theoretical and methodological debates about the uses of visual representations of the past, and its members have published books and articles in this field. Recently LABHOI turned to the production of experimental videos based on the idea of the “videographic writing” of history, a modality of historical text that can perfectly mix sounds and images of recollections.
The video productions of LABHOI include the DVD box set Passados Presentes (Present Pasts) with four documentaries built upon our audiovisual archive Memórias da Escravidão (Memories of Slavery), launched in 2012. This audiovisual collection has been developed since 1994 and is composed of more than 300 hours of interviews with the descendants of slaves of the old plantation coffee areas of Rio de Janeiro.
Other projects developed during the last ten years include: Sons e Imagens da Rememoração: Narrativas e Registros das Identidades e Alteridades Afro-Brasileiras dos séculos XIX ao XXI (Sounds and Images of Recollections: Narratives and Records of Afro-Brazilian Identity and Otherness from the 19th to the 21st Centuries) (2010–2013), sponsored by the Brazilian Research Council (CNPq), in which an international network of researchers worked on issues concerning the memory of slavery. História e Memória da Prática Fotográfica no Brasil Contemporâneo (History and Memory of Photographic Practice in Contemporary Brazil), started in 2003, which is organizing a database of interviews with different professionals who have worked before, during, and after the Brazilian dictatorship in order to understand the political role played by photography in producing historical meaning about the present time and the organization of photojournalism as a field for public photography.
Since 2013 LABHOI officially included public history as one of its fields of debate and research with the approval of two new projects: História Pública, Memória a Escravidão Atlântica no Rio de Janeiro (Public History, Memory, and Atlantic Slavery in Rio de Janeiro), sponsored by the Carlos Chagas Foundation, Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ), which is developing a new approach to the study of the Atlantic diaspora in Rio de Janeiro, a city that has one of the major populations of Afro-descendants in Brazil; and Expanding the Global Feminisms Archive: Brazil and the “BRICS” Five, which is being compiled together with a team of scholars from the University of Michigan.
Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was launched in 1997. The library contains almost five million documents (manuscripts, books, journals, newspapers, maps, iconographic documents, and recordings), many of which are connected to Latin America, offering rich perspectives on the relationships between France and Latin American countries across the centuries. The many travel narratives, testimonies, essays, photographs, and maps available provide rich insight into French perception of Latin America from the early 16th century to the mid-20th century. Although Gallica’s collection of manuscripts on Latin America is not plentiful, one of its main goals is to provide easy access to rare French books printed centuries ago, of which not many copies are available today and which are rarely present in other digital libraries. The richest collection is probably on Brazil, since Gallica has organized a special collection titled “France-Brésil” which provides access to the rich personal collection of books and manuscripts of the first French historian of Brazil, Ferdinand Denis (1798–1890), among other treasures. Gallica has undeniable value for researchers specialized in Latin American history, although working on its collections requires at least reading proficiency in French as the vast majority of the accessible resources are in French.
Women occupy few professional roles in electronic music scenes worldwide. In Brazil, and particularly in the city of São Paulo, female collectives have been playing an important role in raising awareness and trying to change this scenario in recent years. In order to do so, they appropriate social media as communication tools, which become relevant digital resources. Mamba Negra was founded in 2013, and was initially organized by Carolina Schutzer and Laura Diaz. They are part of a cultural movement that seeks to occupy São Paulo’s underused public spaces for festivities that embrace especially the female, queer, and black communities. Their name is that of a dangerous snake from Africa (Dendroaspis polylepis). Their considerable number of supporters is concentrated on their
Bandida Coletivo is a collective of female DJs, event and music producers, photographers, and graphic artists that was created in 2016 with the aim of building safe spaces for women within the electronic music scene, not only to experiment with their art, but also to obtain more visibility and professional participation in events. Their name can be translated as “Female Bandit Collective,” and they are especially addressed to an audience of women from the outskirts of São Paulo. Their Instagram profile,
Álvaro Pereira do Nascimento
At least four major periods help to understand Brazilian history from pre-contact until modern times: the era of indigenous societies prior to 1500; the Portuguese colonial period (1500–1808); the experience of the Monarchy (1808–1889); and the Republic (1889–2019). Although the expanding and varied repositories offering digital resources do not necessarily cover these four highlighted periods thoroughly, researchers should still know them before navigating through the documents and images such repositories are making freely available to the public.
Historical Brazilian digital holdings can be grouped into nine broad areas: (1) documents produced by national, state, and municipal governments; (2) records relating to specific historical moments; (3) sources for immigrant, indigenous, and African and Afro-Brazilian studies; (4) collections helpful for examining labor, industry, and plantations; (5) sources relevant for sex and gender studies; (6) materials for the history of science; (7) personal and private collections; (8) periodicals (newspapers and magazines); (9) and sources related to artistic, patrimonial, and cultural production. Researchers will find abundant sources about Brazilian society, political changes, the economy, education, commercial relations, wars and revolts, urban reforms, companies, violence, customs, and values, among many other topics and issues. Scholars and students can access interviews, photographs, newspapers, magazines, books, civil and parish records, laws and reports from government institutions, correspondence, music, movies, documentaries, maps, and much more.
The Dutch Atlantic is often ignored because for much of its history it was quite small and seemingly insignificant compared to other European colonies in the Americas. However, it began with extraordinarily ambitious conquests and colonizing schemes. The present-day Dutch Caribbean—St. Martin, Saba, Eustatius, Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire—is but the remnants of what was, in the first half of the 17th century, an empire that claimed large portions of Brazil, the Caribbean, North America, and Africa. Forged during the decades-long Dutch Revolt against Spain, this budding empire collapsed soon after the Dutch gained Independence in 1648. European powers that had been allies against the Spanish turned against the Dutch to dismantle their Atlantic empire and its valuable trade. A series of wars in the second half of the 17th century reduced the Dutch colonies to a handful of smaller outposts, some of which in the Caribbean remain Dutch to this day.
A recent wave of scholarship has emphasized the dynamism, ambition, and profitability of the Dutch Atlantic, whose fate reflected its origins in the small but dynamic Dutch Republic. Like the Republic, it was acutely sensitive to changes in international diplomacy: neither was ever strong enough to go entirely on its own. Also like the Republic, it was very decentralized. While most all of it was technically under the authority of the West India Company, a variety of arrangements in different colonies meant there was no consistent, centralized colonial policy. Moreover, like the Republic, it was never a purely “Dutch” affair. The native Dutch population was too small and too well employed by the Republic’s industrious economy to build an empire alone. As the Dutch Atlantic depended heavily on the labor, capital, and energy of many people who were not Dutch—other Europeans, some Americans, and, by the 18th century, a majority of Africans—colonial Dutch language and culture were overshadowed by those of other peoples. Finally, the Dutch Atlantic also depended heavily on trade with the other European colonies, from British North America to the Spanish Main.
The Dutch were expert merchants, sailors, manufacturers, and capitalists. They created Europe’s first modern financial and banking infrastructure. These factors gave them a competitive edge even as the rise of mercantilist laws in the second half of the 17th century tried to exclude them from other countries’ colonies. They also displayed a talent for a variety of colonial enterprises. New Netherland, covering the territory from present-day New York to Pennsylvania and Delaware, began as a fur-trading outpost in the 1620s. However, by the time it was captured by the English in 1664 it was rapidly becoming a “settler colonial society.” Suriname and Guyana developed profitable plantations and cruel slave societies. In Africa and the Caribbean, small Dutch outposts specialized in trade of all sorts, legitimate and not, including slaves, textiles, sugar, manufactures, and guns.
Although their territorial expansion ceased after 1670, the Dutch played an important role in expanding the sugar plantation complex of other empires, partly through their involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Until the Age of Revolutions, the Dutch Atlantic remained a profitable endeavor, keeping the Dutch involved with Latin America from Brazil to Mexico. Venezuela in particular benefitted from easy access to Dutch traders based in Curaçao. Religion played a smaller, but still important role, legitimating the Dutch state and enterprises like the slave trade, but also opening up windows of toleration that allowed Jews in particular to gain a foothold in the Americas that was otherwise denied them. Although the surviving traces of the Dutch Atlantic are small, its historical impact was tremendous. The Dutch weakened the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic Empires, opening up a path to Imperial power that would subsequently be seized by the French and British.
Between 1624 and 1654, the Dutch West India Company occupied part of the northeast of Brazil. A private company, in 1621 it obtained from the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands a monopoly on trade and the authorization to conquer land and operate in waters on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It was created as a weapon against the Habsburg Monarchy, contrary to whom the Republic waged a long conflict: the Eighty Years War (1568–1648). The primary objective of the Company was to undermine the foundations of the Iberian overseas economy, which was of vital importance to the Spanish empire, and open the ports of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies to the Republic’s merchant vessels.
Interest in Brazil was principally related to the possibly of making profits from sugar, tobacco, and wood for dyes, products already distributed in the Republic through direct negotiations of the Dutch in Brazilian ports and indirectly through a trade route that connected Dutch cities and Portuguese ports. Incorporated in the Spanish crown as a result of the 1580 Portuguese dynastic crisis, Brazil became the target of a military assault when trade between Brazil and the Netherlands was affected by the various embargos imposed by the Habsburg Crown. The first great attack of the Company against Brazil resulted in the capture of Salvador, seat of the general government of Brazil in 1624, but their control of the city only lasted one year, resulting in a loss for the Company. After an incredible financial recuperation due to capture of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628, the Company devised a new plan. Pernambuco was the new target. A long conflict continued until January 1654, when the government of the Company of Brazil capitulated to the Portuguese.
Relations between the Dutch and the Indigenous peoples of North and South America can be divided into two periods. From 1621 to 1674, Dutch-Indigenous relations were shaped by the attempt of the West India Company to build a transatlantic empire. In Brazil, the Dutch established military alliances with multiple Indian groups. In Guiana (or Guyana), Suriname, the Caribbean, and New Netherland in North America, relations were also shaped by war and trade. From 1675 until 1815, the Dutch presence in the Americas was limited to Guiana (Essequibo, Berbice), Suriname, and a few small Caribbean islands. During this period, Dutch-Indigenous relations were largely shaped by the plantation-slavery system. Indigenous peoples were frequently employed by the Dutch as slave catchers. Christian missions played a limited role in the Dutch Atlantic, with the exception of the Calvinist mission in Dutch Brazil and the Moravian missions in 18th-century Suriname.
Evergton Sales Souza
For many years Brazil was a mission land, a space for evangelization mostly occupied by non-Christian peoples and targets of the conversion work of Catholic missionaries. Furthermore, the slowness of the colonizing—and missionary—advance toward the vast sertões of Portuguese America meant that a large part of the territory remained outside the principal organizing institutions of the colonial space, among which was the diocesan church. However, by confusing the space effectively occupied by colonization with what would eventually form the extension of the territorial possessions of the Portuguese monarchy, the field was opened to mistaken perceptions about the presence and importance of the diocesan Church in colonial Brazil. Since 2000, the proliferation of studies about the episcopacy and different aspects of the structures and actions related to episcopal power has contributed to a change in the understanding of its role and relevance in the development of the Church and the Luso-American colony. Contemporary historians, more attentive to documentary sources related to diocesan administration, have sought to show that the diocesan geography of Portuguese America had greater complexity and importance than has been attributed to it by incautious researchers convinced they were aware of the limitations of the role played by secular clergy in the construction of the Church and Catholicism. Emerging out of recent 21st-century studies is a better knowledge of diocesan structures—bishoprics, ecclesiastic administrations, parishes, chapels—and the functioning of the mechanisms of pastoral vigilance and the punishment of deviants, whether they were clerics or simple believers. This demystifies the idea that the royal Padroado was a nefarious obstacle to the development of the diocesan church in Brazil and shows the importance of the study of diocesan geography not only for the understanding of the history of the Church and Catholicism but also for the development of colonial society.
Between the arrival of Columbus and the last slave voyage to Cuba in the 1860s, over 12 million enslaved Africans were carried and sold in the Americas. Brazil received almost half of all these captives, most of them during the colonial period. An efficient slave-trading system allowed slavery to become a major force in the development of Portuguese America. The institution became pervasive throughout the colony in the three centuries comprising the colonial era, with important differences across time and space. Some of the major exports produced by African slaves in Brazil, such as sugar, tobacco, and gold, had various global impacts. They also stimulated important domestic developments, such as the creation of internal markets and the growth of cities like Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, with African slaves playing essential roles everywhere. Moreover, the history of African slavery became intertwined with the history of native Brazilians in peculiar ways.
Regina Horta Duarte
Brazil’s environmental history is often told as a tale of irresponsible exploitation and societal indifference. However, a broader perspective must consider the country’s diverging traditions of environmental thought and practice. During the 19th century, several naturalists wrote about the need for the rational use of natural resources, founding a conservationist cultural tradition. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of naturalists from the National Museum produced various initiatives related to biological research and conservationism. In the 1950s, another group of scientists, agronomists, and journalists founded the National Foundation for the Protection of Nature, active until the 1980s. Although none of these initiatives led to a continuous environmental mobilization, they shaped public policies and cultural sensibilities toward the environment. Beginning in the 1970s, a new wave of environmentalism emerged in several cities—with protests against pollution, nuclear energy, and deforestation—but also in rural areas and forests, with demands from traditional peoples. Over the years, several conservation units and federal institutions were founded to implement environmental policies. Finally, the 1992 Earth Summit gave a special boost to these movements in an era of growing NGO activism. All of these fueled the feeling that environmental activism in Brazil had entered a golden age of dialogue and negotiation.
Contrary to this view, some activists claimed that major political advances were still needed. Through the lens of socio-environmentalism and environmental justice, they denounced the displacement of communities by mining companies and the construction of hydroelectric plants, as well as the unhealthy and violent conditions faced by inhabitants of urban peripheries and areas where agribusiness was expanding.
Skepticism toward gradual advances was warranted following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration threatened environmental legislation and institutions and prior achievements. To confront these perils, environmental activism must become a political, scientific, and cultural movement.
All cities are forged by politics. But Brazil’s “informal” neighborhoods—and especially the favelas that now shape every Brazilian urban landscape—have an especially raw link to the political world. Favelas and other informal settlements are vital to Brazil’s cityscapes; they are also spaces historically defined by weak formal regulation and tenuous urban citizenship. In the informal city, property tenancy, city services, and basic civil protections were historically defined as privileges rather than rights. This was not for lack of claims-making; favela residents demanded urban belonging and engaged in intense legal battles over issues of property and regulation long before Brazil’s “rights to the city” movements gained international recognition. But Brazilian institutions proved mostly unwilling to recognize those claims, forcing informal residents to rely on a wide range of political strategies to achieve some modicum of permanence, citizenship, and rights to the city.
Urban informality and urban politics thus developed in tandem in Brazil before 1960, as favelas successfully rooted themselves in Brazil’s most significantly “informal” cities: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s national capital until 1960 and the birthplace of the term “favela”) and Recife (the Northeast’s regional capital, long Brazil’s third largest city, and a hothouse for the politics of informality). In both places, informal politics involved grassroots mobilization, symbolic contestations in the public sphere, and engagement with a remarkably diverse tangle of activists, patrons, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, politicians, intellectuals, artists, policymakers, and politicians. Informal residents were agile and effective political actors, who managed collectively and incrementally to establish favela residents’ de facto right to occupy Brazilian cityscapes. At the same time, the contradictions of favela politics made it difficult to convert de facto permanence into juridically enforceable rights to the city. The outcome was a politics of permanence rather than a politics of equality, the results of which are still all too apparent in Brazil’s contemporary urban form.