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Samba Schools  

Carlos Sandroni and Felipe Barros

Samba schools are musical and recreational associations linked to carnival, created in Rio de Janeiro between 1928 and 1932 approximately. The first competitive samba school parade was held during the 1932 carnival, and since then they have held annually, always during carnival. Samba schools were also created in São Paulo later in the 1930s and gradually spread throughout Brazil, expanding internationally from the 1970s onwards. Since the end of the 1950s, the samba school parade has been recognized as the principal event in the Rio de Janeiro carnival. It is characterized as a performance involving music, dance, costume, and artwork. In the 1930s, each school sang up to three different sambas: the rule of just a single samba per parade was established later. Instrumental accompaniment is produced by the bateria, a set of membranophones and idiophones, which is perhaps the most the most characteristic element of a samba school. In addition, a small group of guitars and cavaquinho (a type of ukulele) provide the harmonic base for the singing. A group of judges mark the competition: points are organized by theme, music, dance, and outstanding features. The parade has gone through numerous transformations over the years. One such was the growing importance of the enredo, the central theme or story guiding the parade as a whole. In the 1950s, the composition of the sambas for the parade came to be driven by the need to present each aspect of the enredo in the music and lyrics, which led to the creation of a new type of samba, the samba-enredo. At time, the sambas performed in the parades were not very different from the sambas released on records and sung in different contexts in festivities. In the 1960s, the coordination of all aspects of the parade, with the aim of showing the enredo in the best manner possible, led to the emergence of a new role, the carnavalesco, who is charged with choosing the theme and designing and planning everything related to the parade’s visual and scenic dimensions. Increasing public interest in the samba schools was accompanied by the growth of the parade itself, implying ever greater costs, connections, and conflicts with the public authorities and with different private economic agents, including in some cases illegal economic activities, such as gambling. The importance of the parade of the samba schools for the city of Rio de Janeiro was expressed in the construction in 1983–1984 of a new and immense urban structure, known as the Sambódromo. Designed to shelter the parades without disturbing urban circulation, as had happened until then in the mounting and dismantling of stands, the Sambódromo is used throughout the year. Its open spaces host various festive events in the city, while the closed ones are used for activities linked to public education.


Urban Environmental Activism in Latin America  

Marcelo Lopes de Souza

If environmental activism revolves around problems and challenges related to the socioecological context of a collectivity (that is, the material framework in which it exists, from the point of view of access to resources and infrastructure, conditions of public health ,and embeddedness in ecosystems and naturogenic processes and dynamics), urban environmental activism can be characterized as activism in which the agendas, actors, and conflicts involved are specifically related to the urban space and its peculiarities, considered from a broad socioecological perspective. Considering the immense body of literature that has accumulated over the last 30 years on the environmental problems of Latin America, it is disappointing to see that only a comparatively small part of it refers specifically to urban environmental conflicts and activism. This is disturbing, because already in 2007, 78% of Latin America’s population lived in cities or other geographical entities classified as urban. Moreover, although in some core capitalist countries, too, there are many kinds of urban environmental problems, caused by omission, irresponsibility, or structural causes linked to class differences and asymmetries of power, Latin American problems and conflicts—above all those related to environmental injustice—are far more dramatic. Symptomatically, environmental struggles have been massive and have typically involved basic rights and the non-satisfaction of basic needs in the cities of the region. At the end of the day, it is clear that there have always been two basic types of urban environmental activism in Latin America: on the one side, a kind of environmental activism (and ecological discourse) that masks contradictions and class struggle, as it adopts a strict “preservationist” perspective that reveals itself to be insensitive to human needs and rights; on the other side, however, there are radical social struggles that are at the same time environmental struggles, particularly those explicitly or implicitly related to environmental justice. This diversity demonstrates both the richness and the contradictions of a contested sociopolitical landscape, where terms like sustainability and environmental protection have been instrumentalized for different, sometimes mutually incompatible, purposes.


Agricultural Transformations in Sugarcane and Labor in Brazil  

Thomas D. Rogers

The Portuguese took sugarcane from their Atlantic island holdings to Brazil in the first decades of the 16th century, using their model of extensive agriculture and coerced labor to turn their new colony into the world’s largest producer of sugar. From the middle of the 17th century through the 20th century, Brazil faced increasing competition from Caribbean producers. With access to abundant land and forest resources, Brazilian producers generally pursued an extensive production model that made sugarcane’s footprint a large one. Compared to competitors elsewhere, Brazilian farmers were often late in adopting innovations (such as manuring in the 18th century, steam power in the 19th, and synthetic fertilizers in the 20th). With coffee’s growth in the center-south of the country during the middle of the 19th century, sugarcane farming shifted gradually away from enslaved African labor. Labor and production methods shifted at the end of the century with slavery’s abolition and the rise of large new mills, called usinas. The model of steam-powered production, both for railroads carrying cane and for mills grinding it, and a work force largely resident on plantations persisted into the mid-20th century. Rural worker unions were legalized in the 1960s, at the same time that sugar production increased as a result of the Cuban Revolution. A large-scale sugarcane ethanol program in the 1970s also brought upheaval, and growth, to the industry.


Favelas and Politics in Brazil, 1890–1960  

Brodwyn Fischer

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.


An Empire in the Tropics, 1808–1821: A Historiographical Review  

Maria Fernanda Baptista Bicalho and Iara Lis Franco Schiavinatto

The Portuguese Empire in the tropics, established in Rio de Janeiro, the political center of Portuguese America between 1808 and 1821, was characterized by a government in flux, dealing with a revolutionary Atlantic, an immediate result of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasions. This was a period of instability and transition. Studies from the perspective of political culture analysis have demonstrated the strength of enlightened ideas, the reformist strategy of the Portuguese monarchy in the reorganization of its overseas empire, and the regimentation of Luso-Brazilian elites since the 1780s and 1790s. After 1808, the association of interests between those born in Brazil and those from Portugal benefited from King João’s policy to distribute lands, offices, privileges, and mercês (favours). The process of the interiorization of the metropole in Southern Central Portuguese America corresponded with the interests of the Luso-Brazilian elites around the city of Rio de Janeiro, who expanded their political projects toward other regions of Brazil. In Pernambuco, by contrast, the 1817 insurrection and the republican choice of its leaders explained the fracturing of the empire and monarchical authority. Revisiting debates about the empire in the tropics—including in the press that emerged following the establishment of the court of Rio de Janeiro—implies rethinking the dynamics of the reconfiguration and apprehension of the territories and their geopolitics, thinking about heterogeneous temporalities, and investigating the transit of people on a large scale across the world, the increase in black slave traffic, and forms of compulsory labor. These dynamics were the subject of innovative studies during the bicentenary of the transfer of the court, providing details of the unprecedented experience of a European king in the Americas. In 2008, many academic, cultural, and artistic events were held, and numerous books, collections, and catalogues were published, fruit of a dialogue between Brazilian and Portuguese historians. Among these were the publication of biographies, correspondence, and studies of scientists and artists who were in the court in Rio de Janeiro and who traveled through Brazil from north to south at the beginning of the 19th century. Furthermore, the project of civility in the tropics helped gestate liberal constitutional politics and a limit on the Joanino government in relation to the forms of reappropriation of the revolutionary ideal. Thus, the court in exile was an important element of the redefinition of the autonomization process in Brazil in the 1820s.


Authoritarian Urbanism in the Era of Mass Eradication in Rio de Janeiro, 1960s–1970s  

Leandro Benmergui

As the number of favelas and poor residents of Rio de Janeiro grew quickly by the mid-20th century, they became the object of policymaking, social science research, real estate speculation, and grassroots mobilization. After a decade in which local authorities recognized the de facto presence of favelas but without legally ascertaining the right of permanence, the 1960s and early 1970s witnessed the era of mass eradication. Seemingly contradictory—but complementary—policies also included the development of massive low-income housing complexes and innovative community development and favela urbanization experiences empowered by community organizations with the assistance of experts committed to improving the lives of poor Cariocas (residents of Rio). Favelas in Rio were at the crossroads of a particular interplay of forces: the urgent need to modernize Rio’s obsolete and inadequate urban infrastructure; the new administrative status of the city after the inauguration of Brasilia; and the redefinition of the balance of power between local, municipal, and federal forces in a time of radical politics and authoritarian and technocratic military regimes, Cold War diplomacy, and the transnational flows of expertise and capital.


The Vaccine Revolt of 1904, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  

Henrique Cukierman

A review of the literature on the Vaccine Revolt shows that it continues to be treated in an overly simplistic manner as a “structure” subjected to some form of regulation, from which its dynamics can be explained and its “root causes” identified. It is possible to forge a new, more cautious historiographical path, seeking to view this “structure” as a rhizome, as a loosely connected ensemble that exists under unstable circumstances whose precarious (dis)order cannot be grasped in its complexity by a reductionist analysis. Another historiographical approach that can shed new light on the popular revolt of 1904 situates it in the context of its links to the history of the smallpox vaccine and its diffusion. Viewing the episode as equally relevant to the history of science and technology, this article proposes to “vaccinate the Vaccine Revolt”—that is, to reintroduce the smallpox vaccine as a protagonist in the events—highlighting the need to treat the revolt as a chapter of a sociotechnical history; after all, what could be more sociotechnical than a technoscientific artifact that gave its name to a popular revolt? This is a history of scientists convinced of the superiority of their technical knowledge and of their right to exercise their power for the good of the public, who would be obliged to comply; most of all, it is a history without the problematic distinctions between content and context, between rationality and irrationality, between science and society. It is also a history of the popular mobilization on the streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro, exemplified by the vigorous resistance mounted in the working-class neighborhood of Saúde under the command of the Black man known as Prata Preta, which serves as a counterpoint to top-down historical narratives more concerned with the comings and goings of White political elites and coup-plotting, positivist-inspired generals, marked by the symptomatic exclusion of Black and working-class actors. It also serves to emphasize the symptomatic absence of the voice of Prata Preta, who was imprisoned and summarily banished without any due process. The fact that he was silenced has made it easier to construct allegories about “the people,” portraying them as heroic opponents of elite oppression or the exact opposite: an antiheroic, dangerous, and disposable rabble. Among the entourage of characters who have been silenced, one should also note the absence of women’s voices; although vaccine opponents rallied around the claim that they were defending against the “violation” of women’s bodies, nothing was heard from women’s mouths. Finally, revisiting the history of the Vaccine Revolt offers another opportunity to unmask the project of an authoritarian political, military, and scientific elite, with a particular focus on Oswaldo Cruz, one of Brazil’s greatest champions of science. In the name of science and public health, that elite envisioned a modern Brazil, while remaining ignorant of the daily nightmare lived by the vast majority of the Black, poor, and marginalized population.


Rio de Janeiro: A Sociocultural History  

Paulo Cruz Terra and Marcelo de Souza Magalhães

The city of Rio de Janeiro underwent profound changes between 1870 and the early 20th century. Its population grew dramatically, attracting migrants not only from abroad but also from other regions of Brazil. It also expanded significantly in size, as the construction of trolley and railway lines and the introduction of real estate capital powered the occupation of new areas. Meanwhile, urban reforms aimed at modernization transformed the social ways in which urban space was used. During this period, Rio de Janeiro went from being the capital of the Brazilian Empire to being the capital of the Brazilian Republic. It nevertheless maintained its position as the cultural, political-administrative, commercial, and financial center of the country. Against this backdrop of change, the city was an important arena for the political struggles that marked the period, including demonstrations in favor of abolition and the republic. Rio de Janeiro’s citizens were not inert during this period of transformation, and they found various ways to take action and fight for what they understood to be their rights. Protests, demands, petitions, and a vibrant life organized around social and political associations are examples of the broad repertoire used by the city’s inhabitants to gain a voice in municipal affairs. Citizens’ use of public demands and petitions as a channel to communicate with the authorities, and especially with city officials, shows that while they did not necessarily shun formal politics, they understood politics to be a sphere for dialogue and dispute. The sociocultural history of Rio de Janeiro during this period was therefore built precisely through confrontations and negotiations in which the common people played an active role.


Popular Music before 1945  

Carlos Sandroni

Commercial recordings in Brazil were first made in 1902 in Rio de Janeiro. During the first two decades of the 20th century, however, the recorded repertoire centered around the same musical genres established in the final decades of the previous century: for sung music, this meant modinhas, lundus, waltzes, and cançonetas; for instrumental music, this meant polkas, maxixes, marches, and tangos. During this period, sheet music for pianos and musical bands played a greater role in disseminating popular music than did mechanical recordings. This included dissemination by the medium of radio, which had begun in the country in the early 1920s but only expanded when its commercial operation was authorized in the 1930s. Of the leading musical genres of the period, samba and carnival marches (always sung) came into their own during the 1930s. Rio de Janeiro, at that time the capital of the republic, the cradle of the burgeoning phonograph recording industry, and the center of the still extant sheet music publishing business and radio broadcasting, is key to understanding Brazilian popular music of the time. During the entire period, however, migrants from other regions, especially from the northeastern states of Bahia, Pernambuco, and Ceará, made crucial contributions to popular music. These contributions became particularly significant during the final years of that decade with the success of baião, a sung musical genre with a distinct northeastern flavor whose influence would stretch into the 1950s.