Student Voices

Travel Report: Emily Lebaron, Brazil

May 09, 2014
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Emily Lebaron, a Master's student in Geography, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award to further her research in Brazil. Her report:

With funding from the GIRTA, I was able to spend one month doing field research in Complexo do Alemao, a cluster of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I lived in the community, with community
members, interviewing residents and observing the realities of the Pacification campaign and the growth of the favela tourism industry.

Located in a poor, industrial zone of Rio, Complexo do Alemao is home to 300,000 individuals and is one of the areas targeted by Rio's Pacification campaign which began in 2008. Many favelas have violent and contested histories, controlled by drug cartels, and the Pacification campaign aims to 'securitize' these poor neighborhoods by installing permanent police and military forces, to deter disputes over territory and related violence. In advance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, many criticize this as a temporary bandaid solution to promote tourism and lessen a marred image during a time of much international attention. Many residents resent this effort, and complain that before they had to answer to one power: now there are two (the police/state and cartels). There have been many reports of continued tension, violence by both parties, and abuses of power. While the Pacification is far from perfect, it is contributing in large ways to the shifting landscape of Alemao.

Amidst this massive campaign, Complexo do Alemao has received a new cable-car transit system, become the first favela with a cinema, and has begun to nurture a new tourism industry. This
tourism industry is currently small scale, but presents unique opportunities for residents. Many people feel that the Pacification is an occupation of their territory, thus controlling the guests into their neighborhoods and guiding them can be a means of reclaiming territory and a display of agency. As well, people praise tourism in Alemao for its capacity to transform people's misguided ideas about what favelas are; discrimination and stigmatization are prevalent results of the demonization of favelas and their inhabitants, especially within Brazil. Another benefit is that tourists become a mediating force between the cartels and the police, to prevent violence through their ability to provide accountability as international (or at least external) actors.

Through this experience, I was able to get a comprehensive understanding of the realities people face that would not have been possible from outside. I connected with international researchers and scholars, forging new links which have offered opportunities such as participating in a Slum Tourism conference in Berlin this summer. This research was made possible entirely by the GIRTA funding opportunity, and for that I am extremely grateful.

More (informal) writing about my research, as well as more photos, can be found at http://imaginativegeographies.tumblr.com/ Any personal comments or inquiries can be directed to elebaron@sfu.ca.

Tags: Student Voices; Geography

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