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Acts of Love: Popular Performance and Community Encounters in the Favela


This article draws upon theories of performance, everyday life, social space, and community to explore an ethnographic vignette juxtaposing two scenes: in one, neighbors form an improvised huddle around a young gang member dying of a gunshot wound in the streets of the favela, or squatter town, of Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro; in the other, a Palm Sunday procession passes through the same spot later that night. Contextualizing this illustration with detailed information on Rocinha (including police and gang activities there and changing trends in favela activism in recent decades) and a framework for distinguishing the live, “organic” spaces of performances from the still-life, “inorganic” spaces of abstract settings, I argue that Rocinha residents use popular performances to create refuges from the desolation facing them in the poverty, violence, and injustice of their lives and to reposition themselves in spaces of abundance, peace, and community.

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