- The Invention of the Favela by Licia do Prado Valladares
I have not yet seen other publications in the English language that covers the scope and depth of favelas with such clarity and sophistication. With over six decades of research work under her belt, Valladares, a Brazilian anthropologist, offers unparalleled intellectual insights into the geography and history of Rio and its favelas. This book was originally published in Portuguese in 2005, and it has been updated and translated for the Latin America in Translation series, an invaluable joint venture of North Carolina and Duke Presses.
Since I was born and raised in Rio, I am familiar with favelas, and reading about Rio's neighborhoods and geography brought me back to the days I lived there. However, I was not familiar with the work of Valladares, and did not expect to read a book to be replete with such compelling themes expertly articulated throughout the book. The book is essentially a synthesis of the history of favelas in Rio, with an emphasis on the history of scholarship of favelas. The framework Valladares uses covers the inter-and-multi-disciplinary gamut, with references to scholarship contributions that range from geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists for example.
The first noticeable and commendable element in this book is that the language the author uses is clear, cohesive and, much to my relief as a reader, without academic jargon. The second most interesting component I found is the inclusion of a chronology of the "Rio Favela," beginning in 1880 to present (pp. 169-183), which makes it easy for the reader to follow chronologically the evolution of favelas in Rio.
The description of the genesis of Rio's favelas includes fascinating accounts of Valladares's personal and professional experiences as a researcher, spanning over six decades. She provides the reader with several examples of inter-and-multi-disciplinary collaborations, between foreign and Brazilian researchers, for example, and, moreover, the importance of geographers and cartographers at the time when the field of study of favelas in Rio was a pioneering topic (pp. 82-83). In addition, she clearly explains the connections between and among disciplinary approaches that have been used to study favelas, and again, the figures and graphs come in handy.
I found her personal vignettes to be particularly useful in demonstrating the historical importance of these first collaborations. In one example, she highlights the work done by the first Peace Corps volunteers working in Rio's favelas. Valladares points out in her conclusion, that today Rio's favelas have become part of Rio's reality, and she cites numerous popular websites ranging from NGOs to tourist agencies operating in favelas. The access to the internet, telecommunications, and cable television, for instance, show [End Page 297] the reader how favelas have come to access the globalized world, with even a McDonald's franchise in the favela of Rocinha. From 2000 to 2010, the number of favelas grew from 752 to 1,022, with a total population of 1.4 million (p. 157).
Valladares describes how the idea of marginality and areas of "danger" in favelas became a topic of interest to Brazilian politicians, and some strived to eliminate favelas altogether, by removing them and relocating its residents to projects in areas outside the city limits, such as the Cidade de Deus (City of God). Interestingly, Valladares stresses how there was nothing original or new in her work, and that fieldwork conducted by Brazilian and French researchers had already addressed those same topics years beforehand. Valladares does an excellent service in accounting for the research produced on Rio's favelas with graphs illustrating the number of publications spanning over a century. Favelas continue to be a popular topic of interest in U.S. and Brazilian scholarship.
On that note, I would think that any scholar or student engaged in Brazilian studies would find this book a gem – as I...