Macabre spatialities : the politics of race, gender and violence in a neoliberal city
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My dissertation is an ethnographic analysis of black urban life as it is impacted by the responses of the neoliberal urban government to violence and crime in São Paulo, Brazil. Based on an eighteen-month period of fieldwork in both Jardim Angela, one of the most violent neighborhoods in São Paulo, it examines the neoliberal strategies of governing the urban poor in the context of a global city. While the ‘shoot to kill’ approach continues as a historical practice, the state also invests in community security councils, neighborhood surveillance programs, community policing and human rights training for youth as strategies to control the city’s “troubled geographies.” I investigate how sovereign power, under neoliberalism, reassures itself by targeting economically destabilized urban areas produced by the state itself. Weekly visits to São Paulo’s penitentiaries offer ethnographic accounts of a gender and race-based critique of contemporary trends in the criminal justice system in São Paulo. In the Brazilian racialized regime of citizenship, mass incarceration and police killings are strategies employed by sovereign power in an attempt to deal with spaces and bodies that are deemed as undisciplinable/ungovernable and that can only be ruled through punishment and death. Ultimately, my work highlights the central paradox of Brazilian racial relations: whereas in the official myth of racial democracy racial lines are theoretically blurred, in practice the police are consistently able to identify black bodies, and thus establish racial difference by employing violence, mass incarceration and death. In the context of urban violence in Brazil, I argue that police killing practices and their attending technologies of social management become normalizing processes through which racial identity acquires consistency in and through death. Additionally, I analyze the Black Movement’s political strategies to reclaim the “right to the city” and to hold the state accountable for police violence against predominately black communities and the limits and possibilities for collective claiming of citizenship rights in a country in which race has historically been denied as a political category. Finally, my work offers a spatially grounded analysis of black women’s politics unveiling their social (dis)location in the city and the political outcomes produced through their ‘mothering politics’; black women have repositioned themselves in relation to the city, politicized black death, and offered a conceptualization of blackness constituted not only through death, but also through spatial practices of resistance.