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Ongoing CCC Research Addressing Agency in Rio de Janeiro Neighborhoods During COVID-19

Rio de Janeiro Overlook
Photo Credit: Desiree Poets

November 19, 2020

Several Community Change Collaborative members, including Molly Todd, Dr. Vanessa Guerra, Nada Berrada, Dr. Neda Moayerian, and Cathy Grimes, their faculty advisor Dr. Max Stephenson, and Dr. Desiree Poets, an Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Theory in Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science, formed a research team in March 2020 to explore the dynamics of individual and collective democratic agency in two Rio de Janeiro, Brazil favelas during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Two Brazilian research group members, Dr. Poets and Helena Vasconcellos, have completed a thematic content analysis of more than 200 virus-related articles that have appeared in two community-based newspapers—Maré Online and Fala Roça in the Maré and Rocinha neighborhoods, respectively—between March and September 2020 and have conducted participant observation of relevant online events. Others on the team have explored and developed reviews of relevant academic literature. The group has also developed a plan to conduct virtual semi-structured interviews with community key informants involved in writing the news articles examined. To date, the team has developed three research papers (and the group may design more). Those are briefly profiled here.

The first article, now under consideration for presentation at the 78th Annual Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA), April 14-18, 2021, explores the ways in which residents of these two communities have expressed collective agency in questioning and redefining the socially imposed stereotypic image of favelas as well as challenging and negotiating systemic injustice in the context of the global pandemic.

The second paper, to be submitted for consideration for presentation at the International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) conference, July 12-15, 2021, highlights the role of informal sector actors in crafting a response to managing the ongoing pandemic in Maré and Rocinha. Drawing on concepts of informality, social resilience, sustainability and collective agency, the authors plan to provide a nuanced portrait of an otherwise stigmatized populations' challenges and achievements in asserting their rights with the Brazilian government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third article, for whose presentation the team has not yet settled on a specific outlet, will explore the ways in which the dominant mainstream Rio de Janeiro newspaper, O Globo, has portrayed the favelas (or Maré and Rocinha, more specifically) by means of a narrative analysis of COVID-19 related articles from that periodical during the March-September 2020 period. The group will employ that evaluation to suggest how the neighborhoods are being described to the broader public and what that representation has implied concerning the availability of crucial public resources and recognition during the pandemic. The article will conclude with a reflection on the sources of the social memes identified and their implications for the exercise of democratic agency and possibility by the residents of the neighborhoods examined.