The Gendered Division of Governing Labor: How Activism Thrives in Rio de Janeiro’s Gang Territories


Wednesday, November 17, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:15pm

This event is virtual, to register click here.

Speaker: Anjuli Fahlberg, Assistant Professor, Tufts University
Moderated by: Yanilda Gonzalez, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University

Across Latin America, the rise of armed drug trafficking organizations and militarized policing in poor neighborhoods has created numerous obstacles for residents to mobilize for their citizenship rights. These challenges have been especially severe in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where gangs took over neighborhood associations, banned local elections, and assassinated activists who spoke out against them. How, then, do unarmed residents engage in political activism? In this talk, Dr. Anjuli Fahlberg draws on over four years of fieldwork in Rio’s favelas to examine the gendered constructs that shape political practices in gang territories. Her talk is based on her book, Activism under Fire: The Politics of Non-Violence in Rio de Janeiro’s Most Dangerous Favela (under contract, Oxford University Press). While a growing body of literature describes how violent governance is shaped by constructions of masculinity, Dr. Fahlberg brings attention to its binary opposite: feminized activism. By performing political femininity and sharing in the labor required to manage a community, local activist groups—led primarily by women—are able to create legitimate and protected spaces where they work to improve conditions in their community and advocate for broader forms of social and political change. The talk sheds light on a broader question: When we divert our lens away from the politics of masculinized violence to examine feminized non-violence, what other strategies of collective action might we find in Latin America’s conflict zones?

Anjuli N. Fahlberg is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and co-director of the Building Together Research Collective, based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her research employs an intersectional lens to examine urban violence and social movements across the Americas. She employs a participatory action research (PAR) approach in both ethnographic fieldwork and survey research. Her current book Activism under Fire: The Politics of Non-Violence in Rio de Janeiro's Most Dangerous Favela (under contract, Oxford University Press), documents how activists residing in Rio de Janeiro’s poor neighborhoods mobilize for citizenship rights in a context of armed drug gangs and racist policing. She has also conducted survey research on social development, insecurity and resilience in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, and is currently studying the impact of the pandemic in favelas. Dr. Fahlberg was the recipient of several national awards, including the 2019 Best Dissertation Award by the American Sociological Association and the 2019 Dissertation Award by the Collective Behavior and Social Movements Section of the ASA. She also received grants by the American Association of University Women and the National Science Foundation, and was awarded the Alma J. Young Emerging Scholar Award by the Urban Affairs Association, among several others. Dr. Fahlberg was raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After moving the US, she spent several years working with immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence. In addition to her academic work, she is involved in community organizing in her city of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Yanilda María González is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her research focuses on policing, state violence, and citizenship in democracy, examining how race, class, and other forms of inequality shape these processes. González’s book Authoritarian Police in Democracy: Contested Security in Latin America (Cambridge University Press), studies the persistence of police forces as authoritarian enclaves in otherwise democratic states, demonstrating how ordinary democratic politics in unequal societies can both reproduce authoritarian policing and bring about rare moments of expansive reforms. González received her PhD in Politics and Social Policy from Princeton University. Prior to joining HKS she was an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. González previously worked at a number of human rights organizations in the US and Argentina, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, ANDHES, and Equipo Latinoaméricano de Justicia y Género.

Organized in collaboration with the Department of Sociology at Tufts University.