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Brodwyn Fischer, "A Poverty of Rights"

Friday, April 9, 2010
12:00 AM
1014 Tisch Hall

The study of urban informality -- shantytowns, off-the-books employment, extralegal family arrangements -- has yet to be fully integrated into the fields of either urban history or legal history. In Brazil, as elsewhere in Latin America, informality's ubiquity is widely acknowledged, yet it is still mostly treated as something that exists in opposition to a "normal" order, governed by laws and founded in rights, from which the informal poor are excluded and to which they (mostly fruitlessly) aspire. Based on the century-long history of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, this talk explores urban informality from a different perspective, arguing that the legal and informal spheres have long been interdependent, and that Rio's informal cities are spaces of urban claims-making as well as marginalization. This view differs significantly from those that have emerged from the study of legal pluralism or from prescriptive analyses such as Hernando de Soto's "The Other Path," and also questions presentist interpretations that see urban popular movements of the 70s and 80s as a significant departure from earlier political practices."Brodwyn Fischer (Ph.D., Harvard, 1999) specializes in modern Brazil and Latin America, with an emphasis on histories of law, cities, migration and social inequality. Her book, A Poverty of Rights: Citizenship and Inequality in Twentieth Century Rio de Janeiro (Stanford, 2008), won the Social Science History Association’s President’s Book Award in 2007, the Conference on Latin American History’s Warren Dean Prize for 2007-8, and the Urban History Association’s Best Book Prize (non-North American) for 2007-8. Her dissertation received awards from Harvard University and the New England Council of Latin American Studies. Fischer has also published on issues of race, criminal justice, and urban inequality in the Latin American Research Review and in several essay collections in the United States and Brazil. She has received grants from the Fulbright Commission, the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In 2006-7, she was the Jorge Paulo Lemann visiting scholar at Harvard University, where she began work on a new book project entitled "Great Migrations: Emancipation and Urbanization in Brazil, 1888-1970." At Northwestern, Fischer also directs Undergraduate Studies in History and the Program on Latin American and Caribbean Studies.