Book Review: Angelo Martins Junior on ‘Periphery’ and Brazil

Sobre Periferia book cover imageReview of: Vieira, N. C. (Org.); Feltran, G. S. (Org.).  (2003) Sobre Periferias: novos conflitos no Brasil contemporâneo. 1. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Lamparina Editora/FAPERJ. 224p.

Reviewed by Angelo Martins Junior


Two major-events — the 2014 World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 2016 — as well as its recent economic growth have recently put Brazil under the spotlight of the international media. With a nominal GDP of $2.48 trillion, Brazil was ranked as the sixth largest economy in 2011, according to the IMF (2012). While the European Union is focusing on austerity and public spending cuts, in Brazil there is a ‘new middle class’, composed of millions of people who now have access to goods and products that would have been unimaginable before. Policies that encourage consumption, such as tax cuts and increased access to credit, has helped to keep the economy growing (Yaccoub, 2011).

Despite this good economic moment, according to data from the UN, Brazil had the 8th worst position amongst 187 countries in 2011, in terms of income distribution (BBC, 2011). Although the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) has shown some achievements in reducing social inequality in the last decade, however, the richest 20 percent of Brazilians owned 57.7 percent of the country’s wealth in 2011.

Economic growth with social inequality would intensify the formation of a “divided country”, with rich and central areas in opposition to poor and socially problematic “peripheries”, as the New York Times described “the divided Rio de Janeiro: a third-world city with a first-world economy” (follow this link for a slideshow of relevant pictures).

Rio landscape juxtaposing a favela in the background and new developments in the foreground. © Yanni Eleftherakos
Rio landscape juxtaposing a favela in the background and new developments in the foreground. © Yanni Eleftherakos

However, the boundaries, as well as the relationship between “centre and periphery”, are not as clear as the media has usually described it. The book “Sobre Periferias: Novos conflitos no Brasil contemporâneo” (On periphery: new conflicts in contemporary Brazil), tries to demonstate this through case studies which combine meticulous description of several contemporary realities present in Brazilian metropolises, with profound theoretical analysis. The book, edited by Neiva Vieira da Cunha and Gabriel Feltran, collects some of the best material on “periphery” presented in the last three years at the annual conference of Anpocs (Brazilian association for research in the social sciences field), in Brazil.

Periferia (Periphery) is a term that easily emerges when talking about some critical situations, or places, present in the lives of large cities in Brazil. It could be seen as the stigmatized “city outskirts”, which in Brazil would be a mixture of favelas, self-built and “depredated” working class areas. However, the articles presented in this edited book refuse an easy dualism that opposes center and periphery. The texts converge on the recognition that the boundaries of the peripheries are far from being constituted only, or primarily, by spatial coordinates which creates fixed, homogeneous, and unified spaces subjected to the same cleavages. Boundaries can also be political, religious, social, administrative and cultural, being permanently reinvented through micro, and macro, relations of power.

Having this in mind, the authors present to the reader the varied forms of insertion in these “peripheral” spaces, places and relationships. Throughout, the book exposes the connection of  “the urban marginalized”, their living spaces, religion, forms of collective action, crime and “popular moralities” with consumption, racial and gender relations, family, territory, housing projects and social mobility. “Peripheral relations” are intertwined with drugs, crime and violence, but also with politics, state management, art and cultural life.

The editors of the book have made an important effort to open up to the maximum the field of analysis, seeking to cover a wide range of interrelated issues which circulate around the notion of periphery. This is a more than important book to any scholar who intends to understand the contemporary dynamics, and conflicts, of the Latin American metropolis. In a context of changes, the book reveals the continuities and ruptures with the social dynamics of previous decades.

Acknowledgment: special thanks to Yanni Eleftherakos for giving his permission for the Rio photo to be used.


photo of Angelo Martins Junior References:

BBC (2011) “Apesar de avanços, Brasil continua em baixa em índices globais”

IMF (2012) “Brazil”. International Monetary Fund

YACCOUB, Hilaine. (2011) A chamada “nova classe média”: cultura material, inclusão e distinção social. Horiz. antropol. [online]., vol.17, n.36 [cited  2014-01-15], pp. 197-231 .



Angelo Martins Junior is a PhD Student at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a member of The Work and Mobility Study Group (UFSCar), which is part of the Laboratory for the Study of Labour, Professions and Mobility (LEST/UFSCar).




For related material:

Mike Savage recently gave a talk at Goldsmiths on ‘the paradox of class’ and the BBC’s Great British Class Survey

TCS has published numerous articles on class. Browse a list of such articles here

In 2009, TCS published a special section on Latin America, edited and introduced by José Maurício Domingues

TCS recently published a special section on The Urban Problematic, edited and introduced by Ryan Bishop and John WP Phillips




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