Helping the poor stay put: affordable housing and non-peripheralisation in Rio de Janeiro

This research will enlarge scientific understanding of the social effects of centrally-located affordable urban housing

A town in Brazil


The research supported by this award will enlarge scientific understanding of the social effects of centrally-located affordable urban housing, by testing hypotheses about the impact of housing on economic, political and social life.

For example, what happens when social housing is placed in centrally-located urban neighbourhoods, rather than in peripheral ones (as often happens in Latin America and elsewhere in the global South)? To answer this question, this research investigates an array of housing models, including state-planned projects, self-managed state-subsidized cooperatives, state-subsidized rentals, and informal take-overs of repurposed buildings.

This research is based in a single city centre where all of these approaches are being tried, which provides a natural experiment to investigate a range of social science questions about the relationships between the built environment, social organization, and social mobility. For example, how do differently-modelled affordable housing projects affect employment and economic mobility? How do different projects affect kinship, gender relations, and neighbourhood sociality? How do they affect civic engagement and urban participation?

To answer these questions, an interdisciplinary and international team is undertaking research in the downtown port district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Lutas Pela Moradia No Centro da Cidade YouTube channel (ongoing)

In conjunction with the Ethnoquê? video series, this project has also developed a YouTube channel devoted to disseminating the research to a broader audience (focusing particularly on the research participants).

This channel, titled Lutas Pela Moradia No Centro da Cidade (Struggles for Housing in the City Center), currently archives more than 10 short videos that document and describe the housing struggles of low-income residents living in the city center of Rio de Janeiro. The videos are in Portuguese with English subtitles, and they are freely available on YouTube.

Junior scholar professional development (ongoing)

Key to this project is the professional development of junior scholars and social movement activists involved with the research. Since this project began in 2016, there have been eight junior scholars involved with the research, all of whom have made advancements thanks to this project.

This is significant in that it shows how this project has helped to cultivate a new generation of scholars and activists working around the world, from Brazil, to the United States, to the United Kingdom, to Pakistan, to Australia.

Ethnoquê? video series (completed)

This video series, titled Ethnoquê? (Ethno- what?), includes 7 didactic videos introducing the basics of ethnographic research, focusing on social justice.

The target audience includes students and researchers in the social sciences, as well as social movement activists. This series was produced at the request of social movements and research participants engaged with our research, who suggested that a series of instructional videos showing how to conduct ethnographic research would be helpful.

The videos are in Portuguese with English subtitles, and they are freely available to teachers, students, and researchers, and anyone else interested in conducting ethnographic research. The videos are available on YouTube.

Seminar/conference examining the challenges posed by COVID-19 for low-income families in central Rio, September 2020 (completed)

In September 2020, our research team hosted a full-day seminar / conference to consider specific challenges faced by low-income families involved with social housing in central Rio in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to the seminar / conference we hosted in 2019, this involved members of the research team, local experts, and research participants, and the event was open to the public.

The aim of the event was to explore specific challenges faced by families involved with social housing, as well as to consider unique resources available to these families. By sharing knowledge and making linkages across different interest groups, our goal was to generate and share knowledge of key problems faced by these families, and to help strengthen existing resources shared by those within this vulnerable population group. For example, helping to spread information about resources available to vulnerable families, and identifying key problems faced by these families that can be related on to local experts in Rio.

This event was organised and facilitated online in order to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Research presentation seminar conference, June 2019 (completed)

In June 2019, we hosted an interactive seminar conference for research participants, stakeholders, local researchers and interest groups, and members of the general public.

The seminar convened at the Universidade Federal Fluminense campus near to downtown Rio (proximate to our research site), and included presentations from members of the research team as well as local experts and key informants. Key to this seminar was a public debate forum, where research participants and stakeholders were invited to participate, ask questions, share concerns, and provide critical feedback on findings generated thus far.

The seminar served not only as a way to disseminate and reflect on initial research findings, but also as a way to connect different publics (eg researchers, local experts, social movement leaders, low-income local residents) and build affinity networks.



  • Garmany, J. and Pereira, A. (2019) Understanding Contemporary Brazil. Routledge

Book chapter

  • Garmany, J. “Politics and collective mobilization in post-PT Brazil,” in Hatzikidi, K. and Dullo, E. (eds.,). A Horizon of (Im)Possibilities: A Chronicle of Brazil’s Conservative Turn. Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London (forthcoming)

Peer reviewed articles

  • Burdick, J. (2020) “Waging class struggle with plants: intra-class differentiation and greening labor in a public housing project in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” in City and Society Volume 32, Issue 2, August 2020, pp. 448-474
  • Garmany, J. and Richmond, M.A. (2020) “Hygienisation, gentrification, and urban displacement in Brazil,” in Antipode 52(1), pp. 124-144
  • Garmany, J. and Burdick, J. “‘An open secret’: Public housing and downward raiding in Rio de Janeiro,” in Urban Studies November 2020
  • Tavares, P. (2020) “Mobilização e enfrentamento da vulnerabilidade social: a luta pela moradia e a pandemia da COVID-19,” in Revista Horizontes Antropológicos
  • Santos, R. (2020) “A dupla identidade do militante pesquisador,” in Revista de Pesquisas Etnográficas

Organised conferences / seminars

  • “O Desafio da Etnografia e a Pandemia do Covid-19” (2020) Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • “A Luta pela Moradia no Centro da Cidade” (2019) Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Major conference / seminar presentations

  • Tavares, P. (2019) “Direito à moradia na região central do Rio de Janeiro: processos de gestão de projetos de moradia popular”, no Simpósio de Pesquisa Pós-Graduada SPG09 Direito à Cidade e Reconfigurações da Citadinidade no Brasil, no 43º Encontro Anual da ANPOCS, realizado de 21 a 25 de outubro de 2019 na cidade de Caxambu, MG.
  • Garmany, J. and Richmond, M. (2017) “Limits to gentrification in Brazil”, Association of American Geographers, Boston, MA.
  • Rolf Da Souza (2018) “É legal morar no Centro? O processo de gentrificação  e a luta pelo direito à moradia na zona portuária do Rio de Janeiro,” paper submitted to the 8th Conferência Latinoamericana e Caribenha do Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciências Sociales (Clacso). Buenos Aires/Argentina.
  • Rolf Da Souza, Roberto Santos, Emilie Guerrette (2018) “Lutas pela moradia no Centro da Cidade. Pesquisa de ação colaborativa sobre Direito à Moradia na Zona Portuária do Rio de Janeiro” (“Struggles for housing in the Center of the City. Collaborative action research on The Right to Housing in Rio De Janeiro’s Port Zone.”). Fórum Social Mundial (World Social Forum), Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
  • Roberto Santos (2017) “A Luta pela Moradia no Centro da Cidade” (“The Struggle for Housing in the Center of the City”). Presentation and discussion, Manoel Faustino Occupation, Movimento sem Teto da Bahia (The Roofless Movement of Bahia). Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Invited lectures

  • Garmany, J. (2019) “Gentrification, hygienization, and processes of urban displacement in Brazil,” Centre of Latin American Studies, Cambridge University.
  • Garrmany, J. (2019) “Politics and collective mobilization in post-PT Brazil,” Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London.
  • Garmany, J. (2019) “The state of human rights and social movements in Brazil today,” Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.
  • John Burdick (2017). "Helping the Poor Stay Put". Symposium on New Approaches to Citizenship. Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.
  • John Burdick (2016). “Anthropology On and Off the Street: Reflections on Methods”. 50th Anniversary of the Anthropology Program. Graduate Center, City University of New York, NY.
  • Roberto Santos (2017). "The Struggle for Housing in the Center of the City”. Núcleo de Estudos Políticas Públicas em Direito Humanos. Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), RJ.
  • Rolf Da Souza (2018). “Helping the Poor Stay Put”. Institute of Comparative Studies of Conflict Management (Instituto de Estudos Comparados em Administração de Conflitos). Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF). Níteroi, RJ.
  • Garmany, J. (2019) “Public housing and downward raiding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” School of Geography, University of Melbourne.

Project details


National Science Foundation (USA)
Economic and Social Research Council (UK)

Research partners

Syracuse University
King's College London
Universidade Federal Fluminense
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Project team

Dr Jeff Garmany (University of Melbourne)
Dr John S. Burdick (Syracuse University)
Dr Rolf Ribeiro de Souza, Dr Michelle Lima Domingues, and Dr Priscila Tavares (Fluminense Federal University, Brazil)
Dr Luciana Correa do Lago (Rio de Janeiro Federal University, Brazil)
Dr Melinda Gurr (Lahore University of Management Sciences)
Roberto Santos (Central de Movimentos Populares)


Dr Jeff Garmany