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‘The City Is Ours’: The Temporal Construction of Dominance among Poor Young Men on the Street in a Brazilian Elite Neighbourhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 September 2012


This article explores how young Brazilian men from poorer areas transcend socio-geographical boundaries by inhabiting the streets of an elite neighbourhood. Drawing on several periods of qualitative fieldwork, the article demonstrates the complex and dynamic character of the relationship between the young men and the formal residents and traders. It reveals temporal patterns of day and night, where the young men's social positions shift from subordinate diurnal (as serving workers) to dominant nocturnal positions (as potential attackers). Analysing the interactional patterns between the two groups regarding sentiments of trust and fear, the multifaceted and sometimes incoherent relations reveal social inclusion and exclusion as well as street protection and crime. The article also dismantles some common dichotomies within research on crime and fear of crime, emphasising that these young men are both victims and offenders, fearful and fearsome.

Spanish abstract

Este artículo explora cómo hombres jóvenes brasileños de áreas pobres trascendieron los límites socio-geográficos al habitar las calles de un vecindario de élite. Basado en varios periodos de trabajo de campo cualitativo, el artículo demuestra el carácter complejo y dinámico de la relación entre los jóvenes y los residentes formales y negociantes. Éste revela patrones temporales de día y noche, cuando la posición social de los jóvenes varía de subordinados diurnos (como trabajadores de servicios) hacia posiciones dominantes nocturnas (como potenciales atacantes). Al analizar los patrones de interacción entre los dos grupos en relación a sentimientos de confianza y de miedo, las relaciones multifacéticas y a veces incoherentes entre los dos grupos revelan la inclusión y la exclusión social, así como cuestiones sobre la seguridad en la calle y el crimen. El artículo también desarticula algunas dicotomías comunes al interior de las investigaciones sobre el crimen y el miedo al crimen, enfatizando que estos jóvenes pobres son al mismo tiempo víctimas y delincuentes, temerosos y temidos.

Portuguese abstract

artigo explora a maneira pela qual jovens brasileiros de áreas periféricas transcendem fronteiras sócio-geográficas ao habitar as ruas de um bairro de elite. Baseado em diversas etapas de trabalho de campo qualitativo, o artigo demonstra as características complexas e dinâmicas da relação entre os jovens, os moradores formais e comerciantes. Revela padrões temporais do dia e noite, nos quais as posições sociais ocupadas pelos jovens deslocam-se de subordinados diurnos (como trabalhadores serviçais) a posições de domínio noturna (como assaltantes em potencial). Ao analisar padrões de interação entre ambos os grupos em relação a sentimentos de confiança e medo, as relações multifacetadas e por vezes incoerentes revelam a inclusão e exclusão social, assim como proteção e crime nas ruas. O artigo também desmantela algumas dicotomias comuns dentro das pesquisas acerca do crime e do sentimento de insegurança, enfatizando que estes jovens são ambos vítimas e infratores, temíveis e temerosos.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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47 Tourists also occasionally create legal money opportunities, such as guiding, but more often present illegal opportunities, principally drug dealing and prostitution.

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50 At the time, R$ 35,000 was equivalent to approximately US$ 19,750.

51 Pelourinho is the historical centre of Salvador. Investors and politicians rediscovered the poor neighbourhood in the 1990s. It was completely renovated and gentrified. Since then its night life has blossomed.

52 The song text is based on my field notes of Thiago's adaptation of the song The City is Ours. The original version is performed by Facção Central on the album Versos sangrentos (1999).

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66 Ursin, ‘“Wherever I Lay My Head Is Home”’.

67 Offe, ‘How Can We Trust Our Fellow Citizens?’.

68 Ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 Warren, ‘Introduction’.

71 Offe, ‘How Can We Trust Our Fellow Citizens?’.

72 Uslaner, ‘Democracy and Social Capital’.

73 Pain, ‘Place, Social Relations and the Fear of Crime’.

74 Anderson, Streetwise.

75 Uslaner, ‘Democracy and Social Capital’.

76 Pain, ‘Youth, Age and the Representation of Fear’.