The Arts and Individual and Collective Agency: A Brazilian Favela Case Study

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Brazil, civil society organization, democratic agency, neoliberalism, social imaginary


Brazil’s favela residents have long challenged the dominant media and social narrative that has, for decades, described them via discourses of criminality. This article examines the work of Redes da Maré, a civil society organization that offers cultural spaces and services for community-based creation and diffusion of the arts in its namesake favela. We employ the concepts of the social imaginary as well as individual and collective agency to investigate whether and in what ways a service-providing civil society organization that has adopted a cultural development approach encourages participants’ democratic attitudes and behaviors at the organizational and community level to challenge existing systemic social oppression by fostering participation in the development process and offering a platform for the expression of the voices of those it engages. Our analysis is based in part on interviews with 4 lead organizers and participants in Redes’ Free Dance School of Maré. Our analysis contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the roles the arts can play in encouraging democratic agency and possibility among favela citizens despite adverse political and social conditions exacerbated by neoliberal beliefs and policies.


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Author Biographies

Neda Moayerian, University of Tehran

Neda Moayerian is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tehran School of Urban Planning and a Non-Resident Research Associate at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance. Neda’s research interests include hospitality discourse in tourism and refugee studies, arts-based community development, nongovernmental organizations and international development.

Desirée Poets, Virginia Tech

Desiree Poets is assistant professor of postcolonial theory at the Department of Political Science and a core faculty of the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) PhD Program. Her research focuses on settler colonial, postcolonial, and dependency theories in Latin America; urban (de)militarization; arts, collective memory and community change, and questions of gender, ethnicity, class, and race. Her work has been published, among others, in Citizenship Studies, the Bulletin of Latin American Research, Critical Military Studies, and Settler Colonial Studies. Her manuscript, Unsettling Brazil, is under contract with the University of Alabama Press.

Max Stephenson Jr., Professor of Public and International Affairs and Director Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance Virginia Tech

Max Stephenson Jr., serves as a Professor of Public and International Affairs and the Director of the Institute for Policy and Governance at Virginia Tech. His current research interests include political agency and social change dynamics, democratization and development and human rights and refugee policy.

Cathy Grimes, Virginia Tech

Cathy Grimes is the communications director for the Virginia Tech Graduate School. Prior to joining the university, she spent 20 years as an award-winning reporter, editor, social media manager and project coordinator at several news companies, including the Seattle Times Company and the Daily Press Media Group. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Her research interests include message framing, speech codes, and the roles of journalism and the media in and across communities. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech.


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How to Cite

Moayerian, N., Poets, D., Stephenson, M., & g, C. (2023). The Arts and Individual and Collective Agency: A Brazilian Favela Case Study. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 10(4), 58–80.



Original Manuscript
Received 2022-09-26
Accepted 2023-08-12
Published 2023-09-19