9 Mar

Geographical Review Preview: Capability Failures and Corrosive Disadvantage in a Violent Rainforest Metropolis

By: Mariana Piva da Silva, James Angus Fraser & Luke Parry

What is the main purpose of your study? 
To examine experiences of inequality and violence in Manaus, a metropolis in the Brazilian Amazon.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
Our findings demonstrate to policy-makers in Brazil and elsewhere that a narrow focus on increasing monetary income is insufficient to improve people’s well-being. In Manaus, we show there is an urgent need for initiatives to make social life possible again for deprived, working class neighborhoods, and this would involve addressing their fear of moving around in spaces that are saturated with violence. Police ineffectiveness and violence towards citizens are key aspects of this problem. Achieving greater public trust requires further police modernization and reform – away from discriminatory practices and towards greater respect for human rights – is vital.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Our study can be situated within development scholarship which draws on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach and later reworking by Martha Nussbaum. Our findings are also relevant to research showing that social inequities influence how feel about themselves and how they relate to each other. We have also intersected these ideas with theoretical insights from the notion of ‘corrosive disadvantage’, which we have used to understand the myriad social consequences of the fear of violence. Our study has some commonalities with qualitative research on favelas elsewhere in Brazil, although very little related work has been done outside the major cities of country’s South-east region (e.g. Rio de Janeiro). More research is needed into the lived experiences of violence in other disadvantaged, under-studied urban contexts in Brazil.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
We show that although the Amazonian urban working class’ material standards of living might have improved, this has not been translated into improved well-being. We found that violence contributes to constrained capabilities, shame and indignity, and limits potential for self-realization among working class people. Fear of violence, we have shown, corrodes the capacity for affiliation, leading to social isolation and weakened neighborhood social structures in Manaus.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
Our study demonstrates that theorizing on disadvantage can be insightful for understanding capability constraints. When combined with concepts of corrosive disadvantage, symbolic violence and recognition, we show that the capabilities approach offers a useful way to explore the links between violence and wellbeing from an ethical perspective. We show that the fear of violence underpins a cluster of corrosive disadvantage, which reflects and reinforces structural inequities. This is important because such clusters of disadvantage reflect deep social inequities and can impinge on individual freedoms — perpetuating the uneven distribution of rights and resources. Violence, then, can foreclose the possibility of mutual recognition in poor neighborhoods, serving to strengthen discriminatory processes and erode social trust and cohesion.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
Our paper helps thinking about the social basis and impacts of violence through a nuanced understanding of well-being which accounts for both individual capacities and political-economic structures. This study helps bridge political-economic analysis of social inequities with research on the lived experiences of disadvantage. For instance, by showing that the omnipresent fear of violence facing working class people in Manaus constrains free, safe movement and limits their abilities to enjoy recreational time, find employment, be educated and participate in social life. The causes of violence in Manaus, like elsewhere, are inherently political and our work shows that violence in all its forms continues to the erode the vital capabilities of disadvantaged people in this rainforest metropolis.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.