Mega-Events and the Neoliberal Production of Space in Rio de Janeiro
Conclusion: Ethical Disruptions
It is certain that more research and attention is due to the upcoming mega-events in Rio de Janeiro, as their influences play out over the coming months and years. Much of their impact upon the organization of space and the lived experience of the city is yet to come. This thesis, an examination of immanent processes of urban transformation as they are underway, if lacking the empirical depth that hindsight confers, has a particular kind of role to play.
By asking how it is that the present circumstances have come about, and beginning to frame the conditions for their contestation, I endorse a critical praxis that considers action as the ultimate ends of a scholarly engagement. I have foregrounded not only the historical precedents and spatial practices leading to the present, but also the modes through which urban infrastructural development is being actively contested. This contestation is seen to be occurring across scales in ways that rely upon developing networks of social media. As translations of experience, calls for attention on the world stage are rife with semiotic problems. Thus, the politics of recognition emerge as crucial for understanding the growth of such local, regional, and trans-regional dissent against processes of structural violence. We must recall that visibility as a category is always mediated by signs for recognition that are immanently political, and can never be taken for granted as transparent (Keane 2003).
Complicating the terms of trans-regional visibility of violence does not untie the ethnographer from the ethical implications of their engagement. As a work which challenges received notions that help to prop up powerful regimes of neoliberalism, this thesis has intended, in a minute way, to disrupt the seeming stability of those systems. By illustrating projects of modernization and development as immanently contested projects of material and imaginative spatio-temporal scale, I have hoped also to illustrate their contingency, and their capacity to change.
It is frequently the case that contemporary anthropologists advance an activist agenda, but seem left wringing their hands over the problem of involvement. Aware of our complicity, and possessing a great deal of privilege as members of a Western intellectual ‘ivory tower’, indeed, who do we dare accuse? As Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1995) notes, there is a tendency to attempt to ‘suspend the ethical’ in ethnographic and theoretical practice, as a means of separating a Western enlightenment sense of morality from the topics at hand. However, it is never possible to fully remove oneself from the equation. We would do better to examine our own prejudices and tendencies alongside our findings, and place them in dialogue. I thus endorse Scheper-Hughes’ observation that the pursuit of ‘objectivity’ is better served by the recognition and explication of a moral stance than the attempt to mask or cover it.
As one of many left or radical-leaning academics writing on Latin America from afar, attempting to tread the fine line between critical distance and political urgency has constituted a significant challenge in this project. Future studies will possess the benefit of hindsight with regard to Rio’s Olympic transformations, but will no less be encumbered by the necessity of engaging with the ethical, both at the scales of urban displacement and expropriation in Rio, and in the broad-reaching cultures of neoliberalism that remain pervasive. Through engaging the disruptions of hegemonic discourses in the context of Rio’s favelas, the precariousness of diverse regimes of power and their modes of reproduction is made apparent. Casting a critical eye towards the realm of spectacle and the sanitation of the urban poor, I have hoped to contribute in a small way to the development of this awareness.
I’d like first of all to thank my parents for their endless love and support this year, and every year; thanks to Charlene, for reminding me of the light at the end of the tunnel, and for being an unforgettable professor and advisor; to LaShandra Sullivan, for providing regional expertise, humor, and invaluable feedback; to my brother, for wanting to talk about anything and everything but my thesis; to Rick Smith, for small sparks of wisdom; to Isabella Salton, for being a gracious host and friend during my stay in São Paulo; to Dario Nascimento, for showing me hidden beaches and local secrets of Rio; and to my friends at Reed, in Olympia, and in the rest of the world, for sharing with me whimsy, vigor, and summer bliss, past and future.
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