Deprivation of freedom in a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro: is the new public safety policy reversing the trend?

Kerstenetzky, Celia Lessa (1); Guerreiro, Maria Pandolfi (2); Neves, Fabiola (3); Vasconcellos, Mauricio (4) (2016). 'Deprivation of freedom in a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro: is the new public safety policy reversing the trend?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.


abstract
Paper Proposal, category: “Full academic papers session”
Title:
Deprivation of freedom in a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro: is the new public safety policy reversing the trend?
 
Celia Kerstenetzky (UFF), Maria Guerreiro (UFRJ), Fabiola Neves (UFF), Mauricio de Vasconcellos (IBGE)
 
The purpose of this paper is to report findings of a survey undertaken in a slum, the Vidigal shantytown, in Rio de Janeiro during the years 2013 and 2014 to estimate the poverty levels of its residents using the Capability Approach as conceptual benchmark. The sample of about 200 households is statistically representative. The research was conceived to be a follow up of a previous one undertaken in the year 2007 (see Kerstenetzky and Santos 2009) and the time gap is relevant . In the interim years between 2007 and 2013, a new public safety policy was implemented in many of Rio’s favelas, including in the Vidigal area, which was meant to eliminate a detrimental factor to slum dwellers’ capabilities: widespread gang violence. In fact, the 2007 research had shown this factor to constrain from the most elementary freedoms of residents such as freedom of movement to more complex ones such as freedom from stigma and discrimination, besides contributing badly to harm their social relations. As a matter of fact, the new policy has been able dramatically to reduce homicide rates and shootouts in the areas where it has been in place.
Our preliminary results indicate capability-enhancing effects of the policy but also point to problematic features of it that hurt precisely some of the freedoms it was supposed to unleash. In particular, while despotic power of criminal gangs together with ostensive display of heavy armaments were reined in thanks to the ostensive presence of a special police unit, other sources of constraints to freedom have shown up including illegitimate forms of exercise of authority by police officers.
The advantages of the CA to analyze well-being levels of individuals and households in the context of a favela cannot be exaggerated. In the above mentioned previous research on Rio’s favelas (Kerstenetzky and Santos 2009), it was already clear the inadequacy of both ‘income insufficiency’ and ‘lack of resources’ approaches to gauge those well-being levels. This was so because these communities though in many cases not income- or resource- poor in absolute terms suffer from the pitfalls of informality and marginalization, which are harder to capture with objective well-being indicators. The fact that the CA can accommodate information on experiences and subjective impressions people have of their living conditions enriches the information set so as to give the researcher important clues of the quality of life actually lived and the array of options open to them – and, of course, also give the policy-maker an idea of the additional effort needed to improve the well-being of those living therein. The analytical structure that accommodates, on the one hand, an array of objective resources, and, on the other, the actual lives as experienced by real people highlights an important conversion factor that should be incorporated in any rigorous welfare appraisal of those living in such communities. We claim that one such conversion factor is precisely the condition of living in an informal community and in our paper we expand on this.
In this way, a disturbing finding of our preliminary analysis of the data on achievements (a list of thirteen functionings plus a detailed questionnaire of people’s experiences and expectations regarding the introduction of the new police unit) is how much of what is achieved seems to depend on mutual perceptions and representations (e.g. police officers and favela dwellers) and power relations that go beyond the narrow sphere of welfare estimation. In particular, as far as the new public safety policy is concerned, it is ambiguously perceived in the community as both good and unreliable. This is very likely so because the policy bears the imprint of other public interventions in the community: top-down, “pilot-like”, and to some extent tailor-made to cater to the needs of a clientele that is not actively involved in its conception, production, and monitoring.
We intend to mine the data with a view not only to providing a more accurate notion of the results or impacts of the new policy, availing ourselves of the CA, hence, reaching beyond the more usual quantitative indicators, but also sensing the pressure that the findings put on our analytical framework. To illustrate: the kinds of tradeoffs that may appear between different well-being components, or between short-term results and durable influences, or, still, the drawbacks of an excessive focus on achievements and less attention to how they are delivered. Effective political freedoms and freedom of agency seem to stand out as central components of a capability framework when applied to marginalized communities – indeed they may be a requirement for the “real value” of social citizenship to obtain.
In short, the paper assesses effects of the new public policy intent on eliminating a strong hindrance on the freedoms of residents in shantytowns: gang and police violence. It depicts general traits of informal communities that account for the low conversion rates of resources into functionings therein. It tracks the ambiguous potential of public policies both of expanding and contracting freedoms. In search for answers, the paper raises further questions as to how the knowledge thereby gained might stimulate conceptual and theoretical developments that start from the CA conceptualization.
Reference:
Kerstenetzky, C.L. and Santos, L. (2009), Poverty as deprivation of freedom: the case of the Vidigal Shantytown in Rio de Janeiro. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities. Vol. 10, No. 2, July 2009, pp.189-211.

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