Transforming Atmospheric Authority: Experimental Embodiments in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Planning and Geography


Working with women living in an informal urban community ('favela') that suffers high levels of stigma, poverty, violence, and human rights abuses, our project explores the role played by favela dwellers in challenging and transforming the sometimes stifling emotional atmospheres of the city. The project explores how embodied, non-representational creative practices can enable distressing experiences to be communicated, shared, and creatively transformed. Developing participatory research methods that aim to foster dignity and tackle feelings of isolation and alienation, we focus on women's encounters with the varied atmospheres of the favela: sometimes tense, stifling, or terrifying; often, simultaneously, full of warmth, security, and humour. Working to recognise, affirm, and amplify creative practices through which women in the community are already seeking to overcome feelings of stress and isolation, our research explores how embodied cultural practices can help women develop new understandings and insights into the issues facing them, and reduce barriers to participation in community leadership and advocacy. Our research practices aim to enable emerging understandings to be articulated, shared, and translated into practices that work to reduce violence and promote dignity and community authority.

Planned Impact


Targeted beneficiaries include:
(1) Local residents in the Maré Complex of favelas.
(2) Local civil society organisations, including:
- Redes da Maré. An NGO set up by residents and ex-residents of the Maré Complex of favelas, working in areas such as education, art and culture, and public security.
- Centro de Artes da Maré. A cultural centre and arts space.
- Casa de Mulheres. A space offering legal advice, educational programs, counselling, and other services to women affected by violence.
- Observatorio de Favelas, a social organisation undertaking research, consultancy, and public actions generating knowledge and political proposals on favelas and urban issues.
(3) International charities, NGOs and development organisations, including:
- People's Palace Projects, an independent arts charity operating across London and Rio de Janeiro, working on ways in which participatory art can respond to urgent social crises.
- Fight for Peace, an NGO offering support to young people in favelas.
- Amnesty International, whose Brazil office have worked on several projects concerning public security in the Maré, and have established links with our partner Redes da Maré.
- Women in Cities International.
- Itaú Cultural
- Central Única das Favelas

(4) Urban environment professionals, including
- urban design and planning professionals working on improving favelas' urban infrastructure
- policy makers and civil servants working in public security and violence reduction

(1) Favela residents, who often suffer high levels of fear, stress and anxiety when navigating public space in the favelas, will benefit from participating in research that fosters dignity and healing and combats alienation. These practices include: individual and collective story-sharing; using embodied performance to explore hard to express feelings and experiences through embodied collective practices; and community leadership workshops that explore how individual experiences can be transfigured into shared projects. Local residents will also have the opportunity to co-design a documentary film, thus being empowered to decide upon the ways in which their community is represented and combatting steretypical representations of favela life. Finally, they will benefit from the improved capacity of local NGOs to support and advocate for the community.

(2) Local civil society organisations have led the co-design of this research proposal, and this co-design approach will continue over the lifetime of the project. By the end of the project, local NGOs will be able: to draw on a detailed knowledge-base of issues faced by women relating to mobility, violence and space in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; improve their development programmes based on evaluations of the project activities; to build capacity to conduct their own targeted research in their community; to extend networks to other cultural and social organisations working on areas relating to gender and public security.

(3) International development organisations will be able to draw on the project documentary and research summaries to inform their development programmes and to apply and adapt transferable practices for using arts and creative practice to empowering women to mobilise spaces and practices of healing, solidarity, and community action.

(4) Urban professionals will be able to draw on cutting edge research on how favela dwellers experience and wish to improve the urban environment. Policy makers in urban security will have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with favela dwellers in order to foster more productive and less harmful security practices. This latter group will be challenging to engage, due to poor relations with favela dwellers, but the project will make every effort to open up new dialogue.


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Description Research partnership with Redes da Mare, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
Organisation Redes da Maré
Country Brazil 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are currently in the fieldwork stage of the project. We are in the middle of participatory co-design meetings, in collaboration with residents of the favela and with Redes da Mare.
Collaborator Contribution Redes da Mare are a vital part of the project, contributing to the co-design, implementation, planning and analysis.
Impact No outputs yet - the project was delayed by covid, so is only just beginning.
Start Year 2020