Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil

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Insurgent citizenships have arisen in cities around the world. This book examines the insurgence of democratic citizenship in the urban peripheries of São Paulo, Brazil, its entanglement with entrenched systems of inequality, and its contradiction in violence.

James Holston argues that for two centuries Brazilians have practiced a type of citizenship all too common among nation-states—one that is universally inclusive in national membership and massively inegalitarian in distributing rights and in its legalization of social differences. But since the 1970s, he shows, residents of Brazil's urban peripheries have formulated a new citizenship that is destabilizing the old. Their mobilizations have developed not primarily through struggles of labor but through those of the city—particularly illegal residence, house building, and land conflict. Yet precisely as Brazilians democratized urban space and achieved political democracy, violence, injustice, and impunity increased dramatically. Based on comparative, ethnographic, and historical research, Insurgent Citizenship reveals why the insurgent and the entrenched remain dangerously conjoined as new kinds of citizens expand democracy even as new forms of violence and exclusion erode it.

Rather than view this paradox as evidence of democratic failure and urban chaos, Insurgent Citizenship argues that contradictory realizations of citizenship characterize all democracies—emerging and established. Focusing on processes of city- and citizen-making now prevalent globally, it develops new approaches for understanding the contemporary course of democratic citizenship in societies of vastly different cultures and histories.

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Editorial Reviews

American Anthropologist
Insurgent Citizenship will provoke vigorous debate. But Holston has set the terms for such debate with force and intelligence, and his book will surely be an enduring touchstone for scholars of law, social movements, and urban development.
— Brodwyn Fischer
Choice - J.M. Rosenthal
Holston's topic in this impressive study on unequal citizenship is the contrast between Brazil's formal, legal equality and the reality that it is a society founded on civic and juridical inequalities.
American Anthropologist - Brodwyn Fischer
Insurgent Citizenship will provoke vigorous debate. But Holston has set the terms for such debate with force and intelligence, and his book will surely be an enduring touchstone for scholars of law, social movements, and urban development.
From the Publisher
Co-Winner of the 2010 BRASA Roberto Reis Book Prize by the Brazilian Studies Association
Winner of the 2009 Best Book on Brazil in English, Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association
Winner of the 2009 Leeds Honor Book, Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association

"Holston's topic in this impressive study on unequal citizenship is the contrast between Brazil's formal, legal equality and the reality that it is a society founded on civic and juridical inequalities."—J.M. Rosenthal, Choice

"Insurgent Citizenship will provoke vigorous debate. But Holston has set the terms for such debate with force and intelligence, and his book will surely be an enduring touchstone for scholars of law, social movements, and urban development."—Brodwyn Fischer, American Anthropologist

Holston's topic in this impressive study on unequal citizenship is the contrast between Brazil's formal, legal equality and the reality that it is a society founded on civic and juridical inequalities.
— J.M. Rosenthal
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142906
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/6/2009
  • Series: In-Formation Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James Holston is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of "The Modernist City" and the editor of "Cities and Citizenship".
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Read an Excerpt

Insurgent Citizenship Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil
By James Holston Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13021-7

Chapter One Citizenship Made Strange

All nation-states struggle to manage the social differences they distinguish among their inhabitants. Some measures they take are drastic, like slavery, forced migration, and genocide. But most administer differences according to formulations of equality and inequality that define their citizen-ships. Democracies have held particular promise for more egalitarian citizenships and thus for greater justice and dignity in the organization of differences. In practice, however, most democracies experience tremendous conflict among citizens, as principle collides with prejudice over the terms of national membership and the distribution of rights. Indeed, citizen conflicts have increased significantly with the extraordinary democratization and urbanization of the twentieth century. Thus, the worldwide insurgence of democratic citizenships in recent decades has disrupted established formulas of rule and privilege in the most diverse societies. The result is an entanglement of democracy with its counters, in which new kinds of citizens arise to expand democratic citizenship and new forms of violence and exclusion simultaneously erode it. Moreover, if cities have historically been the locus of citizenship's development, global urbanization creates especially volatileconditions, as cities become crowded with marginalized citizens and noncitizens who contest their exclusions. In these contexts, citizenship is unsettled and unsettling.

This book studies the engagements of a particular citizenship with such processes of change. It takes the case of Brazil as paradigmatic of a type of citizenship that all nations have at one time or another developed and one that remains among the most common: a citizenship that manages social differences by legalizing them in ways that legitimate and reproduce inequality. Brazilian citizenship is typical, moreover, in the resilience of its regime of legalized privileges and legitimated inequalities. It has persisted under colonial, imperial, and republican rule, thriving under monarchy, dictatorship, and democracy. Yet this book also demonstrates that the most entrenched regimes of inegalitarian citizenship can be undone by insurgent citizen movements. It shows that in the peripheries of Brazilian cities, since the 1970s, the working classes have formulated an insurgent citizenship that destabilizes the entrenched. It argues that their experience of these peripheries-particularly the hardships of illegal residence, house building, and land conflict-became both the context and substance of a new urban citizenship. Contrary to so much nineteenth and twentieth century social theory about the working classes, members of those classes became new citizens not primarily through the struggles of labor but through those of the city-a process prevalent, I suggest, throughout the global south. This book is thus about the persistence of inequality and its contestation. However, it presents no linear progression. Rather, it shows that the dominant historical formulations of citizenship both produce and limit possible counterformulations. As a result, the insurgent and the entrenched remain conjoined in dangerous and corrosive entanglements.

When I first went to Brazil in 1980, I rarely heard the words citizen or citizenship in everyday conversation. Certainly, people spoke about having particular rights. But they did so without an apparent connection with citizenship. Rights seemed to exist apart, conferred by statuses other than citizen, such as worker. When I noticed the use of "citizen" (cidadão), it mostly had a different sense among Brazilians of all classes. It meant someone with whom the speaker had no relation of any significance, an anonymous other, a John Doe-a person, in fact, without rights. When I asked directly, people described themselves as Brazilian citizens and suggested how their citizenship (cidadania) had changed under Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985). Occasionally in our conversations, people also used the words as a status of respect, for example, to complain that they were "not being treated as citizens but as marginals" by public officials. But at the same time, among themselves, they generally used "citizen" to refer to the insignificant existence of someone in the world, usually in an unfortunate or devalued circumstance. People said "that guy is a cidadão qualquer" to mean "a nobody." They said it to make clear that the person was not family, friend, neighbor, acquaintance, colleague, competitor, or anyone else with a familiar identity-to establish, in short, not only the absence of a personal relation but also the rejection of a commensurable one that would entail social norms applied in common. "Citizen" indicated distance, anonymity, and uncommon ground.

In this formulation, citizenship is a measure of differences and a means of distancing people from one another. It reminds people of what they are not-even though, paradoxically, they are themselves citizens-and defines citizens as others. I call this formulation a differentiated citizenship because it is a based on differentiating and not equating kinds of citizens. Moreover, it considers that what such others deserve is the law-not in the sense of law as rights but of law as disadvantage and humiliation, a sense perfectly expressed in the Brazilian maxim "for friends, everything; for enemies, the law." To people like myself accustomed to a rhetoric of liberal democracy that emphasizes the centrality of law-as-rights and citizenship in social relations, this expression presented a radically different articulation of what is near and far in the social order. I found it hard to understand, and the aphorism, which made immediate sense to Brazilians I asked, became emblematic during fieldwork of my attempts to chart an unfamiliar territory of social taken-for-granteds.

Twenty years after this initial disorientation, I was in São Paulo for the victorious presidential campaign of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers' Party (PT). It was a massive, ecstatic victory, under red banners of "citizenship," "democracy," and "social justice." I realized that Brazilians voted for Lula not only to demand future change but also to acclaim as emblematically theirs a life story about what has already changed: a story of industrialization, urban migration, city transformation, and citizen struggle that has remade Brazil in the last fifty years. It is a history that Lula personifies charismatically. In 1952, at age seven, he migrated from a dirt-poor region of Brazil's Northeast, traveling two thousand miles in the back of a truck to São Paulo. Although he remained poor, the urban conditions of poverty were not stagnant: he became both a factory worker and an urban pioneer, as he and legions of other migrants powered São Paulo's industrial boom and transformed its hinterland by turning the shacks they had to build for themselves into masonry homes and urbanizing their neighborhoods. Through their labor, they became modern industrial workers in urban peripheries they constructed out of "bush." By 1980, they had defied military rule to mobilize factories and founded a political party of their own, the PT, that organized the periphery's neighborhoods through a mix of leftist politics and popular Catholicism. After three failed presidential bids, Lula and the PT won, with more than 60% of the national vote, by pledging to forge a "social pact" for all citizens and a "social justice" for the poor.

Brazilians voted for Lula not only to celebrate an ascension story as his opponent, José Serra, overcame a lower-class childhood to become an elite professional. Rather, they were finally willing to elect to highest office a man who campaigned explicitly as a nonelite-not merely as "the Brazilian equal to you," which had been the slogan of Lula's first failed campaign against the elite Fernando Collor de Mello, but as a man who had triumphed without becoming elite, who had succeeded through his experience of the common, and who presented his individual success as expressly collective. Lula won because Brazilians recognized in this common aspect of achievement the best possibility for remaking a nation rotted by the convergence of great wealth and grotesque inequality. In that recognition, Lula's story touched the deeply messianic nerve of Brazilian popular imagination. What impressed me on election night in October 2002 was how many people, mostly working-class, I saw openly weep on the streets of São Paulo after Lula's victory. And they cried on national television over the next days when asked to recall the Lula they once knew as a worker and common Brazilian. They cried when trying to explain what that experience of commonality was and what it meant to them that such a man could become president. The tears of tough working-class men and women sprang from their painful, passionate longing for Brazil to dar certo, to "succeed and become right," as much as from their own suffering. There is such frustration among laboring Brazilians. They long for their nation to make good after so many misses, for their work to be valued, accomplishments recognized, and injustices righted. They long for a just share in their country's immense resources, forever monopolized by a habitually disparaging, pampered, and immune elite who always seem relentlessly in control of Brazil's destiny.

Lula represents this laboring Brazil precisely because he comes from the "autoconstructed" peripheries-from the kind of impoverished urban periphery in which a majority of Brazilians now live and in which they build, through a process called autoconstruction (autoconstrução), their own houses, neighborhoods, and urban life. In that struggle, they also construct a new realm of participation, rights, and citizenship. Lula embodies, in other words, not only the individual self-making of an immigrant and industrious São Paulo. He also exemplifies the collective experience of the city making of peripheries and their citizenry throughout Brazil. That Lula's administration is today sunk in profound corruption, having apparently traded its project of social justice for one of mere power, is another matter-if a tragic one-I consider later. On that October night, his election affirmed the body and spirit of this complex autoconstruction, synthesizing the unprecedented national force the peripheries had become. In just a few decades, the urban working classes had constructed a civic force capable of striking hard at that still-dominant Brazil in which the historical norm of citizenship fosters exclusion, inequality, illegality, violence, and the social logics of privilege and deference as the ground of national belonging. The development of the autoconstructed urban peripheries had thus produced a confrontation between two citizenships, one insurgent and the other entrenched.

This book investigates their entanglement. It does so by making three sorts of arguments. The first analyzes the historical trajectory of Brazilian citizenship as a combination of two considerations. One is formal membership, based on principles of incorporation into the nation-state; the other is the substantive distribution of the rights, meanings, institutions, and practices that membership entails to those deemed citizens. This combination produced a distinctive formulation, distinguishing Brazil from other nations on the world stage of eighteenth and nineteenth century nation building: it generated a national citizenship that was from the beginning universally inclusive in membership and massively inegalitarian in distribution. This inclusively inegalitarian citizenship has been remarkably consistent in maintaining its principles of both incorporation and distribution since the inception of the Brazilian nation-state almost two hundred years ago.

This formulation of citizenship uses social differences that are not the basis of national membership-primarily differences of education, property, race, gender, and occupation-to distribute different treatment to different categories of citizens. It thereby generates a gradation of rights among them, in which most rights are available only to particular kinds of citizens and exercised as the privilege of particular social categories. I describe it, therefore, as a differentiated citizenship that uses such social qualifications to organize its political, civil, and social dimensions and to regulate its distribution of powers. This scheme of citizenship is, in short, a mechanism to distribute inequality. Citizenships do not directly create most of the differences they use. Rather, they are foundational means by which nation-states recognize and manage some differences as systematically salient by legitimating or equalizing them for various purposes. Typically, a regime of citizenship does both simultaneously, and its particular combinations give it historical character. The Brazilian formulation equalizes social differences for national membership but legalizes some as the basis for differentially distributing rights and privileges among citizens. Thus, at the beginning of the republic, it denied education as a citizen right and used literacy and gender to restrict political citizenship. In legalizing such differences, it consolidates their inequalities and perpetuates them in other forms throughout society.

Due to this perpetuation, most Brazilians have been denied political rights, limited in property ownership, forced into segregated and often illegal conditions of residence, estranged from the law, and funneled into labor as servile workers. These discriminations result not from the exclusion of Brazilians from citizenship itself. If that were the case, it would be difficult to explain their sense of belonging to the nation. Rather, these Brazilians are discriminated against because they are certain kinds of citizens. The question I ask, therefore, is what kinds they are and how the application of a particular type of citizenship generates their discriminations. The difference-specific citizenship I identify is not an archaic embodiment of backland Brazil. I stress that it remains a dominant aspect of Brazilian modernity. Indeed, one of my objectives is to account for the persistence of its inequalities.

My second argument is that since the 1970s, Brazil's working classes have articulated a different formulation of citizenship, as they moved to cities and built the urban peripheries. This urbanization transformed them. They were drawn to Brazil's industrializing cities to become the new labor force of a modern urban economy and society. Yet as nationalizing elites redeveloped city centers to become the modernized capitals of this new Brazil (figure 1.1), they expelled the working poor and forced them to reside in undeveloped hinterlands. There, they lived in precarious and typically illegal conditions (figures 1.2 and 1.4). They had to construct their own houses, organize to gain basic services, and struggle to retain their house lots in often-violent conflicts over landownership. Nevertheless, within decades, they had urbanized their neighborhoods and improved their living conditions remarkably (figures 1.3 and 1.5). Moreover, as residents spent decades transforming shacks into finished, furnished, and decorated masonry homes, this autoconstruction became a domain of symbolic elaboration. It expresses both collective and equalizing narratives of settling the peripheries and individual ones of unequal achievements (figures 1.6 and 1.7). Thus autoconstruction turned the peripheries into a space of alternative futures, produced in the experiences of becoming propertied, organizing social movements, participating in consumer markets, and making aesthetic judgments about house transformations.


Excerpted from Insurgent Citizenship by James Holston
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Tables xi
Preface xiii


Chapter 1: Citizenship Made Strange 3
Public Standing and Everyday Citizenship 15
Particular Citizenships 18
Treating the Unequal Unequally 25
History as an Argument about the Present 33


Chapter 2: In/Divisible Nations 39
Comparative Formulations 41
French Indivisibility 44
American Restriction 52
Brazilian Inclusion 62

Chapter 3: Limiting Political Citizenship 82
The Surprisingly Broad Colonial Franchise 83
Restrictions with Independence 88
A Long Step Backward into Oligarchy 100
Urbanization and the Equalization of Rights 104

Chapter 4: Restricting Access to Landed Property 112
Property, Personality, and Civil Standing 113
Land, Labor, and Law 116
The Tangle of Colonial Land Tenure 118
National Land Reform, Slavery, and Immigrant Free Labor 123
The Land Law of 1850 131
Land Law and Market Become Accomplices of Fraud 136
Illegality, Inequality, and Instability as Norms 142

Chapter 5: Segregating the City 146
Center and Periphery 147
Evicting Workers and Managing Society 157
Autoconstructing the Peripheries 165
Social Rights for Urban Labor 186
A Differentiated Citizenship 197


Chapter 6: Legalizing the Illegal 203
The Illegal Periphery 206
A Case of Land Fraud in Jardim das Camélias 213
Histories of Dubious Origins 219
Federal Ownership Claims: Sesmarias and Indians 220
Ackel Ownership Claims: Posse and Squatter's Rights 223
The Ownership Claims of Adis and the State of São Paulo 224
The Misrule of Law 227

Chapter 7: Urban Citizens 233
New Civic Participation 235
The Mobilization of Lar Nacional 241
Reinventing the Public Sphere 247
New Foundations of Rights 253
Rights as Privilege 254
Contributor Rights 260
Text-Based Rights 264


Chapter 8: Dangerous Spaces of Citizenship 271
Everyday Incivilities 275
In/Justice 284
Gang Talk and Rights Talk 300
Insurgent Citizenships and Disjunctive Democracies 309

Notes 315
Bibliography 361
Index 375

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