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Performance, Power, Exclusion, and Expansion in Anthropological Accounts of Protests

Aet Annist


This introductory article offers a theoretical frame for the current special section, discussing protests’ value for analyzing performance, power, expansion, and exclusion, and contributes its own case study from the ongoing anti-logging protests in Estonia. While arising from power imbalances, protests hold powerful tools for achieving their aims. The introduction considers protests’ ability to expand in space, through time, and beyond topics, and to capture wider support, creating communities in the process. At the same time, considering the contexts of protests, it also demonstrates how such movements get caught up in the normative features of human sociality, reproducing the existing power relations, including those the protests aim to challenge. The Estonian case study enables further insight into this by analyzing dispossessions that protests both aggravate and suffer from.

Open access

Pac'Stão versus the City of Police

Contentious Activism Facing Megaprojects, Authoritarianism, and Violence

Einar Braathen


This article analyzes community activism and state interventionism within a context of racialized and gendered violence that is both direct/physical and structural. It presents a case study of Manguinhos, a cluster of favelas in Rio de Janeiro experiencing the federal Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), which provided political opportunities for community contentions. A main finding is that an oligarchic-patrimonial system suppressed the participatory-democratic aspirations of the federal government and local activists alike. Nevertheless, new rounds of activism keep surging against a prevailing military-repressive logic. Observations and interviews from fieldwork have been supplemented with written sources—relevant public documents, media sources, and research publications.

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The Permeable Olympic Fortress

Mega-Event Security as Camouflage in Rio de Janeiro

Dennis Pauschinger


This article reconsiders sport mega-event security in the context of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The article essentially argues that the mega-event organizers used a security spectacle to camouflage Rio's politics of death in the many favelas and peripheral neighborhoods. Conceptually, this contribution centralizes different notions of spectacle and camouflage and situates both in the history of violent and racial policing of the poor in Brazil. Empirically, the piece explores, across three sections, how (1) the city was transformed into a spectacular fortress by adapting standardized mega-event security measures to the specific public security conditions in Rio; (2) the Olympic fortress was nonetheless selectively porous and permeable; and (3) the spectacle served to camouflage the otherwise deadly police deployments of socio-spatial patterns along lines of class and racial inequalities.

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Philippine Prison Marriages

The Politics of Kinship and Women's Composite Agency

Sif Lehman Jensen


This article, from the perspective of how agency is nested in this choice, explores why women marry imprisoned insurgents from the southern Philippines. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Maharlika Village, a major Muslim community in Manila, the article discusses how women negotiate gender relations, family, and insurgency politics against the backdrop of political conflict and their precarious everyday lives. The analysis asks how prison marriages feed into the women's everyday maneuvering of the metropole, and how marrying a political prisoner is embedded in moral and gendered obligations arising from the entangled relationship between kinship and insurgency politics. Theoretically, the article argues that prison marriages are part of the women's composite agency, which captures how they aim at fulfilling contradictory desires, notions of morality and gendered obligations, which enables them to momentarily attain their own aspirations.

Open access

The Power of Silence

Sonic Experiences of Police Operations and Occupations in Rio de Janeiro's Favelas

Sterre Gilsing


This article examines the sonic dimension of police operations and occupations by tracing how the everyday life changed sonically in favelas in Rio de Janeiro during their occupation by Pacifying Police Units. I tune into the silencing practices of these security policies and conclude that a moral silencing of a racialized and gendered class of people takes place. A focus on silence helps us to understand sound as a technology of power, which enables the Brazilian state to operate along a gendered sonic color line. The cases I discuss are two instances of silencing that are a product of the operations and occupations: first, the silencing of the soundscape of the favela during police operations, and second, the silencing of funk parties. These ethnographic instances elucidate how racialized processes of negation of black subjectivity and black cultural expressions take place in the Olympic city.

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Racialized Governance

The Production and Destruction of Secure Spaces in Olympic Rio de Janeiro

Margit Ystanes and Alexandre Magalhães


Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this article explores the eviction of residents from Vila Autódromo, a neighborhood that was decimated as Rio de Janeiro prepared to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Inspired by Achille Mbembe's notion of “necropolitics” and Mindy Fullilove's concept of “root shock,” we argue that forced evictions in Rio constitute a form of racialized governance. The authorities exclude favela residents from the citizenry security interventions are intended to protect and conceptualize them instead as security risks. This exclusion reflects the spatial expression of racial hierarchies in the city and produces a public security governance that in the case of Vila Autódromo terrorized residents and destroyed life conditions in their community. Racialized governance therefore exacerbates insecurity for large parts of the population.

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Sheikhs and the City

Urban Paths of Contention in Sidon, Lebanon

Are John Knudsen


This article examines the rise and fall of the “Assir movement,” a neo-Salafist campaign led by a charismatic local sheikh who, after years of community activism, rose to prominence in the wake of the Syrian uprising (2011–present) protesting the Sunnis’ political decline and disempowerment. To understand the Assir movement's popular appeal, it is necessary to examine the pathways of contention in specific urban contexts and the extension of Salafism to secondary cities such as Sidon, where Sheikh Ahmad Assir's neo-Salafism became a political force and can be classified as a new social movement. Neo-Salafism combines populism with sectarianism, and this accounts for its widespread support after 2011, when the Syrian uprising increased Sunni-Shia tensions and shifted the locus of contentious politics from the capital, Beirut, to Sidon, a Sunni-majority city and the seat of the Assir movement. Ultimately, this led to an armed confrontation that crushed the movement, eroded its popular support, and was followed by an electoral defeat in which local elites reasserted control.

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Suburban Dissent

Defining Neighborhood Space and Place in Perth, Western Australia

Jocelyn D. Avery


This article discusses a Western Australian community's campaign against the development of a disability justice center in their Perth neighborhood. The history of the location provides context for an examination of the campaign that draws on the mainstream and social media reporting of the protests. Taking a spatial approach to the analysis situates the disability justice center as an unwanted place within the neighborhood space as imagined, created and reproduced by the residents. The center was, in effect, socially produced by the social relations and political economy of the campaign long before it was a built reality. While politics lay at the heart of the protests, the analysis reveals groups that were marginalized by the campaign and excluded from the community. The campaign brought the community together to protest against the inclusion of anomalous others in their neighborhood, but at the expense of the potential occupants of the disability justice center, many of whom are Aboriginal people. I argue that protests can bring people together and reinforce the idea of community, but protests also reveal who is excluded—inadvertently or not—and may compromise the rights of these “others.”

Open access

“Where Is the New Constitution?”

Public Protest and Community-Building in Post–Economic Collapse Iceland

Timothy Heffernan


Following mass demonstrations in response to the country's 2008 economic collapse, a dynamic civil society has emerged in Iceland focused on democratic reform through rewriting the constitution. This article demonstrates how, in the absence of the new constitution that was promised by the government, protesters are pursuing an unfinished project of reform by holding small, routinized protests founded on an ethic of empathic solidarity (samkennd). By exploring the aesthetic elements of these meetings, I argue that the protest site is being used to highlight and condemn ongoing government transgression while also providing a space to prefigure a future free of political corruption. To this end, explicit signage is shown to be reshaping political discourse while also extending (and denying) kin bonds between protesters.

Restricted access

Adjudicating Religious Intolerance

Afro-Brazilian Religions, Public Space, and the National Collective in Twenty-First-Century Brazil

Elina I. Hartikainen


Allegations of religious intolerance push courts to deliberate on questions that are constitutive of the problem space of secularism. In addition to legal opinions on the character and scope of religious freedom vis-à-vis conflicting rights, these arbitrations result in authoritative statements on what constitutes religion, how it may inhabit public space, and, ultimately, what interests and values underpin the national collective. This article analyzes three high-profile court cases alleging religious intolerance against Afro-Brazilian religions that were tried in Brazil during the first two decades of the 2000s. It demonstrates how at this time of rapid religious transformation the adjudication of such cases acted as a key site for the Brazilian legal establishment to redefine the place of religion in the broader context of rights and laws that regulate religion in public spaces.