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Brodwyn Fischer

Tue, Mar 26    1:15pm

Slavery’s City: The Intimate Roots of Urban Informality in Recife, Brazil

This talk seeks the origins of Brazil’s urban racial inequalities in the links between slavery and informality. In the late nineteenth century, no longer enslaved but systematically excluded from legally-regulated urbanity, free people and their descendants in the northeastern city of Recife leveraged the same relational tools they had used to undermine slavery to forge and sustain a “mocambópolis” — a city of shacks far larger than Recife’s formalized cityscape. While the mucambópolis rooted Black freedom in urban space, it also reinforced and naturalized racialized sub-citizenship in ways that continue to structure Brazilian cities a century and a half after slavery’s abolition.

Brodwyn Fischer (Ph.D. Harvard 1999) is Professor of History at the University of Chicago. Her research and teaching focus on the intersecting histories of cities, law, race, inequality, slavery and social movements in Brazil and Latin America. Her publications include articles and translations in English and Portuguese as well as A Poverty of Rights: Citizenship and inequality in Twentieth Century Rio de Janeiro (Stanford 2008); Cities from Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America (with Bryan McCann and Javier Auyero, Duke 2014); The Boundaries of Freedom: Slavery, Abolition and the Making of Modern Brazil (With Keila Grinberg, Cambridge U. Press 2022); and Informal Cities: History, Power and Precarity in Latin Europe, Latin America, and Colonial North Africa (with Charlotte Vorms, forthcoming, University of Chicago Press, 2025).

She has won several national book and article awards, and her research has been funded by the ACLS, the Fulbright-Hays Program, the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for Humanities, and the SSRC. In 2022-3, she was a Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, writing a book called Intimate Inequalities that seeks to understand urban informality as an afterlife of slavery through the history of Recife, Brazil.