Anjuli Fahlberg is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. With funding from the National Science Foundation and several grants by Northeastern University, her research employs a participatory action approach to examine the effects of urban violence and uneven development on social and political mobilization in Latin America’s conflict zones. Her work has been published in Habitat International, the Journal of Urban Affairs, and Sociology Compass, among others. Anjuli has received Northeastern University’s 2015-16 Outstanding Graduate Research Award, best paper awards from the Latin American Studies Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and was recently awarded the Urban Affairs Association’s Alma J. Young Emerging Scholar Award. Anjuli was recently selected as one of the 2017-18 Humanities Fellows. Continue reading below for more on Anjuli’s accomplishments.
I received a BA from Tufts University in International Relations and Peace and Justice Studies, and then spent five years working with homeless families, mostly immigrants from Latin America, who had been victims of domestic and sexual violence. Although this work felt very meaningful, I constantly felt like I was “mopping ice,” as Brazilians would say—helping people only after they had suffered incredible trauma and loss. I came to Northeastern because I wanted to better understand what causes violence and how people most directly affected by it adapt and work to address it. I was especially interested in examining violence and development in Rio de Janeiro, where I lived for eight years during my childhood. What most drew me to Northeastern was our department’s commitment to social justice and the many faculty with expertise in violence and inequality in a global context.
It was an incredible honor to receive this award. Each year they select one young scholar whose work demonstrates a commitment to urban studies. I had not studied urban issues before coming to Northeastern, but after taking Liza Weinstein’s Urban Sociology course I became fascinated by the complexity of the interactions—cultural and interpersonal, as well as economic and political—that occur in cities and other densely populated areas. After reading many critical urban scholars, such as Manuel Castells and Henri LeFebvre, I was especially excited by the possibilities for social action and change that emerge within urban areas. I have used this lens to understand how people cope with and seek to address violence and inequality in urban neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and armed conflict. Receiving this award was an incredible affirmation that, even with all of the critical issues that face urban scholars across the world today, the vulnerable communities in Rio de Janeiro continue to be seen as deserving of our attention and investment.
My dissertation research looks at the effects of armed conflict on the possibilities for social and political mobilization in Rio de Janeiro’s poor neighborhoods. Most of the scholarship looking at violence and citizenship is pretty pessimistic: armed conflict, coupled with poverty and the dearth of state institutions, is presumed to essentially destroy opportunities for the urban poor to mobilize around their needs and rights. However, because these sites are often difficult to access there is not sufficient data to actually verify this claim. To study this question, I employed a multi-sited ethnographic approach, conducted over six research trips between 2014 and 2017. My research was geographically based in the City of God, which witnessed homicide rates equivalent to those of many war zones throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s as a result of struggles between local drug gangs and the state’s military police. Things calmed down a bit when the military police occupied the City of God in 2009, but violent conflict rose again in the last two years.
My research also extended into various political spaces across the city, as well as the virtual platforms on which City of God’s residents mobilized. In contrast to the view that urban warfare erodes civil society, I found that residents’ regular exposure to armed conflict motivated a wide array of social and political efforts aimed at constructing alternative narratives and practices that promoted justice and peace. In the City of God, the collective risk of violence shaped a kind of ‘insurgent citizenship” in three ways: (1) by fostering a territorially-based political identity in which residents’ experiences of physical violence came to be defined as a result of unjust state policies and social exclusions; (2) by producing a landscape of varied, yet siloed forms of political and social mobilization; and (3) by constructing a gendered landscape of power that provided a counter-space of social action for women and feminized practices. In these ways, the presence of violent conflict helped to define residents’ political subjectivities as well as the possibilities and forms of mobilization. My dissertation argues, therefore, that exposure to violent conflict can become a productive force that activates—rather than corrodes—civil society by motivating and shaping emergent forms of citizenship in urban war zones.
In all honesty, my experience at Northeastern has been incredible. I am constantly stimulated by new topics, ideas, and ways of apprehending the social world and beyond. It seems the more I learn, the more I realize how much is left to discover, which is daunting and sometimes overwhelming, but also what gets me out of bed every morning. I have also found an incredible network of people—faculty, students, and administrators—both within and outside of my department without whom I would not have achieved whatever success I have had so far. Liza Weinstein, Tom Vicino and Gordana Rabrenovic in particular have held my hand, so to speak, through the thick and thin of it and served as wonderful mentors and an inspiration to me personally and professionally. I could name many more people who have been major supports to me and who remind me that, even though academia is often a lonely job, it can also be a place of strong social ties.
“I have also found an incredible network of people—faculty, students, and administrators—both within and outside of my department without whom I would not have achieved whatever success I have had so far.”
Yes! I wish I could list the names of all the people in the City of God who have been invaluable supports in my research efforts, who have shared their time, stories, and wisdom with me, who gave me a home, friendship, and lots of help navigating a challenging environment, and who, despite all odds, survive, adapt, and fight for peace and justice every day. It is often the task of sociologists to look at the big picture, at global economic, political, and social trends that at present are pretty disheartening. Though the micro-spaces of power and action, like the City of God, are faced with incredible challenges, they are also places of love, social resilience, and action. By witnessing numerous small acts of kindness and my participants’ constant fight for social justice, I am reminded that, even under the harshest circumstances, the best in humanity will persevere.