Hard Times in the Marvelous City

From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

Hard Times in the Marvelous City

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 19 photographs, 8 maps Published: January 2014

Author: Bryan McCann

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil

Beginning in the late 1970s, activists from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro challenged the conditions—such as limited access to security, sanitation, public education, and formal employment—that separated favela residents from Rio's other citizens. The activists built a movement that helped to push the nation toward redemocratization. They joined with political allies in an effort to institute an ambitious slate of municipal reforms. Those measures ultimately fell short of aspirations, and soon the reformers were struggling to hold together a fraying coalition. Rio was bankrupted by natural disasters and hyperinflation and ravaged by drug wars. Well-armed drug traffickers had become the new lords of the favelas, protecting their turf through violence and patronage. By the early 1990s, the promise of the favela residents' mobilization of the late 1970s and early 1980s seemed out of reach. Yet the aspirations that fueled that mobilization have endured, and its legacy continues to shape favela politics in Rio de Janeiro.


"McCann’s argument for optimism in the contemporary moment relies on a historical comparison: the political conditions for favela integration are much better now than they were in the period of Brazil’s transition to democracy, as the political and economic environment is more stable. Displaying his faith in building the city from below, he declares that community organizers and mobilizers 'have seized a new opportunity to build a Rio de Janeiro that lives up to its democratic promise and to its nickname: the Marvelous City.'" — Tom Winterbottom, Public Books

“This specialized work is well done and has broad implications for Brazilian political development. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections.”

— J. A. Rhodes, Choice

“One of McCann’s clear strengths lies in his consistent attention to, as previously noted, multiple actors and their interactions…. McCann’s intimate knowledge of specific favelas and their inhabitants blends well with his accounts of higher-level political events. These two volumes are substantial, provocative, and useful additions to the literature.” — Henry Dietz, Latin American Politics and Society

“[T]he book is a must read for students and scholars who wish to gain an insightful historical description of Rio’s favelas and their place in the city as well as a contextualization of current issues regarding these relations.” — Marie Kolling, Brasiliana

“[A] detailed and engaging account about the battle for rights of tenure, title and esteem.” — Ed Hart, Sounds and Colours

"McCann’s analysis is insightful, and his research brings exciting new perspectives to contemporary Rio de Janeiro’s urban history and, more generally, the history of Brazil, Latin America, the Global South, and urbanity." — Peter Beattie, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"McCann should be congratulated for providing readers with a neatly constructed account of popular politics and sociopolitical change in one of the world's great cities." — James Woodard, American Historical Review

“[McCann’s] analysis provides depth to the print and other media portrayals, which have made the favelas of international interest especially in the contemporary period when Brazilian political and economic elites are attempting to augment the nation’s economic, political and cultural standing. … Hard Times in the Marvelous City is well worth reading as an introduction to the history of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.” — Peter Ross, Australian Journal of Politics and History

"Many authors have written about the tragic recent history of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, but few have done so as well as Bryan McCann.... The book’s length, accessible prose, and compelling story will win it a place on course syllabi. McCann’s deep knowledge of favela, city, and state politics shines through its pages; his willingness to criticize all parties’ actions is courageous and thought provoking."  — Hendrik Kraay, The Historian

"The book has the added advantage of being highly readable, making it accessible to a wider public than just policymakers and researchers, without overlooking the needed academic rigor." — Maria Lais Pereira Da Silva, Hispanic American Historical Review

"For his empirical inquiry, McCann uses research tools from various disciplines: some pertaining to historical analysis, others to ethnographic research. The result is a rich account of events built on the consultation of a variety of sources. This is also why the book is not addressed solely to historians but furnishes interesting ideas to social scientists and policy makers concerned with the problem of social, economic, and political marginalization in large urban agglomerations." — Diego Coletto, Labor

"Hard Times in the Marvelous City provides an invaluable addition: it at once sets recent [favela] developments in a deeper historical context while at the same time providing a nuanced understanding of the last three decades." — Ben Penglase, Luso-Brazilian Review

"Hard Times in the Marvelous City will be essential reading for anyone interested in Brazil's redemocratization, grassroots political mobilization and the challenges of governance, and the policing and violence that have intersected in the recent history of Rio de Janeiro's favelas and their city." — Jerry Dávila, author of Hotel Trópico: Brazil and the Challenge of African Decolonization, 1950–1980


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bryan McCann is Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University. He is the author of Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil, also published by Duke University Press, and Throes of Democracy: Brazil since 1989.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The Big Picture 19

2. Mobilization 43

3. Reform 77

4. The Breaking Point 121

5. The Unraveling 159

Epilogue 181

Notes 199

Bibliography 227

Index 243
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5538-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5523-6
Publicity material