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Research & Projects: News & Resources

Research Agenda

My research focuses on social movements, urban violence and uneven development in the Americas. I am primarily an ethnographer, but also conduct survey research and policy analysis. I am especially committed to Participatory Action Research, which prioritizes the inclusion of research participants in the construction and dissemination of scholarship. I am currently working on a comparison between Honduras and El Salvador, examining on how President Castro and President Bukele's opposing approaches to policing and human rights impact lived experiences of urban violence and resistance. I am also working with my research team in Rio de Janeiro, the Building Together Research Collective, to write up the findings of a project we conducted 2020-2022 on impact of the pandemic on Rio de Janeiro's favela residents and mobilization tactics. My previous work included a mixed-methods study of social development and insecurity in Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro and an ethnographic exploration of how activism is able to thrive in a context of armed conflict and political repression in Cidade de Deus.

The Impact of the Pandemic in Cidade de Deus

Cidade de Deus was among Rio de Janeiro's neighborhoods most impacted by the coronavirus, social distancing mandates, and rising unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team of Cidade de Deus residents and local researchers, called the Building Together Research Collective, led a mixed-methods research project to explore and document the impact of the pandemic on the neighborhood. The project utilized a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach. It unfolded over four phases:


Forums with service providers

Our team held two focus groups with representatives from community-based organizations and collectives that distributed resources, offered aid, and led educational campaigns about COVID-19 in the neighborhood. They shared with our team which issues and needs were most common and what types of data would be most useful in helping them sustain their work and obtain more resources.


Collection of personal narratives

We invited residents to submit a personal narrative about how the pandemic had most impacted their lives. Our objective was to identify some of the most common themes and to ensure that we had captured the issues that felt most relevant and urgent to Cidade de Deus residents. The invitation was shared via popular Facebook pages and WhatsApp text messaging groups. We received 138 narratives in total.


community-wide survey

Our team developed a survey to measure to impact of the pandemic on Cidade de Deus residents based on the themes that emerged from the forums and narratives. We also asked local service providers to help revise the questions. Questions focused on employment and income, physical and mental health, family relations, access to education, youth and adolescents, and beliefs and attitudes. It was distributed on multiple Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups followed by the majority of local residents. We collected 648 completed surveys.


data analysis and dissemination

Our team then shared descriptive and bivariate results of survey questions with service providers and other local residents. They were invited to discuss the findings and help us identify which findings were most urgent. Based on this, our team published two reports: one on the economic effects of the pandemic and another on the health impacts. A third, on education and youth, is under construction. Our reports were widely disseminated across the media and researchers. Team members, including researchers and local residents, participated in news interviews.

Activism Under Fire: The Politics of Non-Violence in Rio de Janeiro's Most Dangerous 'Favela'

Across Latin America, poverty, racism, and rising social violence between drug gangs and militarized police have provoked innumerable obstacles to social mobilization. These challenges are especially severe in gang-dominated neighborhoods. Activism under Fire: The Politics of Non-Violence in Rio de Janeiro’s Most Dangerous Favela (Under contract, Oxford University Press) examines how activists are able to organize for resources and rights under conditions of extreme political repression. The book is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2014 and 2018 in Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous gang-dominated favela. By strategically occupying emergent political, cultural, and urban/global openings, activists play a critical role in the governance of the neighborhood while also organizing for citizenship rights. By feminizing political activism, connecting resistance to normative local values, and capitalizing on opportunities and resources outside the “favela,” activists are able to dramatically improve local conditions and actively participate in transnational social movements. As the book demonstrates, when we shift our focus away from the obstacles to social mobilization and towards the creative actions of the urban poor, we uncover the many possibilities for non-violent collective action in the very terrains believed to be the most inhospitable to democratic engagement.


Forthcoming with Oxford University Press 


In 2017, I partnered with dozens of Cidade de Deus residents to design, administer, analyze and publish a survey (n=989) project in the City of God based on the principles of Participatory Action Research. The survey contains 85 questions related to social development, resilience, and insecurity. The project took place over four phases:

First, we held five focus groups and an online discussion with approximately 100 residents to identify the issues most relevant to their access to the services and institutions needed for their well-being and upward mobility. A questionnaire of 83 close-ended questions was developed and revised by another thirty residents.

Next, we hired and trained fifteen local residents from across the neighborhood to administer the survey. Our sample was collected on every street in the neighborhood and was representative of the gender, age, and geographic breakdown of the area.

After descriptive data was analyzed, local residents design a website and pamphlet with findings. Our research team then distributed 3,000 pamphlets to residents across the neighborhood. We presented results to organizations across the neighborhood and engaged in discussion and analysis of findings with local stakeholders.


The final report is available in Portuguese here.

For details and data, visit

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