Lives Uprooted: Urban Inequality and Olympic Evictions in Rio de Janeiro

Protest before the Residents’ Associations’ House was demolished in February 2016. Photo: Margit Ystanes

By Margit Ystanes

What is the significance of a home? As we know, a home holds social, cultural and psychological meanings far beyond its functions as a shelter. The architecture of houses are adapted to and reflect local ways of socialising, and may also be constructed in accordance with cultural symbolism (Bourdieu 2003; Robben 1989; Ystanes 2011). Psychologists and psychiatrists emphasise the role our homes and their surrounding environment plays in the formation of human wellbeing and belonging (Fullilove 2004). In literary works, the house is commonly used as a symbol for the self, as seen for example in Isabel Allende’s novel The House of the Spirits (1994). Here, the protagonist Clara’s house symbolises both her self (reflected in her reworking of the house while alive) and her body (as the house falls into decay after her death). This profound connection between a person’s life and the place they call home reflects social processes we find across the globe, in different configurations. The connection extends beyond the house; it also includes the place where it is located and the relationships and histories embedded in this social landscape; the presence and knowledge of neighbours, friends, kin and forefathers (see e.g. Feld and Basso 1996).

As Rio de Janeiro prepared to host the 2016 Olympics, over 22 000 families were evicted from their homes. The official reasons for evicting families are often unclear or misleading, yet at least 4000 of these cases can be directly tied to Rio’s Olympic preparations (Comitê Popular da Copa e Olimpíadas do Rio de Janeiro 2015). One of the neighbourhoods targeted for evictions was Vila Autódromo, a self-built community adjacent to the area the city of Rio made available for constructing the Olympic Park. Many of those evicted from Vila Autódromo had such a profound connection to their homes as described above.

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