Professor of Latin American History and the College

Director, Center for Latin American Studies
Faculty Affiliate, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture

PhD'99 Harvard University

Mailing Address

The University of Chicago
Department of History
1126 E. 59th Street, Mailbox 27
Chicago, IL 60637

Social Science Research Building, room 511 – Office

(773) 834-4608 - Office telephone
(773) 702-7550 - Fax

Field Specialties

Brazil, Latin America, urban studies, comparative legal studies, poverty and inequality, race


I am a historian of Brazil and Latin America, especially interested in cities, citizenship, law, migration, race, and social inequality. My first book, A Poverty of Rights (Stanford, 2008), examined how weak citizenship rights and residential informality came to define urban poverty, popular social struggles, and the political dynamics of inequality in modern Brazil. It received book awards from the Social Science History Association, the Urban History Association, the Conference on Latin American History, and the Brazilian Studies Association.

A volume I coedited with Bryan McCann and Javier Auyero, Cities from Scratch (Duke, 2014), explores the many ways in which poverty and informality have shaped the Latin American urban experience. My essay, "A Century in the Present Tense," explores the intellectual history of the informal city, arguing that slums and shantytowns are dynamic historical phenomena in their own right rather than perpetual symptoms of current crises. In various other essays and ongoing research, I have focused on informality's relationship to developmentalism and political liberalism, slavery, racial inequality in law and urban space, criminal law, internal migrations, and the relationship between the urban poor and Brazil’s political left.

My current book, Understanding Inequality in Post-Abolition Brazil, explores the limits of egalitarian and emancipatory politics in Recife, Brazil, a northeastern city born of sugar and slavery, which came to be seen as both the capital of Brazilian underdevelopment and the incubator of some of the country's most innovative social and cultural movements. Unlike the idealized North Atlantic city—in which old systems of patriarchal, personal, and vertical power gradually give way to the forces of liberalism, citizenship, and horizontal solidarity—Recife modernized as an essentially relational city, in which personal connections mediated economic and political life and deep inequality structured vital (and often violent) intimate interdependencies. In the twentieth century, relational power proved remarkably adaptable, inhabiting liberal institutions and radical social movements, structuring "political society," and doing much to explain both social mobility and inequality's enduring resilience. In exposing the microhistory of this phenomenon in Recife, I hope to interrogate the historical origins of urban informality and bring into a focus a paradigm of urban modernity that shapes city life across the globe.

Other ongoing projects focus on the "Rights to the City" movement in law, political philosophy, and practice, the history of Brazilian slavery and abolition, and the global history of urban informality through a collaborative project entitled "La Ville informelle au XXe siècle: politiques urbaines et administration des populations."

From 2014–18 I served as director of the University of Chicago's Center for Latin American Studies; I will return to the directorship in 2019–20. My teaching focuses both on my core research interests and on the larger histories of Brazil, Latin America, cities, and social inequality. Before coming to Chicago, I taught at Amherst College and Northwestern University.


Cities from Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America, co-edited with Bryan McCann, and Javier Auyero. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

A Poverty of Rights: Citizenship and Inequality in Twentieth-Century Rio de Janeiro. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008 (paperback, 2011).


"Urban Informality and the Paradoxes of Developmental State Building." In State and Nation Making in Latin America and Spain: The Rise and Fall of the Developmental State, edited by Miguel Centeno and Agustín Ferraro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

"Ethos and Pathos in Millennial Brazil." Latin American Research Review 53, no. 2 (June 2018): 394–402.

 "Law, Silence and Racialized Inequalities in the History of Afro-Brazil," with Keila Grinberg and Hebe Mattos. In Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction, edited by Alejandro de la Fuente and George Reid Andrews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, 130–78.

"Beyond Insurgency and Dystopia: The Role of Informality in Brazil’s Twentieth-Century Urban Formation." In Public Goods versus Economic Interests: Global Perspectives on the History of Squatting, edited by Freia Anders and Alexander Sedlmaier. New York: Routledge, 2016, 122–49.

"The Red Menace Reconsidered: A Forgotten History of Communist Mobilization in Rio's Favelas, 1945–1964." Hispanic American Historical Review 94, no. 1 (2014): 1–33.

"Urban History." In Oxford Bibliographies Online (2013)

"Democracy, Thuggery, and the Grassroots: Antoine Magarinos Torres and the União dos Trabalhadores Favelados in the Age of Carioca Populism." Nuevo Mundo–Mundos Nuevos, Colloquium: "Repensando los populismos en América Latina," February 2013.

"Partindo a cidade maravilhosa" (Dividing the Marvelous City). In Quase cidadão: histórias e antropologias da pós-emancipação no Brasil, edited by Flávio dos Santos Gomes and Olívia Maria Gomes da Cunha. Rio de Janeiro: Editora da Fundação Getúlio Vargas, 2007, 419–50.

"Direitos por lei, ou leis por direito?" (Rights by Law or Laws by Right?). In Direitos e justiças no Brasil: Histórias plurais, edited by Silvia Lara and Joseli Mendonça, 417–56. São Paulo: UNICAMP Press, 2006.

"Slandering Citizens: Insults, Class and Social Legitimacy in Rio de Janeiro's Criminal Courts." In Honor, Status, and the Law in Modern Latin America, edited by Sueann Caulfield, Lara Putnam, and Sarah Chambers, 176–200. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

"Quase Pretos de Tão Pobres? Race, Class, and Criminal Justice in Rio de Janeiro." Latin American Research Review 39, no. 1 (February 2004): 31–59.


—Joined the core team of La Ville informelle au XXe siècle
—Discusses contemporary urban studies with Marco Garrido, Dialogo, Winter 2018
—Organizes conference "Slavery, Freedom, and the Making of Modern Brazil," June 2017
—Awarded honorable mention by the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association for "A Century in the Present Tense" (2015)
—Coedits Cities from Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America (Duke, 2014) with Javier Auyero and Bryan McCann—Selected to win the 2014 James Alexander Robertson Prize from the Conference on Latin American History: "The Red Menace Reconsidered: A Forgotten History of Communist Mobilization in Rio's Favelas, 1945–1964." Hispanic American Historical Review 94, no. 1 (2014).
Discusses Urban Poverty in Latin America [video, 3 minutes]