Between Consumption and Citizenship: The Invention of Brazil's New Middle Class and the Micro-Politics of Public Housing

Friday, 3 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.B.05 (Clement House)
Moises Kopper, UFRGS, Porto Alegre, Brazil
This paper explores the ambiguous figure of the consumer-citizen that is emerging as a result of public policies aimed at governing Brazil's new middle class. With an economy on the rise, low unemployment and multiple assistance programs, the PT (Worker's Party) led government has been heralding the end of endemic poverty and the incorporation of some 40 million people into a newly defined middle class. In my multi-level ethnographic research, I explore the knowledge and policy systems through which this social class is being fashioned and also chronicle the public debate that accompanies this massive social recasting of Brazil's poor in terms of market inclusion. I focus my study on the design and implementation of the federal housing program "My House, My Life" and how it relates to the real estate market in the southern city of Porto Alegre. Based on fieldwork with an association of new middle-class and future residents of these subsidized housing units, this paper addresses the moral and economic stakes of eligibility in the negotiations with city planners and local officials. What kinds of subjects and life projects are mobilized by entrepreneurs, policy-makers, community representatives, and desiring citizens to actualize categories such as “social inclusion” and “consumption”?  By revealing the concrete dilemmas and contradictions implicated in Brazil’s recent social and spatial changes, the paper problematizes the image of a new country in construction.