More than a thousand favelas dot the sprawling urban landscape of Rio de Janeiro. In most of these communities, few social services, public transportation, schools or even basic utilities are provided to the inhabitants and Rio’s military police have a limited albeit brutal and corrupt presence. For their part, gang organizations maintain local monopolies of violence and can be considered the dominant political authority. Yet the relationships these organizations develop with local communities vary considerably across Rio. In some communities, gangs implement responsive systems of law and justice, maintain a relatively high degree of social order and provide some forms of welfare. In other favelas, gangs implement more violent and unresponsive governing institutions while offering the community little in terms of public goods.

My dissertation project examines the causes of such variation through a mixed method research design. I have conducted almost three years of field research in Rio, living in several favelas for 18 months during which time I employed participant observation and process tracing methods while conducting hundreds of interviews with current and former gang members, community organizers, public security officials, and local politicians. To supplement these qualitative methods, I have acquired data from two favela resident surveys and compiled a longitudinal dataset on violence and crime across a larger number of favelas that will serve to contextualize the case studies and test hypotheses developed during the fieldwork period.