Meleiza Figueroa

Ph.D. Candidate - Geography

187 McCone Hall
(In Brazil for fieldwork Fall 2015 & Spring 2016)


M.A.      UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO (2011)
              Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences 

B.A.       UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES (2010)
              Geography/Environmental Studies (major); Urban/Regional Studies (minor)
              Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program (2008-2009)

G.E.       GLENDALE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, CA (1995-1999, 2003-2007)
              Sociology, Theatre Arts, General Education, work, life, politics, hope 

 

research interests

Urban agriculture, agroecology & agroforestry, political ecology, capitalist social relations & crises, peasant studies, food politics in marginalized communities, migration, rural-urban interconnections, informal settlements, land struggles, dynamics of urbanization in the Global South, Amazônia, North & Northeast Brazil, Latin American studies, Black Atlantic & diaspora studies, production of space

 

CURRENT RESEARCH


Who, and what, makes a city?

(Bairro Nova Republica, a peri-urban community in Santarém, Pará, Brazil. Photo by Ralfh Xavier.)
“What is ‘rurbanization’? A process of socioeconomic development that combines – in form and content of specifically regional experience – rural values and lifestyles and urban values and lifestyles…[It is] a synthesis, based in our own experience and in others, in the direction of a solution to our serious problems; indispensable to our survival because it fundamentally concerns the nation…as a whole.” –Gilberto Freyre

 

My research seeks to understand cities and their spatial forms as historically and geographically specific processes, produced in and through economic, political, and social relations with rural hinterlands. Through ethnographic, historical, and geovisual documentation of the daily lives, socio-spatial practices, and political mobilizations of urban and peri-urban farming communities in Santarém, a mid-sized port city in the Lower Amazon region, this project traces the historical and ongoing evolution of “cidades da floresta,” a distinctive type of socio-ecological urbanism and urban form that has emerged on the peripheries of cities and towns throughout Amazônia. Literally translated as “forest cities,” these spaces – where urban settlement, forest ecology, and agrarian livelihoods come together in a unique synthesis – not only reflect Amazônia’s historical dynamics of regional development, but also continue to be vital spaces of socio-ecological reproduction for the world’s largest rainforest and the people who dwell within it.

Many of the farmers who live in these and similar settlements on the outskirts of Amazonian cities are migrants, mainly from rural areas in Brazil’s North and Northeast; landless peasants who came to the city looking for employment, to access state and social services, or simply to find a bit of land and a place to call home. Like their counterparts to the south – the infamous favelas of Brazilian megacities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – many of these districts were established through informal or illegal occupation; ‘autoconstructed’ by residents themselves in ways that tend to reflect and respond to immediate personal, economic and community needs. In Amazônia (and other parts of North & Northeastern Brazil), migrant farmers, in addition to adopting “urban” norms and activities, continue to engage in small-scale agriculture and/or extraction of forest products as key strategies for subsistence and livelihood on the urban periphery. In the process, they appear to have incorporated aspects of the Amazon rainforest into their living and working spaces, creatively adapting traditional peasant and indigenous practices of agroforestry to support diversified livelihoods in a rapidly changing – and increasingly precarious – urban context.

Today, as Amazônia faces a host of challenges – most notably from climate change, expansion of the agribusiness-driven soybean industry, massive state-sponsored infrastructure projects, and a renewed wave of intense and often violent land struggles on the frontier – dwellers and defenders of Amazonian “forest cities” have become increasingly visible at the forefront of critical social movement and policy debates at a national level over agrarian reform, sustainable development, and the future of the city itself. As a result, two models of urban development have been produced in Santarém, and contend for expansion on its peri-urban periphery: cidade do agronegócio, the “city of agribusiness” (Elias 2007), and cidade da floresta, the “forest city” (Trinidade Júnior 2013). By examining the ways in which dynamics of regional development, social movements, state policy, and everyday subsistence practices in the Amazon have produced morphologically and ecologically distinctive forms of urban space, I argue that the cidades da floresta – and the growing movements for the life of the “forest city” – present us with critical opportunities to think in new ways about the very concept of “urban sustainability,” and the necessary sociopolitical conditions through which these and similar environmental goals can be realized.

In other words, the particular trajectories, natures, and fates of Amazonian “forest cities,” while seemingly unique, may indeed have something to teach us about all cities – and the possibilities contained therein toward alternative paradigms of urban development that can better support people, livelihoods, and the environment.

 

Resumo em Português

Na minha pesquisa, eu queria entender as cidades e seus espaços como processos específicos de história e geografía, que contem elementos produzidos pelas relações com terras e vidas rurais. Neste projeto, eu vou documentar (pelos métodos de etnografía, história, e geovisualização) as vidas cotidianas, práticas socio-espaciais, e as mobilizações das communidades peri-urbanas de Santarém, uma cidade média que é localizada num ponto central na região do baixo Amazonas. Pela esta documentação, eu queria mostrar a evolução de uma forma urbana se chama “cidades da floresta” (Trinidade Júnior 2013), um tipo de urbanismo socioambiental muito distinto que existe nas periférias das cidades Amazônicas. Estes espaços – onde o assentamento humano, ecología da floresta, e a vida agrária se reúnem numa forma de síntese – refletem as dinâmicas do desenvolvimento histórico na Amazônia, e também continuam a ser espaços importantes de reprodução socioambiental para a floresta e as pessoas que vivem dentro dela.

Tem comunidades diversas que vivem nestes espaços peri-urbanos: comunidades indígenas, quilombolas, e dos camponeses migrantes que vieram para cidade procurando o trabalho, acesso à educação e serviços sociais do Estado, ou só por um pedacinho de terra para morar. Assim como as favelas famosas das mega-cidades no Sudeste do país – como Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo – estes bairros foram establecidos através da ocupação irregular, e “autoconstruidos” pelos moradores em várias maneiras que respondam às suas necessidades. Na Amazônia (mesmo de outros partes do Norte e Nordeste do Brasil), os moradores – juntamente com adoção de atividades económicos e modos de vida urbanos – continuam as práticas rurais de agricultura familiar e extrativismo como estratégias muitas importantes para subsistência e ganhar a vida viável na periféria da cidade. Nesse processo, eles parecem que incorporar aspectos da floresta dentro dos seus espaços de vida e trabalho (por exemplo, nos quintais), adaptando as práticas tradicionais dos sistemas agroflorestais para apoiar a vida num contexto urbano que é precária e sempre em mudança.

Hoje em dia, a Amazônia confrontam muitos desafios – da mudança climática, expansão do agronegócio da soja, grandes projetos da infraestrutura pelo Estado, e uma onda intensa de grilagem e lutas violentas pela terra na fronteira. Em face desses desafios, os moradores e defensores das comunidades tradicionais da Amazônia se envolvem muito nas movimentos sociais e nas debates nacionais sobre reforma agrária, política publica, desenvolvimento sustentável, e o futuro da cidade. Então, agora existem dois modelos do desenvolvimento urbano – da “cidade do agronegócio” (Elias 2007) e da “cidade da floresta” (Trinidade Júnior 2013) – que confrontam no meio urbano, especialmente nas cidades médias como Santarém, em que a questão ambiental é uma dimensão muito importante. Através de uma análise de como as dinâmicas de história, o desenvolvimento regional, e as práticas da vida cotidiana produziram “cidades da floresta,” que são ecologicamente distintas e benéficas, eu espero dar mais visibilidade dessas comunidades, seus modos de vida, e suas lutas na consciência acadêmica e pública. É o meu argumento que as “cidades da floresta” nós apresentam uma oportunidade crítica para pensar em novas maneiras sobre o conceito de “cidade sustentável,” e as condições de justiça social que são necessarias para realizar os objectivos socioambientais em nossas cidades.

 

*This research is supported by a multi-year fellowship from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

 

PUBLICATIONS

(Forthcoming) Figueroa, Meleiza. “La soberanía alimentaria en la vida cotidiana.” Book chapter in Debates actuales sobre soberania alimentaria (Spanish & Basque translations), Jun Borras and Zoe Brent, eds. ISS/EHNE-Bizkaia.

(Forthcoming) Figueroa, Meleiza, and Alison Alkon. “Collectivizing Markets to Strengthen Communities: Cooperative social practices, self-determination, and the struggle for food justice in Oakland and Chicago.” Book chapter in: Fighting for Food Justice: Sustainability, Social Justice and Struggle, Alison Alkon and Julie Guthman, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Figueroa, Meleiza. 2015. “Food Sovereignty in Everyday Life: A People-Centered Approach to Food Systems.” Globalizations 12(4), 498–512.

Figueroa, Meleiza. 2015. “The Workers Party’s Contradictions and Contours of Crisis in Brazil.” New Politics XV(2), Winter.

Figueroa, Meleiza. 2006. “The Sleeping Giant Awakes.” Against the Current vol. 122, pp. 3-7.

Figueroa, Meleiza. 2006. “Walmart’s Real Cost.” Against the Current vol. 121, pp. 2-10.

 

Conference & Workshop Presentations

“Food Sovereignty in Everyday Life: A People-Centered Approach to Food Systems.” Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue, Yale University/ISS, September 2013.

“Building an Ark to the Promised Land: Memory, Hybridity, and Resilience in a South Chicago Food Desert.” Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, New York, NY, April 2012.

“Cultivating Agrarian Urbanism: Immigrant Communities and Agricultural Knowledge at Work in U.S. Cities.” Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Seattle, WA, April 2011.

“The Pervasive Politics of Invisible Trees: A Social History of the Castor Bean in Bahia, Brazil.” Workshop on the Global Environment, University of Chicago, February 2011.

“Small Farmers, Big Energy: An Examination of Social Inclusion Policies in Brazil’s Pro-Biodiesel Program,” McNair Symposium, University of California Berkeley, August 2008.

“Socioambientalismo: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Development in Brazil,” 3rd Annual UPRH McNair Symposium, University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, May 2008.

 

TEACHING

UC Berkeley – as Lecturer/Instructor:

UC Berkeley – as Teaching Assistant / Graduate Student Instructor:

  • Development Studies 10: Intro to Development Studies (Prof. Michael Watts – Fall 2013)
  • Geography 123 / DS 150: Postcolonial Geographies (Prof. Gillian Hart – Fall 2012)

Glendale Community College – as Supplemental Instruction Leader:

  • Sociology 101: Introduction to Sociology (Prof. Richard Kamei – Fall 2006)
  • Sociology 102: Social Crises (Prof. Richard Kamei – Spring 2007)

 

research assistance – books

Susanna B. Hecht, The Scramble for the Amazon and the ‘Lost Paradise’ of Euclides da Cunha. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Susanna B. Hecht, Kathleen D. Morrison, and Christine Padoch, eds. The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

 

BEYOND THE ACADEMY

The People’s Game (KPFK/Pacifica Radio)
Co-Producer & co-host of nationally syndicated radio/multimedia series providing special coverage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil & 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada; combining commentaries & analysis of tournament games with in-depth discussions of the political, economic, & cultural dimensions of global football.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (Brave New Films, 2004)
Documentary – Lead Researcher

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