Theses Doctoral

Dengue Fever, Trash, and the Politics of Responsibility in Favelas, Subúrbios, and Peri-Urban Areas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Alley, Steven Christopher

This study examines the politics of responsibility for dengue fever, the world’s fastest growing mosquito-transmitted viral disease, drawing on ethnographic research in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Inhabitants of favelas (squatter communities) and other low-income areas are blamed for dengue in Brazil, yet entrenched poverty and political abandonment of the poor drive dengue outbreaks in Brazilian cities: inadequate sanitation in areas where the poor live leaves trash to accumulate and collect standing water, creating ideal breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes.
The study examines three central questions: What forces influence relationships among the urban poor, more socioeconomically powerful groups in civil society, and state actors who occupy various positions of influence within public health, sanitation, environmental, and public safety sectors in the context dengue fever in everyday life? What are the cultural assumptions about the causes of dengue in Brazil, and where do they place responsibility for its prevention? How do interactions among inhabitants of favelas and well-to-do neighborhoods, waste pickers, health surveillance agents, and police officers affect processes of social inclusion and exclusion in overlapping contexts of dengue, trash, urban space, and security in the city Rio de Janeiro?
Throughout the study’s analysis, I map social and physical spaces of Rio where people, trash, mosquitoes, and dengue viruses move in and out of view, in order to reveal how symbolic and material interactions in the past and present continually reshape political economies of responsibility. I argue that negotiations over social worth and collective health play out in Rio through historical, economic, and ecological entanglements, and that from these entanglements arise practices that securitize urban space and health yet, paradoxically, produce new forms of vulnerability.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Sharp, Lesley Alexandra
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 15, 2015