ABSTRACT

In Brazil, as in many countries outside of the North Atlantic, squatting is less a state of urban exception than a mode of urban genesis.1 Squattingoccupation of open property without legal claim-is but one of many ways in which Brazilians have created informal cities that have grown in complex symbiosis with urban spaces regulated by written laws and recognized institutions. In Brazil, urban informality has evolved along with the formal city and has often overwhelmed it. It is not segregated to peripheral urban geographies and is not restricted to society’s poorest or most marginalised populations; nor is it a symptom of uniquely modern disjunction. While urban informality can signal the kind of defiant claims to expanded rights that the term ‘squatting’ sometimes implies, it has also long been nurtured by conflicting dynamics of inequality: interdependence, incrementalism, tolerance, patronage and exploitation. Urban informality is, in short, historically constitutive of Brazilian urbanity, with all of its contradictions, ambiguities, inequalities and exclusions.