Toolbox 4 – Acting on frontiers

Opening up borders and partnerships

This tool has to do with moving between locations, groups and situations that would otherwise remain separate and distant from each other, and collaborating with actors, institutions and organisations outside the community.

What is this about?

When we draw a city map, we need to think where the territory of a neighbourhood begins and ends. The lines that indicate this are the boundaries or borders of communities. City borders influence how people may develop in a personal and social sense. In a personal sense, the communities with more open borders allow their residents to have more access to free leisure activities, such as beaches or parks. A more open border stimulates people, ideas and even information to circulate more freely.

The right to come and go is a central component of the right to the city (Harvey, 2003). Research on underground sociabilities found that favela residents are acutely aware of the material and symbolic barriers that separate them from the wider city (Jovchelovitch & Priego-Hernandez, 2013). These barriers are more or less open depending on a number of factors:

  • the diversity of institutions present in the communities;
  • the geographical location of the communities within the wider city;
  • the presence of physical urban connectors that provide links to the city;
  • leisure opportunities;
  • the representations held about the communities and the key historical events that define them in the imagination of the city.

Acting on borders requires tackling all of the above, and one of the ways in which this happens is through the establishment of partnerships. Collaborating with different actors and organisations inside and outside the community stimulates movement of people and expansion of networks, with positive outcomes at the individual and community levels. Benefits include more opportunities for mobility, both social and geographical.

Psychosocial cartographies

The concept of psychosocial cartographies combines a psychological and geographical perspective to express how lived worlds can be encompassed in territories that are both spatial and psychosocial. The concept is derived from the work of Brazilian social psychologist Sueli Rolnik (1989), inspired mainly by Deleuze and Guattari (2004). The concept refers to languages and behavioural patterns that define a certain landscape requiring understanding and unpacking. It is used to describe a space in its subjective and objective totality, and it includes the following dimensions:

  • The ways in which territories develop their specific languages.
  • The social representations and practices in relation to the territory.
  • The emotional investments, the sense of belonging and attachment to the territory.
  • Common behavioural patterns within the territory.
  • Modes of relating within and outside the boundaries of the territory.
  • The geographical materiality, where it is located, and how it establishes borders and crossings in relation to larger spaces and wider territories.

Why does it matter?

Opening up borders contributes to the enlargement of personal experiences and the regeneration of excluded territories, and offers opportunities for giving back to communities the right to the overall territory which they inhabit. The more open the borders of communities and the partnerships between them, the larger the social networks available. Keeping borders open and enabling exchanges with the wider city contributes to the development of citizenship; it connects a divided society and avoids the formation of no- go areas.

Key facts from the favelas:

  • Rigid urban frontiers are a central component of life in the favelas and part of the imagination of the city as whole. Every person in Rio has heard about the division “hill/asphalt”, which designates different worlds living side by side. Crime, violence and poverty inside the favelas are equated to the identity of favela dwellers by people living outside.
  • Stigma and negative representations of life in the favelas act as a solid barrier between people, affecting personal lives, self-esteem and the community itself. People experience discrimination on a daily basis as they cross the border into the wider city. For example, stating a favela address can undermine the chances of getting a job.
  • Bottom-up organisations counteract rigid borders by constructing urban connectors and partnerships intended to take favela dwellers into the city and to bring the city to the favela.


The actions and partnerships of bottom-up favela organisations with the State, the media and the private sector are theorised as containing risks but being positive overall, in particular because they allow for bringing vitality and innovation to all involved. In the context of Brazil’s economic development, this is particularly the case, as the private sector is rediscovering both the market represented by favela populations and the need to develop policies of corporate responsibility. There is an economy of the favela, as there is a requirement for governance that takes into account the favelas; this is being played out and elaborated through a dialogue between the multiple stakeholders involved in the process.

The interventions of bottom-up organisations bridge urban divisions and construct mediations between favela communities and the wider public sphere. They draw on a combination of challenging and innovative partnerships and propose an ambitious agenda-setting through effective use of mass media and political intervention in the public sphere. New crossings into the city expand networks and identification platforms available to favela residents, opening up the imagination and bringing about new possibilities for acting, thinking and the formation of identity. At the same time, these crossings push positive representations of the favela into society and include the State and the private sector in a collaborative process.

Figure 4 – The Viaduto (Flyover)

Figure 4 – The Viaduto (Flyover)

The Viaduto (flyover)


This is an urban connector that links the community of Madureira and the wider city of Rio de Janeiro. This space was regenerated by CUFA through partnerships with the public and private sectors. It went from a no-go zone occupied by drug dealers and drug users to a wide meeting place, open to the community and the city. CUFA runs a variety of activities and workshops that attract the whole city. Skating workshops, for example, are used to teach citizenship skills to youth: they engage in reflection on why collective spaces should be respected and preserved while exercising the right to use them.

The Viaduto became a physical and symbolic resource for the community, providing a bridge with resources outside the community and inviting outsiders to visit and enjoy what it offers. It offers leisure opportunities, stands as part of one of several institutions in this community (CUFA), and aids in shaping positive representations of favela people as innovative and sociable.

Praça Tropicalismo in Cultural Centre Waly Salomão


This initiative aims to “provide a diverse programme, open to the entire city, offering events that cover all social classes in a public space devoted to education, culture and leisure through dance, theatre, music and cinema” (as described by AfroReggae themselves). This space is conceived to be something “from the favela to the world”, following the vision put forward by AfroReggae’s leader José Junior in his book.

Praça Tropicalismo is an important urban connector that has taken to the community artists such as Madonna and Caetano Veloso, who contribute to challenging common representations of favela dwellers as marginal, delinquents and drug ridden. Their presence, as well as the presence of a wider audience and multiple sponsors and partners, builds a new narrative, constructed and told in the favela in dialogue with the city. At the same time, it provides community residents with enjoyable and exciting leisure opportunities inside the community.

Opening up borders and partnerships in action


Opening up borders and partnerships challenges the lines separating one place from another and allows the movement of people, information or things. If the border of a neighbourhood is very open, it allows circulation of residents and visitors. Depending on the characteristics of the community (if it has services, where it is located, etc.), its boundaries are more or less open. Opening borders increases opportunities to cross physical and imagined frontiers between communities and the wider city. The more open a border is, the more opportunities there are for personal development and for the community to make an impact outside its own borders.


  • Every member of the community, through the organised action of grassroots organisations.
  • Allied outside actors and institutions interested in the cause of the community, who act as partners in opening up and crossing borders towards the community.
  • Private sector firms and organisations interested in corporate social responsibility.

What for?

  • Integrating communities and building communication in the city.
  • Giving visibility to segregated communities and inviting the wider society to cross back into communities that are usually avoided.
  • Producing change in individual biographies by expanding the knowledge and emotional resources of individuals within all communities.
  • Changing the quality of public spaces so that people can use and circulate freely in the city.


Opening up borders requires a concerted effort to challenge a series of factors that can be addressed through the following Action points:

  • Diversifying institutions. Take stock of all the institutions in the community (see Context). After this, consider lobbying with authorities and organising the community to widen the range of institutions. For example, consider the steps needed to request a programme of ‘open schools’ for after-school hours, or to liven up the local churches with more activities. These tasks require the buy-in of the entire community.
  • Building positively on your community’s location. The physical location of a community cannot be changed. However, a community can use internal resources to make the most of what it does have and encourage others to come in. Examples are the Praça Tropicalismo in Vigário Geral and the Viaduto in Madureira.
  • Creating urban connectors. Rehabilitate spaces in the margins of neighbourhoods that are not used or are deteriorated. Parks, squares and bus stops are some examples that can be regenerated through mutirão and creative narrative actions such as the use of graffiti.
  • Generating leisure opportunities. Take stock of the leisure opportunities that children and youth have in your community. Discuss the possible avenues through which the community can pool resources and generate more leisure opportunities. Knitting groups, choirs and book clubs are some examples, although they require some funding for materials.
  • Challenging representations. Use tools such as storytelling, contact and partnerships (see exercise on the next page) to challenge the representations the wider city and outsiders have of the community.
Psychosocial dynamics of urban frontiers

Figure 5 – Psychosocial dynamics of urban frontiers

Download Partnership discussion template

Download Workshop exercise on borders

Download Images for workshop exercise on borders

Contact and dialogue

This tool is used to integrate different groups and manage conflict, which is an element found in most communities. It draws on the principles of contact and dialogue to promote communication and conflict resolution and to improve social relations in the community.

What is this about?

When communities are separated by different forms of barriers, it becomes difficult to cut across separation and engage with others who have different experiences, hold different beliefs or come from different locations. People can develop very negative attitudes and feelings towards each other and behave accordingly so that in time conflict escalates and becomes very difficult to solve.

To understand and address this type of problem, psychologists have proposed a “contact hypothesis”, which suggests that “ … bringing members of opposing social groups together will improve intergroup relations and reduce prejudice and discrimination” (Hogg & Vaughan, 2007: 639). When this idea was first presented, psychologist Gordon Allport (1954: 261–82) suggested that three requirements are necessary for the contact between conflicting groups to improve:

  1. Those involved in the contact must have equal status.

  2. They should be engaged in the collective, cooperative pursuit of meaningful, common goals of shared interest between the two groups.

  3. The process must be promoted with the support of institutional arrangements (the law or ground rules, for example).

Dialogue requires willingness to change and the understanding that change is sometimes a painful process.

Scientific evidence indicates that the conditions postulated by Allport do work to reduce prejudice in a diversity of contexts and groups, but they need to be deployed together, as a unified package (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).

Permeating the requirements for building positive contact between communities is the practice of dialogue. Paulo Freire, the influential Brazilian educator, defined dialogue as the encounter of people who want to “name” the world they inhabit (1970/1996: 69). He suggested that dialogue should draw on storytelling to facilitate this encounter. Freire thought that the object of dialogue should be the reality that people want to transform, so that they see and try to talk and “name” what is going on and how they can change it. The goal is an ongoing humanisation process where people start to see each other as human beings with feelings, experiences and concerns like their own.

Why does it matter?

Changing conflict and social divisions entails challenging the attitudes and behaviours of the people involved. Organising togetherness and facilitating contact and interaction between opposing sides gives people the opportunity to talk and spend some time together, despite their differences. This can undermine established stereotypes, gradually help people to put themselves in the shoes of others, and in time build joint action. These experiences are the foundation of building a culture of peace.

Key facts from the favelas

Contact and dialogue between groups is fostered through activities implemented inside and outside the community. Inside the communities, bottom-up organisations mediate difficult conversations between institutions such as narcotraffic and religious groups. They literally save lives by stepping in to bring people together to start a conversation. Outside, they work with institutions such as the police to establish dialogue between residents and police officers. Using social programmes, sports, arts and education, they bring people face to face to talk about conflict, painful events and how to move forward.

Two social programmes involving the police and favela dwellers are exemplars of this tool:

Papo de Responsa (A chat about responsibilities)


This initiative, as stated in its publication, asks, “What is this chat about?”

“Papo de responsa was born
in the heads and hearts
of people tired of war.

People who want to bring down
weapons and raise voices.

Because we believe that violence
is overcome with words.

It is a conversation between
us all. The civil police,
AfroReggae, society.

You and me. A chat between equals,
between us, the Brazilian people.

It is a ‘papo de responsa’ (a chat about responsibilities),
each one doing their share.

A chat of hope, to make
a more equal world.”

Papo de Responsa draws mainly on elements of dialogue but also incorporates features from the contact hypothesis in that it sees interlocutors as equals and provides them with a safe space to engage in conversation with the institutional support of AfroReggae, which acts as a mediator. One of the outcomes jointly produced by this project is the beautiful booklet ‘Papo de responsa. Que papo é esse? A essência do papo’, from which the poem above is extracted (and freely translated).

Mão na Cabeça (Hands up!) Programme


This is a programme of CUFA, in partnership with UPPs, the pacification police of Rio de Janeiro. The title is meant to bring everyone’s hand up by promoting shared experiences and interactions between citizens and the police.

The programme puts together police officers and favela residents in workshops focused on rap, graffiti, street basketball and audio-visual communication. The workshops are facilitated by top artists and centre on common cultural and artistic interests. Despite decades of conflict, police officers and favela dwellers tend to be from similar backgrounds, and these workshops build on the commonalities to further dialogue and mutual humanisation. Both sides have representatives in defining actions, and meetings take place at CUFA and at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, as neutral grounds for discussion.

Contact and dialogue in action


Actions that facilitate contact and dialogue bracket out differences so that people can meet and collaborate on equal footings. They require institutional support and joint actions that enable actual face-to-face communication and exchange.


  • All members of a community can participate in contact and dialogue initiatives.
  • Communities and groups must know that the interaction will be challenging and need to have the will to interact on equal footings. Preserving power and/or status hierarchies during contact breaks down these actions.
  • Grassroots organisations, community representatives, charities and government agencies can sponsor and provide the necessary institutional support for communities to engage in contact and dialogue.

What for?

  • To get to know ‘the other’ (groups a community is in contact with) and what they stand for, from their perspective.
  • To challenge communities to learn to listen and acknowledge other views even when they are radically different from their own.
  • To find avenues to resolve differences.
  • To accept issues in which the views of different communities clash and cannot be resolved, without resorting to violence.


Action points:

  • Community centres that allow contact between different groups inside the community. Promote the creation of spaces in which people who would normally be separated in the community (e.g. people from different castes, religions, or openly conflicting groups) are able to come together and discuss, organise themselves and act upon issues of common concern (e.g. lobbying to get water or electricity services in their community). Shared open spaces, libraries and leisure centres are examples of such places.
  • Community leaders to promote dialogue. Encourage those people who normally represent the voices of their community (self-appointed or otherwise) to be catalysts of dialogue and to lead on initiatives in contact with conflicting groups. Community leaders are also likely to represent their communities in institutional arrangements with conflicting groups (see below).
  • Sustained institutional support when facilitating contact and dialogue. Devise programmes that formally invite conflicting groups or communities to engage in contact and dialogue and mediate between them. Consider conflict as an important aspect to address in the life of the community.
  • Institutional means to make community groups mobile. Lobby for official government arrangements to allow members of a group that would not normally interact with another group to mingle and/or work with them. Having community members at the interface between conflicting groups can work when engaging in contact and dialogue. This is related to the expansion of networks.

Download Checklist for implementing contact

Download Workshop exercise on contact


This tool is about building participation and raising awareness of rights and responsibilities.

What is this about?

When members of a community organise themselves to discuss their problems and ways to address them, they are already enacting citizenship. Exercising the right to associate and meet is not an entitlement we find everywhere, so involving communities in bottom-up social development organisations is in itself contributing to citizenship. Citizenship as a work strategy is also about raising awareness of responsibilities and rights. For example, learning that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity by the police or to have access to adequate health care and education goes together with learning that everyone is responsible for looking after public spaces and paying taxes.

It is never too late in life to discuss issues of citizenship.

Lazar characterises citizenship as being “about political agency and membership of the political community”, while the State responds to the demands of civil society such as democracy and economic and social justice (Lazar, 2012: 347). Citizenship is about participating both in established, State-driven initiatives and in community mobilisation through home-grown, grassroots movements. However, community mobilisation involves a more active form of citizenship since people are able to voice demands to the State, to act upon those demands and, in general, to modify the status quo (Kina, 2012; Lazar, 2012).

Why does it matter?

Citizenship is one of the building blocks for successful social development because participation and critical engagement with reality depends on the conscious acknowledgement of rights and responsibilities in society. .

Key facts from the favelas

Grassroots initiatives in Brazilian favelas are promoting citizenship in a number of ways:

  • Their own activism constitutes participation and civic engagement; they are explicit about acting as a political force in society.
  • They build leadership and community activism through projects and activities.
  • They raise awareness of rights and obligations through specific activities such as linking up community members with basic State services, actions to reintegrate ex-detainees in the community and the education of youth about the importance of respecting public spaces. In a context of informality such as in the case of favela communities and similar ‘irregular’ settlements, these actions take on renewed importance.

Two examples of citizenship initiatives are:

Maria Maria


This is a movement organised by CUFA which is taken to all Brazilian regions. According to CUFA, women organise themselves with two main objectives: the first is to discuss their needs and demands and to work to voice them, and the second is to find avenues to participate as agents in political decision-making processes. They are explicit about wanting to be protagonists of their communities. The questioning of beauty standards to include those of black women, reading circles and handicraft workshops for income generation are some of the multiple activities that women themselves have documented in blogs.

Waly Salomão Cultural Centre


This is a large cultural and community centre run by favela dwellers in Vigário Geral, Rio de Janeiro and AfroReggae activists. In the Cultural Centre, citizenship is enacted through:

  • Accountability. Running the centre entails effective management of resources, organised bookkeeping of transactions and giving account of activities and expenses on a regular basis.
  • Community and cultural assistance. Community members with more practical knowledge and experience can provide assistance and advice to others for accessing State services, connecting with special interest groups and raising awareness of available services in the community.
  • Link with cultural areas. The centre seeks conscientisation among participants as well as engaging favela dwellers in income-generating activities, artistic courses, lectures and discussion groups. In this way, citizenship goes beyond exercising rights and being accountable for one’s duties as citizen, and encompasses a fuller view of participation as a functional, productive agent in the community.

Citizenship in action


Citizenship actions enable members of a community to take part in matters of common concern and, at the same time, to make them aware of their rights and responsibilities as part of a society.


  • Citizenship actions can be implemented among children, young people and adults. It is never too late in life to discuss issues of citizenship.
  • Children and young people can especially benefit from citizenship initiatives. The younger they are when their critical thinking on rights and responsibilities is stimulated, the more time there is ahead to see what concrete actions they themselves can initiate.
  • Citizenship initiatives will benefit community members who have had problems with the police, the justice system or migratory regulations.
  • Citizenship supports the social integration of these groups and helps them to regain confidence to effectively navigate institutions and services.

What for?

  • To integrate people as active members of their communities and, by extension, the society they inhabit.
  • To raise awareness of people’s entitlements in the country they inhabit.
  • To promote basic rights that enable community members to fully participate in society. This is particularly important in contexts of hardship where people lack very basic resources such as birth certificates, which are required for their active participation as citizens.
  • To encourage civic duties among community members.


Action points:

  • Formation of groups and associations. Incentivise the formation of groups with a common interest that can offer mutual support and work towards a goal, especially to reclaim their place in the community. Even within inclusive communities or social movements, marginalised sectors tend to be the elderly, sexual or religious minorities and ex-detainees.
  • Grassroots leadership of organisations. Discuss with local people and explore opportunities for building and leading their own organisations. This develops accountability and participatory skills.
  • Practical training on recycling materials. Set up activities that promote social responsibility with the environment and fair utilisation of resources. These activities are likely to teach participants that resources of the common good are the responsibility of all.
  • Mutirão. As discussed in Social capital, mutirão designates a collective effort made with a common goal in mind. Initiatives of social development draw on this practice to encourage awareness of how collective effort can be used for the benefit of all (e.g. cleaning a park or refurbishing the community centre), as well as to support the goals of a particular person or family within a rota system (e.g., to work on house improvements for one community family at a time).
  • Ludic workshops in public spaces. Implement games or sporting activities that convey stories about respecting collective spaces. For example, skate groups might like to consider ways in which a skating venue can be preserved and improved.