In this superbly researched book, Brodwyn Fischer chronicles the intertwined histories of poor people’s experiences of the city of Rio de Janeiro and their citizenship as Brazilians in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Fischer untangles the paradoxical processes by which the expansion of social, economic, and political rights in this period nonetheless resulted in a “poverty of rights” for the urban poor of Rio de Janeiro: a status as perpetual supplicants at the margins of legality, rather than as bearers of rights. Tracing the ways in which poor Cariocas (natives of Rio) came into daily contact with the law and its institutions, Fischer demonstrates how material poverty repeatedly reinforced rights poverty (and vice versa) among Rio’s urban poor at a time when, by most measures, definitions of citizenship were expanding in Brazil.

The book is divided into four parts, each of which analyzes this impoverishment of rights in...

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