Solidary Neighbors? The Involvement of Middle-Class Communities in the Governance of Security and Disorder in Brazil

AuthorFabricio Silva Lima,Cleber Lopes,Lucas Melgaço
Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(1) 88 –104
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862211034323
Solidary Neighbors? The
Involvement of Middle-
Class Communities in the
Governance of Security
and Disorder in Brazil
Cleber Lopes1, Fabricio Silva Lima1,
and Lucas Melgaço2
This study explores how residents govern security in two middle-class neighborhoods
in Londrina, the fourth largest city in southern Brazil. Utilizing nodal governance
theory, it analyses a security program called Solidary Neighbor (Vizinho Solidário,
in Portuguese) in both neighborhoods, in place since the early 2010s. Document
analysis, direct observation, and interviews with 26 respondents comprising mostly
residents, but also police officers, sex workers, and homeless people, were conducted
to assess how the program works and what implications it has for the governance of
public spaces. The findings show that the Solidary Neighbor program functions as a
community governance node oriented toward reducing criminal opportunities with
the use of technologies to monitor outsiders and displace sex workers and homeless
people. The article concludes that particularly in contexts such as in Brazil, bottom-
up security initiatives have the potential to produce hostile and exclusionary public
nodal governance, neighborhood watch, community, public space, security
1State University of Londrina, Brazil
2Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Corresponding Author:
Cleber Lopes, Department of Social Sciences, State University of Londrina, Km 380 Celso Garcia
Highway, Londrina 86057-970, PO Box 10011, Brazil.
1034323CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211034323Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeLopes et al.
Lopes et al. 89
Since the 1980s, the study of community involvement in the control of crime and dis-
order has been extensively explored in the criminology literature. Most of this litera-
ture has focused on more formal initiatives like neighborhood watch (NW), installed
in middle-class areas in the global north and often in partnership with the police
(Bennett et al., 2008; Lub, 2018; Rosenbaum, 1988). Another portion of this literature
has been devoted to more informal initiatives put in place by occupational groups like
taxi drivers, vigilante groups, or criminal organizations operating mainly in the mar-
gins of the state in countries in Africa and Latin America, including Brazil (Arias &
Barnes, 2017; Feltran, 2020; Paes-Machado & Nascimento, 2014). Surprisingly, fewer
global south studies have been carried out around the involvement of middle-class
communities in crime and disorder control in public spaces.
This article contributes to filling the gap in the criminological literature of com-
munity involvement in crime control programs in Latin America. Utilizing nodal gov-
ernance theory (Johnston & Shearing, 2003; Wood & Shearing, 2007), it analyses a
security program called Solidary Neighbor (Vizinho Solidário, in Portuguese) in two
middle-class neighborhoods in Londrina, the fourth largest city in southern Brazil.
The article is organized in four parts. First, we introduce the theoretical framework
of nodal governance and its relevance to this study. Second, we outline our methodol-
ogy and the cases we explored. Third, we present our analysis of the Solidary Neighbor
program in terms of the four elements that Burris et al. (2005) define as the geographi-
cal sites of nodal governance: the institutional setting, the resources, the mentality, and
the technologies used. Finally, we consider the particularities of bottom-up commu-
nity crime prevention initiatives in contexts like Brazil, and the impacts that these have
for residential areas where order is imposed on public space.
Theoretical Discussion: Community Security and Nodal
The problematic criminal and institutional context in Brazil has created conditions for
different social groups to seek protection on the margins of the state, as shown by the
literature on vigilantism and criminal governance in poor communities (Arias &
Barnes, 2017; Feltran, 2020). Homicide rates in the country have grown almost con-
tinuously since the so-called democratic reopening in the 1980s, reaching in 2017 the
highest figure ever recorded in history (31.6 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) (IPEA,
2020). Fear of crime is also pervasive in Brazilian society. At the same time, formal
criminal justice has been marked by inefficiency, corruption, violence, and a lack of
legitimacy. In this context, middle-class citizens tend to engage in crime control in a
more informal and autonomous way in relation to the state than in the NW initiatives
of the global north. Thus, studying the participation of citizens in the control of crime
and disorder in the Brazilian context demands a theoretical approach that is less cen-
tered on the state and more sensitive to the interplays between informal arrangements
and formal institutions of security provision.

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