Lucius Kowarick (1938-2020)

Image: Stela Grespan


Commentary on the work of one of the pioneers of Brazilian urban sociology

On August 24, Brazilian cities lost Lucio Kowarick, one of the most astute pioneers of Brazilian urban sociology. I, Eduardo, still have with me the copy, beaten and pasted, of the urban dispossession bought in used bookstore on Rua da Carioca in Rio de Janeiro in 1989. Like me, many urban researchers and activists were deeply impacted by it.

His view of the city was informed by a broad understanding of the social processes that produce inequalities and the position of subaltern groups in this production, as shown in the classic of sociology, Work and Loitering, published two years earlier (1987). For those who, like me, Adrian, were lucky enough to be his students and/or advisees, this careful look at the processes read in search of the explanatory keys to inequality was profoundly formative.

Lúcio entered the University of São Paulo in 1970 and retired from the Department of Political Science at USP in 2008, which he headed twice. He received his doctorate in 1973 with work marked by outstanding conceptual rigor by the canons of the time, later published as the book Capitalism and marginality in Latin America, in 1975. These first explorations of the peripheral character of our capitalism unfolded into a shrewd look at our social formation and our patterns of urbanization.

This contribution was already very present in the history São Paulo 1975: growth and poverty, produced collectively at Cebrap. The book was financed by the Metropolitan Archdiocese of São Paulo and had not only intellectual but also political consequences, even generating a bomb attack on the Center's headquarters.

Lúcio's authorial contribution to the urban, however, is more fully evident in A Urban Spoliation from 1979. In our opinion, it is individually the most important book of the beginning of our urban studies, connecting with subtle explanatory elegance forms of production of peripheral space to patterns of accumulation, against the omnipresent background of the military regime.

Over the decades that followed, the urban field was strongly influenced by his contributions on poverty, housing precariousness, urban social movements, peripheries, and the vulnerable lives of their residents, elaborated both in the DCP of USP and in Cedec. In Social Conflicts and the City a live at risk, going through Urban Writings, his work spread throughout Latin America and influenced generations of city analysts and activists.

His gaze was always permeated by a delicate sociological sensitivity associated with deep and sincere concerns with the (durable) inequalities that mark our society and our spaces, as shown once again by his interest in the study of sub-citizenship in the last years of his career as researcher. An essential thought these days, and one that stays with us through its many urban writings.

*Edward Marques e Adrian Gurza Lavalle are professors at the Department of Political Science at USP.


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