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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Agustin Lao-Montes

Second Advisor

Millicent Thayer

Third Advisor

Brian Sargent

Fourth Advisor

Sonia Alvarez

Subject Categories

Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Research | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social Justice | Urban Studies and Planning


In the face of recent colonial and capitalist expansion, scholars and activists have advocated for the decolonization of the world. However, how can we do that? My research investigates this question. I explore how Afro-descendant movements in Latin America organize urban communities as alternatives to Western modernity. By fighting for self-determination, these movements secured the title of more than 200 million hectares of land, an area slightly larger than Mexico. Besides, they organize their communities according to ethnic traditions and ancestral ontologies, creating self-determined collectives in which people forge new forms of being and living - territories of life. Scholars who have studied these communities define them as a path to decolonization. Yet, these studies focus on rural areas. This focus stems from associating alternatives to Western modernity with rural ancestral and ethnic groups. "Being urban," on the other hand, is often synonymous with "being modern" and Western urbanity (an individualistic and capitalist culture). Considering this, my dissertation investigates territories of life in urban contexts.

Following participatory research principles, I conducted more than one year of ethnographic work in a large city in Brazil. The fieldwork included participant observation, thirty interviews, and six collaborative workshops with three Afro-descendant urban groups. The first is a matriarchal quilombo (a maroon community) located in the city's downtown area. The second is a Black-led socialist and feminist political organization that gathers those who cannot afford rent and occupies vacant lots to build houses. The third is a self-organized group led by Black women from a Brazilian favela (shantytown). In my dissertation, I explain how each group creates territories of life and provides different possibilities to decolonize urban spaces, as well as the challenges they face. More specifically, I discuss their struggle to protect ancestral lands in urban areas, the fight against the criminalization of the occupation of vacant land, and the creation of solidarity networks to survive police terror, prison, and displacement.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, September 01, 2024