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MILANESA DREAMS: How do the urban poor survive before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic?

10/06 Thursday | 5pm

Due to NYU’s COVID visitor policy, from this point forward (10/4/22), individuals who wish to register to attend in person must have active NYU IDs and be able to show the Violet Go pass prior to entry. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. If you already registered to join in-person and do not have an active NYU ID, be sure to follow the instructions that are emailed to you through NYU.


NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge and the Urban Democracy Lab at NYU invite you to a discussion with Javier Auyero and Gianpaolo Baiocchi exploring how the urban poor survive before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having devastating effects in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than one and a half million COVID-related deaths have been recorded in the region. Most countries experience deep economic crises (an average 8 percent contraction in GDP), crumbling labor markets, and exponential growth of poverty and marginality. How do the urban poor manage to make ends meet when their informal sources of income vanish or shrink? How do their strategies of subsistence intersect and interact with existing forms of domination and exploitation? Nearly a half-century ago, two scholars north and south of the US border, Larissa Lomnitz and Carol Stack, called attention to the role played by reciprocity networks in poor peoples’ survival strategies. 

This talk draws on collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in one squatter settlement and two adjacent low-income neighborhoods in Buenos Aires to show that before, during, and after the pandemic those at the urban margins casted wide webs of connection with kin and friends to cope with scarcity. They also relied on patronage and collective action while reaching out to their governments for help with sheer survival and to keep their hopes somewhat alive. Most research on survival strategies has overlooked state and street violence as literal threats to poor people’s daily subsistence. This talk will briefly describe individual and collective strategies poor residents use to navigate daily dangers and advocate for the incorporation of personal safety into the study of poor people’s strategies. The talk will present vignettes (ethnographic reconstructions, analytic writing, personal testimony, and photographs) of a book in progress that experiments with different narrative styles.

Javier Auyero is the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. His main areas of research, writing, and teaching are urban marginality, political ethnography, and collective violence. His research has been funded by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

Gianpaolo Baiocchi is a sociologist and an ethnographer interested in questions of politics and culture, critical social theory, and cities. He has written about and continues to research instances of civic life both in his native Brazil and in the US. He is a leading social science expert on participatory democracy who has for the last decade engaged public officials, voluntary organizations, and policy makers on the practice and implementation of participatory processes. He heads Gallatin’s Urban Democracy Lab, which launched in 2014 and which provides a space for scholars and practitioners to collaborate and exchange ideas for cultivating just, sustainable, and creative urban futures.

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