THE MYTH OF MARGINALITY
Urban Poverty and Politics in Rio De Janero
Perlman's Myth of Marginality was published by University of California Press in 1976 and won the C. Wright Mills Award for the most important contribution to social policy in that year. It is considered the seminal work in the field. The book was part of a critique of the prevailing paradigm of the time regarding rural-urban migrants and the squatter communities they built in the absence of affordable alternatives.
At a time when no one dared walk near a favela, Perlman spent 18 months living in them and combined her direct observation and experience with a systematic survey and the collection of year-by-year life histories. Based on this she was able to tell the stories of the people and debunk the set of negative stereotypes that dominated the field at the time.
The Myth of Marginality has been translated into dozens of languages and is still the point of reference for students and scholars interested in urbanization. It foretold the massive citywide shift of the human population and the urbanization of poverty.
In her own words, "I researched and wrote The Myth of Marginality at a time when favelas were seen as 'syphilitic sores on the beautiful body of the city,' and expected to foment rebellion as a reaction to the opulence around them. Such was the fear of the Right and the hope of the Left. The view of squatters as 'other,' not part of the urban community, was the common sense view of the population at large, legitimized by social scientists, and used to justify public policies of favela removal."
Perlman found that "the favelados are not marginal, but inexorably integrated into society, albeit in a manner detrimental to their own interests. They are not separate from or on the margins of the system, but are tightly bound into it in a severely asymmetrical form. They contribute their hard work, their high hopes, and their loyalties, but do not benefit from the goods and services of the system. They are not economically and politically marginal, but are exploited, manipulated, and repressed; they are not socially and culturally marginal, but stigmatized and excluded from a closed class system."
The book presents a forceful argument that if given title to the land they live on, the favela residents would upgrade their homes, install urban services and become integrated working-class communities contributing to the urban vitality of "the marvelous city" of Rio.