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A Rua é Nossa (The Street is Ours): In Search of Childhood and Rights on the Streets of Guarulhos, Brazil


This dissertation examines the intersection of agency, subjectivity, and rights among children and adolescents living and working on the streets of Guarulhos, Brazil. Beginning with the children's descriptions of their living and working conditions, this research situates their knowledge in order to provide a holistic examination of a child's living and working context and conditions. Their narratives are contextualized within the international discourse on childhood and children's rights. The major principle of this discourse is that childhood should be safe, carefree, and happy. Approaches are characterized by a range of appropriate settings, experiences, and relationships that do not apply to all children, particularly poor children.

This project investigates the life course of street and working children; who they are, what brought them to the street, the nature of their work, the conditions they face while on the street, and their decisions to remain on the street or not. Examining their life course provides essential details to understanding the impact of the political economy on individual lives. Their subjectivities are contextualized within a political economy of the street and conditions of poverty, violence, and marginalization. Given their place in society, they are often excluded and constituted as invisible. As such, the project is an examination of children's agency in actively shaping and transforming their lives. Drawing on the tensions between structural violence and individual agency, this research creates a space for children's voices regarding their lived experiences, moving them from invisibility in society to active participants in their struggle to live and contribute to our understanding of humanity and human rights.

This project also occurred at a critical time for Brazil, as the country, or select portions of it, is experiencing tremendous economic growth. Brazil is also actively implementing programs targeted at combating child labor and extreme poverty. While much has been written about the effects of these government efforts in rural areas, there is a lack of research on their effects in urban settings. Data collection was ethnographic and relied on qualitative anthropological methodologies that included participant-observation, mapping, life histories, and semi-structured interviews with street and working children in Guarulhos.

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