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Violence in Brazil Due to Lack of Rights, Professor Says

Bryan McCann

Bryan McCann, director of the Master’s Program in Global, International and Comparative History (MAGIC), explores the culture and politics that has impacted Brazil's process of urban reform.

April 21, 2011 – The recurrent violence in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro stems more from a lack of egalitarian distribution of rights than from material inequality, according to Bryan McCann, associate professor of history.

McCann, who serves as director of the Master’s Program in Global, International and Comparative History (MAGIC) and formerly directed the Brazilian Studies Program, is working on a book-length project, Trouble in the Marvelous City: Violence and Redemocratization in Rio de Janeiro.

Cyclical Violence

“In the 1970s and 1980s, residents of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods were integrated more deeply into the economic and political life of the city, but in ways that denied them basic civil guarantees extended to middle-class neighborhoods,” McCann explains. “The failure to strengthen uniform access to rights left poor neighborhoods vulnerable to exploitation and cyclical violence.”

His book will focus on the process of urban reform during the years that Brazil rebuilt its national democracy, emerging from more than two decades of military rule in 1985.

In Rio de Janeiro, for example, he says cocaine traffickers exploited the efforts of popular reform movements by exerting leverage over neighborhood associations. By supplying money to these neighborhoods, drug lords exerted strong influence on city politics.

Musical Genres

McCann has long been captivated by the musical developments of Brazil, which offers samba and bossa nova as well as choro, a style similar to American ragtime, and forró, a country music played in northeast Brazil. The professor plays harmonica in the style of the latter two genres.

McCann’s first book, Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil (2004), explored the rise of radio in that country throughout the 1930s and 1950s.

“There was really no coherent samba, and in fact very little in the way of coherent popular music genres [existed] before the rise of radio,” explains McCann, who came to Georgetown in 2002.

Active and Engaging

Gabriella Gentil (C’12) took McCann’s History of Latin America I and II and Brazilian History and Culture and will take his Popular Music in Brazil and Cuba next semester.

“Professor McCann has a flair for weaving historical facts and modern culture into a tapestry that engages students in the subject matter,” she says.

Rachel Milito (SFS’12), who took the popular music course, calls McCann “an active and engaging teacher.”

“By the end of the course I was able not only to discuss the historical reasons that brought about the rise of certain music styles,” she says, “but also I could clap the rhythms for each and describe the music theory [behind them.]”

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