Urban space and politics: Constructing social identity and the middle class in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1930s--1940s

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Robert M. Levine - Committee Chair


In Sao Paulo during the 1930s and 1940s, urban change and politics crafted the space of the city, within which prospered an increasingly important technical segment of the middle class, comprised of an array of public and private sector professionals. This dissertation explores urban professional practices and seeks to recover the urban experience by studying the city as a space of political and economic power intertwined with other social and cultural forces. Special attention is paid to the role of ideas about social status and identity in shaping perceptions and the implementation of public urban policies.Rather than portraying upper and working classes as dominant players in the political arena, this work focuses on the middle classes as key agents who negotiated and imposed their views on the changing process. It focuses on the sphere of local governance and its association with the private sector to explore how the work of these middle-class professionals literally and metaphorically expressed and contributed to the construction of the city's identity and a middle-class life in Sao Paulo in this period. This dissertation combines both of these two approaches and goes further by using the case of Sao Paulo to analyze the way urban planning was structured in and through the institutional arrangements of local governance as well as through sociocultural ideas and practices reflected in middle-class professionals' work.In sum, this study links the Brazilian process of social formation to an interpretive historical notion that the state expressed the articulations of different socioeconomic and professional groups at the local level. Such articulations allowed the depiction of middle-class working people as relevant political groups and key negotiating agents who imposed their view on the changing process. Rather than seeking an organized middle-class initiative (which never existed), this study explores various important middle-class responses that interpreted, molded, changed, and defined the political conjuncture of Sao Paulo in the 1930s and 1940s.


History, Latin American; Architecture; Urban and Regional Planning

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