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  • Writer's pictureRogério Dalla Riva

Series "Inhabiting: reflections on this human aspect as a democratic vector". Part I

In this series of essays, I'm trying to rekindle a research theme that I started in 2013, "The Right to Live as a Resignification of the Urban: The Construction of Citizenship in the Streets", the time of the June protests, the Arab Spring, the apex of cosmopolitan aspirations and, in general, the desire for a free, open world, based on democracy and respect for human rights. Since then, more than ten years on, we have seen the June protests take us down a tortuous road to authoritarian terror in Brazil, the spring followed by a dark winter in the Arab world and the resumption of xenophobic speeches and uncontrolled ufanism, aimed at closing borders and increasingly severe restrictions on the movement of people, especially victims of hunger, war and poverty. Despite all this, the object of study initially outlined has remained current, so I am now trying to take it up again, within the limits and possibilities of the current zeitgeist, through a series of articles here on Ruptura, through which I intend to revisit some categories and concepts and then move on to the initial research topic.

I will gradually return to some categories and concepts relating to the notion of Inhabiting, a concept through which we try to describe the creation and perpetuation of human beings in the space in which they live and the multilateral relationships that are established in this context, both in relation to the individual's experience and to the community as a whole.

1.1 Inhabiting: existing with flowers

The human need extends far beyond a Habitat, conditioning it to an Inhabit, a connection between the being and the place it inhabits, "full of merits, but poetically man inhabits this earth" (HÖLDERLIN, 2002), in the words of Hölderlin. This is a perception that goes far beyond the first concept. While the habitat reduces the needs of this being to elementary and physiological practices such as eating, sleeping and reproducing, dwelling deals with the human/space relationship as creator, caretaker and perpetuator, encompassing the bonds between people and the place and between people in that place. More than just planting the garden and the flowers, by creating it we exist in it and through it, we create a fundamental bond and make part of our being reverberate in the space, in the other beings that inhabit it and in ourselves in an endless process of multilateral and systemic influence.

Furthermore, there is constant human restlessness when citizens feel the incompleteness of their dwelling, truncated by insecurity and other problems that prevent them from living well in that place.

In this sense, the citizen's search for better living conditions in the place where they live, demanding better living conditions in the place where they live, improvements in the structure of basic sanitation, electricity, squares, parks, streets, in short, conditions that involve their living, working day after day against the natural decay of things in this world, against the unruly pressure of capital against those who live there and actually give meaning to property, reveal a unique field for promoting democratic and citizen experience, governance, strengthening democracy and, consequently, human development.

These movements involve central sectors of community life, if not the community as a whole, leading it to organize itself in order to identify the many interests common to the residents, both to bring them to the attention of the state and to find the appropriate solution autonomously. In this way, far beyond achieving the main objectives for which they were conceived, local organizations end up arousing the interest and pro-activity of those involved in defending the rights and promoting the interests that are diffuse, common or homogeneous to them in relation to their community dwelling. This commitment to the interests of the community is undoubtedly one of the hallmarks of what it means to be a Citizen, which is why it is possible to promote Social Emancipation and Citizenship through these struggles for housing, for better living conditions.

Before going any further, it's important to remember that society cannot be conceived of in an abstract way. In line with what Karl Marx said in the 19th century, it is necessary to understand the classes that make it up and the struggles that exist between them:

Above all, it is necessary to avoid conceiving of "society" once again as an abstraction faced by the individual. The individual is the social being. The manifestation of his life - even when it doesn't appear directly in the form of a communal manifestation, carried out in association with other men - is therefore a manifestation and affirmation of social life. Individual human life and species-life are not different things, insofar as the mode of existence of individual life is a more specific or more general mode of species-life, or species-life is a more specific or more general mode of individual life (MARX, 2004, p. 107).

Inhabiting has thus, albeit in a fragmented and dispersed way, truly established itself as a right over the course of costly struggles by segregated sectors of society in defiance of the dominant economic and political powers, always in order to promote their interests and ignoring, where possible, any force that goes against them or that stands in their way, regularly seen as the path of progress.

Inhabiting, in this sense, can be presented as a perception of the individual's place of life, not just linked to functional and elementary acts - which are identified with the notion of habitat - but as the human being's own relationship with their dwelling. According to Lefebvre, "the human being cannot fail to build and live, that is, to have a dwelling where he lives without something more (or less) than himself: his relationship with the possible as well as with the imaginary" (LEFEBVRE, 1999, p. 81).

This concept is echoed in the teachings of Milton Santos, in his work The Citizen's Space, in which the author teaches that the territory in which we live is more than just a space, a habitat with which we interact because we live there, it is also a symbolic fact, an amalgam of identity that is the result of the communion we have with that place (SANTOS, 2007).

Nabil Bonduki works in a similar vein in his work Origens da habitação social no Brasil (Origins of social housing in Brazil), in a specific study, but which can be extended to our point of study without prejudice. He emphasizes the importance of housing in people's lives, describing the centrality that the house has in their lives, "indispensable to the affirmation and success of the family". It is around it that the lives of those who live there are organized, often treating the space and its construction as if it were a trophy.

There is a great deal of sacrifice to obtain it, through the resources earned through work and the time spent living there. There is also the relationship that is built up by spending free time building the space and then creating a home and a way of life around that dwelling, a daily life that is intrinsically linked to and dependent on the domestic environment. "Nothing is more significant in this way of life than the observation of free time", the author continues, since human beings "build their homes in this way and (...) constitute the majority of city dwellers". Finally, he points out that "among the most common forms of entertainment are radio, television and visiting relatives, activities that take place in the family and at home (1998, p. 312).

It is in this sense that dwelling reveals itself as an element that forms diversity. It is from the intrinsic relationship between humans and the space they occupy - a relationship that will also occur with larger spaces, places that are simultaneously parts and all singular, the street, the community, the neighborhood, the city - that space will come to be perceived as an element with its own identity. By creating space, man brings part of his identity to his creation. The identity of space is thus an amalgam of the processes of creation, production and transformation it has undergone throughout its history.

The existence of identities intrinsic to each dwelling, each space, does not mean their division and fragmentation - although this does exist, but as a result of the productivist processes that stem from the obsession with generating capital - but indicates a systemic relationship between these different spaces. Contrary to the process of fragmentation, the identities of each place are maintained, not as a divided portion, but as a totality connected to the others. In this sense, the idea we want to explain here is that this fragmentation is not to be confused with the natural division that already exists between spaces, which have their own identity and are something complete but connected to other spaces at the same time, so they don't alienate people and help them to be aware of the whole production process.

In The Production of Space, Lefebvre divides the notions of space into "social space" and "space-nature". By space-nature, Lefebvre explains a potential for separation, because "space-nature juxtaposes, disperses; it places places next to each other, places and what occupies them. It particularizes" (LEFEBVRE, 2006, p. 87). On the other hand, "social space is the encounter, the meeting, the simultaneity" this force of union and concentration "implies the actual or possible meeting at a point, around this point" (Idem, p. 87).

In a harmonious way, Milton Santos works precisely in line with Lefebvrian concepts of the potential of space to unite and separate men. In Pensando o espaço do homem, Santos points out that this potential of social space can also be used, through the "development of productive forces", the "division of labor" and the production of space itself, to deepen class differences and segregation.

Within this logic centered on the production of wealth, although society comes together in the name of the production process, it alienates itself from it, isolating its perception from everything else, including itself and the individuals who make it up. It focuses almost exclusively on maintaining and increasing profit. The proximity between the people who make it up only serves the reproduction of the social structure to the extent that it is useful for capitalist activities, neglecting any attention outside these terms for quality human interaction, making the city a mere heap of human beings "isolated from each other" (SANTOS, 2007:2, p. 33). The organization centred on the efficient production of capital has eyes for human demands only to the extent necessary to preserve this efficiency. It doesn't matter that the people, the community, the city exist in a harmonious and healthy context, only that it produces and continues to increase this production.

Despite this constant conflict, it is important to remember that these interests are not the creators of this aggregating force and that, although it can be influenced, it is also an agent of influence. Space only serves capital to the extent that the people who occupy it give (or are forced to give) value to these egoistic and patrimonialist interests, so by turning the interests of the actors of that dwelling towards other interests (their own), they can transform the space in which they exist symbolically, philosophically and, above all, concretely, into a real factor of power at their service and no longer at the service of the capital that used to bend it.

This two-way relationship between dwelling and the forces that surround it is visible, between the space it contains and the space it contains, being influenced but also influencing in turn. This perception is very close to another dynamic, studied by Roland Robertson, when dealing with Glocalization and how the heterogeneity of places, locality, is not necessarily an antagonistic force, but a component and reproducer of globalization at some points (ROBERTSON, 1995, p. 26).

It will be in the next stages of this series, however, that we will try to draw a kind of multilateral parallel, continuing the simultaneous approach to the concept of Inhabiting and the Urban, but adding another vector of study, the notions, categories and concepts of theories dealing with the Global, the Local and the Glocal.


HÖLDERLIN, Friedrich. Anexo: No azul sereno.../In lieblicher bläue... Trad. Márcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback. In: HEIDEGGER, Martin. Ensaios e conferências. Tradução: Emmanuel Carneiro Leão, Givan Fogel e Márcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback. Pretrópolis: Vozes, 2002.

MARX, Karl. Manuscritos econômico-filosóficos. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2004.

LEFEBVRE, Henri. A revolução urbana. Tradução: Sérgio Martins. Belo Horizonte: UFMG, 1999.

SANTOS, Milton. O espaço do cidadão. 7 ed. São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo, 2007.

BONDUKI, Nabil Georges. Origens da habitação social no Brasil. Arquitetura moderna, Lei do Inquilinato e difursão da casa própria. – São Paulo: Estação Liberdade: FAPESP, 1998.

LEFEBVRE, Henri. A produção do espaço. Tradução: Doralice Barros Pereira e Sérgio Martins [s.l.]: [s:n], 2006. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 11 mar. 2024.

ROBERTSON Roland, 1995, Glocalization: Time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity, in Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash e Roland Robertson (orgs.), Global modernities. Londres, Sage Publications, pp. 25-44.

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