Patricia Acerbi is the winner of the 2014 Arnold Hirsch Prize for the best article published in 2013.
Patricia Acerbi’s essay, “’A Long Poem of Walking’: Flaneurs, Vendors, and Chronicles of Post-abolition Rio de Janeiro,” brings together social and cultural analysis to discuss the emergence of citizenship and modernity in Rio de Janeiro following the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the establishment of the first republic in 1889. Specifically, her essay provides a creatively fresh take on the concept of the flaneur — not as a product of European bourgeois anomie but as an engaged observer and translator of the emerging republican cityscape captured on daily walks through the city. In Acerbi’s account, the peddler — often a former slave or new immigrant — and the chronicler — the middle-class urban writer or literary journalist — embodied a new urban modern identity that was constantly in motion and formed through the quotidian encounters with the city as they moved between the center and margins of urban life. Rather than seeing these two figures as inhabiting worlds separated by distance, race, and class, Acerbi identifies them as Henri Lefebvre’s citadin — as citizens formed by their shared urban inhabitance. Republic officials did not regard these figures equally, however, as the vendor evoked the recent memory and history of slavery and was conceptually linked to urban problems that officials wished to contain or eradicate. As Acerbi points out, the chroniclers, whose literary and journalistic accounts of these urban denizens embraced their lives and work as a welcome adaptation of the traditional to the productive needs of the city, played a crucial mediating force in legitimizing them as urban laborers critical to the commercial and social life of the modern cityscape. By emphasizing these points, Acerbi’s article sheds light on and contributes to a better understanding of the emergence of alternative notions of urban citizenship in Latin America.
Patricia Acerbi is assistant professor of history at Russell Sage College. The full citation to her article is Patricia Acerbi, “’A Long Poem of Walking’: Flaneurs, Vendors, and Chronicles of Post-abolition Rio de Janeiro,” The Journal of Urban History 40 (January 2014): 97-115.
This text was provided by the UHA Prize Committee for the 2014 Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Article.