Erick Omena de Melo

  • Erick de MeloErick Omena de Melo is originally from Brazil. He joined the School of the Built Environment as a research student in 2013. His thesis title 'The urban politics of sports mega-events: parallels between developments in the Global South and North'.

    How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

    My supervisors were doing research on the same subject that I was working with at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. They came to Brazil to do some fieldwork and happened to interview me. That's how I heard about Oxford Brookes. 

    What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

    The main reason for coming to Oxford Brookes University was the fact that my supervisors, Dr Sue Brownill and Professor Ramin Keivani, were already developing part of their studies on the impacts of sports mega-events in Rio de Janeiro and London. So there were good prospects for me to optimize my research by sharing experiences with them.

    What were you doing before?

    I was developing research for the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro on the impacts of sports mega-events in Brazil. 

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    The research environment is very diverse and international, so it was not a problem to settle into it. 

    Tell us about your research.

    How is power exerted by the state when confronted with dissent? How do dissenters try to confront state power? What are the differences found between the so-called global South and global North when considering those issues?  By exploring international cases of urban development projects associated with sports mega-events, this research presents some reflections to help answer these questions. 

    As such, the specific objectives of this study are 1) to understand what kind of strategies and tactics have been used by governments to minimise the action of groups unhappy with the impacts of urban developments associated with the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, 2) to understand the repertoire of strategies and tactics used by the affected groups to change the course of actions and extend their influence over the spatial planning and implementation of those projects and 3) to contrast the results found for different host cities situated in Global South and North countries.

    Empirical investigation is based on four different cases: the construction of the Olympic Parks for Rio 2016 and London 2012; and the regeneration projects related to the refurbishment of the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. These choices enable two axes of approach that are particularly relevant for the proposed objectives: a South-North comparison (Rio de Janeiro - London) and a South-South comparison (Rio de Janeiro - Johannesburg). Moreover, they also allow the minimisation of time differences between the cases, with all their planning and implementation processes fitting in the early 21st century.

    The methods consist of the application of around 15 semi-structured interviews for each case, which are divided between key representatives of state agencies, private companies, local communities and activist groups directly involved in the respective developments. Complimentary elements - such as projects, plans, institutional documents, manifestos and media files - are also used to build a solid evidence base through the triangulation of sources. This qualitative approach aims to identify the action patterns developed by the different groups disputing the outcomes of the planning arenas associated with each project.

    The theoretical framework provides tools to systematise and analyse the action patterns found. Generally speaking, this is divided in two fundamental levels. First, there is the tactical level, which concerns the day-to-day political practices of agents. That is, they are the concrete actions done by agents in order to either have a greater say or to curb the influence of other people over a project. Second, there is the strategic level, which has a more general long-term characteristic and permeates most of the actions overtime. These are trends that can be identified by using a more holistic view over the history of an agent’s behaviour.

    The analytical key to approaching the tactical level is the “forms of capital” framework, developed by Pierre Bourdieu.  The French sociologist shows how the struggle for social mobility is constrained by the power different people have to act, which is conditioned by their background. This is divided in at least three basic forms, i.e., economic capital, cultural capital and social capital. Economic capital - the most evident source of power - is the amount of material wealth one has, mainly represented by money and assets. Cultural capital concerns symbolic resources obtained either through formal educational processes, such as academic titles, diplomas and certificates, or via the embodiment of cultural practices associated with the upper classes, such as the way one speaks, behaves and uses one’s free time. Social capital consists of the personal connections one cultivates and benefits from through affiliation to formal or informal groups, such as clubs, associations, unions, etc.
    By using the “forms of capital” framework, the research codifies the actions taken by agents to intervene in the planning arenas investigated. For example, paying high compensation values to people negatively affected by development projects is a deployment of economic capital, whereas publicizing technical reports that legitimate certain claims is a deployment of cultural capital. This framework provides some advantages to the researcher. Firstly, it makes the different cases comparable, as the tactical repertoires emerging from distinct contexts can be assessed with the same parameters. Secondly, it highlights the predominance of some sorts of resource utilisation (i.e. capital investments) over others in certain contexts, opening further discussions about their respective contextual causes. Thirdly, it allows a more historical comprehension of political tactics played by agents, as their previous resource conditions are taken into consideration. 

    Meanwhile, the strategic level of actions is addressed through some reflections on the elementary forms of capitalist domination developed by Antonio Gramsci. He points out that state rulers exert their power in two fundamental ways: either through passive consent (hegemony), based on ideological domination of one class over the other, or through the use of coercive means (force). Whereas the former is exercised via ideological apparatuses in the “civil society” - such as the press, schools, churches and unions – which naturalise domination to the extent that the dominated passively accept it, the latter is exercised in different degrees of violence via state instruments of the “political society” such as legislation, judicial courts and the police.

    Adapting this framework and applying it to the development projects studied here enables the classification of the strategic leanings of actions deployed by state and civil society agents to intervene in the planning arenas. This is done by acknowledging the different levels and gradations of consent-seeking and enforcement tools used in the struggles over the planning and implementation of the respective urban interventions. For instance, the use of physical violence may be the coercive extreme of the spectrum, whereas persuasion through publicity and propaganda may be situated in the opposite end. Between both there may be a significant range of other strategic forms, such as legislative actions, co-optation, consultation, participation, etc. As mentioned above in relation to the tactical level, this framework also privileges a comparative point of view.

    Therefore, both theoretical approaches in conjunction allow a simultaneous micro and macro understanding of the main trends of actions emerging from the data collected in the empirical investigation of the four cases. A whole set of day-to-day tactical actions (for example: the publication of advocacy documents by activists and propagandistic material by state agencies) may have the same strategic inclination (in these examples: consent-seeking strategy within civil society). The operationalisation of that overall framework, in its turn, delivers a new methodological tool for the mapping and comparison of planning arenas. 

    Some contributions are expected from the results of this study. The need for more research focusing on issues of Global South cities, a claim emphatically made by leading urban scholars over the last years, may be addressed as the thesis delivers a better understanding of the particularities of urban governance dynamics in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg. Likewise, studies on sporting mega-events may also benefit from the reflections this research intends to explore, particularly with regard to the impacts caused by the recent trend of prioritizing cities from developing countries to host the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. The same can be said about discussions on the governance of these events and the eroding legitimacy of their promoters in European and North-American cities, a fact reflected by the recent withdrawal of Olympic bids by Boston, Stockholm, Oslo, Krakow, Hamburg, Munich and St. Moritz due to a lack of public support.   

    What do you enjoy about being a research student?

    Research is always good as you learn a lot and use it to create new knowledge. However, funding is always a challenge for researchers as fees are high, so you have to be good at raising funds as well.

    What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

    The research training offered by Brookes is good and the teachers are particularly competent. It is an important step in the study program as it enables us to reflect on research possibilities and improve the quality of our work. 

    What are your future plans?

    My future plans are to resume my university teaching and to continue developing research on related topics.