Teresa Caldeira’s research focuses on predicaments of urbanization and reconfigurations of spatial segregation and social discrimination, mostly in cities of the global south. She has been studying the relationships between urban form and political transformation, particularly in the context of democratization. Her work is interdisciplinary, combining methodologies, theories, and approaches from the different social sciences, and especially concerned with reshaping ethnographic methods for the study of cities.
Teresa Caldeira’s book City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo (University of California Press, 2000), won the Senior Book Prize of the American Ethnological Society in 2001. It analyzes the way in which crime, fear of violence, and disrespect of citizenship rights intertwine with urban transformations to produce a new pattern of urban segregation in a context of democratic consolidation. Focusing on São Paulo and using comparative data on Los Angeles, City of Walls suggests that the new pattern of urban segregation developing in these cities also appears in many metropolises around the world. This pattern is based on the construction of fortified enclaves and exemplifies the emergence of a new model of organizing social differences in urban space.
Teresa Caldeira’s two current research projects seek to investigate new formations of urban life and city space as they intersect with new technologies of the public, new forms of governance, and new paradigms of urban planning. The first project, in collaboration with James Holston, examines a shift in the paradigm of urban planning in Brazil that resulted from a three-decade long movement of urban reform. It focuses on recent urban policy and legislation and compares them to the previous model of modernist-developmentalist planning.
The second project analyzes a diverse range of public practices that are transforming the city of São Paulo and its public spaces and that articulate anew the profound social inequalities that have always marked the city. Over the last decade, Caldeira has undertaken ethnographic research to map these practices, including graffiti, pixação (tagging), rap, skateboarding, parkour, and motorcycling. She argues that these practices, articulated as both artistic production and urban performance, not only give the subaltern new visibility but also express new forms of political action that are contradictory: They affirm rights to the city while fracturing the public with aggressiveness and transgression; they expose discrimination but refuse integration. Thus, they require new conceptualizations of democratic public space and of the role of citizens in producing the city.
In 2012, she received a Faculty Mentor Award, Graduate Assembly, University of California, Berkeley.