Social Cohesion: The Missing Link in Overcoming Violence and Inequality?

This study will adopt a groundbreaking approach to understanding and responding to urban violence in two cities: Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro. Researchers will test the hypothesis that social cohesion is a critical factor in understanding why violence happens and how to prevent it. Both Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town are characterized by high levels of violence and inequality, offering an ideal comparative framework for research. The two cities are also actively promoting two flagship initiatives that have been designed to reduce the levels of violence and inequalities: the "Pacifying Police Units" initiative in Rio de Janeiro and the "Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading" program in Cape Town. This research project will draw on a large body of knowledge on the role of social cohesion in reducing violence and inequalities to assess the effectiveness of these two initiatives in achieving their objectives. This research will address policymakers' needs for evidence on how well the two initiatives are working. It is expected to generate unprecedented levels of quantitative data to understand and map violent crime, inequality, and poverty in South Africa and Brazil. Researchers will break down the data by gender and neighbourhood in order to evaluate the patterns of spatial and gender-based deprivation in both cities. The quantitative data analysis will also triangulate several national data sets to understand the impact of the fear of crime on social cohesion and how this fear relates to patterns of inequality. The qualitative research will use innovative methodologies, including a participatory urban appraisal approach, which gives a voice to community members, and ethnographic social network analysis, to help map bonds between participants. This project is part of the Safe and Inclusive Cities (SAIC) research initiative designed to build an evidence base on the connections between urban violence, poverty, and inequalities. Jointly funded by IDRC and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, the SAIC program also seeks to identify the most effective strategies for addressing these challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Friday, December 21, 2012


32 months

IDRC Officer

Jennifer Salahub

Total funding

CA$ 499,600


Brazil, South Africa, United Kingdom, South America, West Indies


Governance and Justice, Safe and Inclusive Cities

Project Leader

Vanessa Barolsky


Human Sciences Research Council ZA

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website