Back to top

Street Occupations

Street Occupations
Urban Vending in Rio de Janeiro, 1850–1925

Offering new perspectives on informal commerce and citizenship, this history explains how the transition from slavery to freedom both empowered and constrained the poor, black, and immigrant street vendors of Rio de Janeiro.

October 2017
Add to cart
216 pages | 6 x 9 | 12 b&w photos, 2 b&w maps |

Street vending has supplied the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro with basic goods for several centuries. Once the province of African slaves and free blacks, street commerce became a site of expanded (mostly European) immigrant participation and shifting state regulations during the transition from enslaved to free labor and into the early post-abolition period. Street Occupations investigates how street vendors and state authorities negotiated this transition, during which vendors sought greater freedom to engage in commerce and authorities imposed new regulations in the name of modernity and progress.

Examining ganhador (street worker) licenses, newspaper reports, and detention and court records, and considering the emergence of a protective association for vendors, Patricia Acerbi reveals that street sellers were not marginal urban dwellers in Rio but active participants in a debate over citizenship. In their struggles to sell freely throughout the Brazilian capital, vendors asserted their citizenship as urban participants with rights to the city and to the freedom of commerce. In tracing how vendors resisted efforts to police and repress their activities, Acerbi demonstrates the persistence of street commerce and vendors’ tireless activity in the city, which the law eventually accommodated through municipal street commerce regulation passed in 1924.

A focused history of a crucial era of transition in Brazil, Street Occupations offers important new perspectives on patron-client relations, slavery and abolition, policing, the use of public space, the practice of free labor, the meaning of citizenship, and the formality and informality of work.


Honorable mention for the Latin American Studies Association Brazil Section Humanities Book Award

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. Transition
    • Chapter 1. Between Slavery and Freedom
    • Chapter 2. A Policed Workplace
    • Chapter 3. Inventing a New Street Commerce
  • Part 2. Endurance
    • Chapter 4. A Detriment to the Law
    • Chapter 5. An Honest Occupation
    • Chapter 6. Vendors and the City Associate
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Glossary
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Acerbi teaches history at George Mason University and at the Latin American Youth Center. Her research has been published in the edited volume Street Vending in the Neoliberal City: A Global Perspective on the Practices and Policies of a Marginalized Economy and in the Journal of Urban History.


“[A] thoughtful study…[Acerbi] wonderfully describes the diversity of people involved in street commerce as well as their commercial practices…[Street Occupations] is a wonderful addition to recent studies on street vending.”
Journal of Latin American Studies

“This book makes a huge contribution to our understanding of street life and commerce in Rio de Janeiro and to the transition from flexible slavery to radically unequal freedom. Acerbi’s research is extensive and groundbreaking.”
Bryan McCann, Georgetown University, author of Hard Times in the Marvelous City: From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro


Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca