The spaces of luxury in global cities: The consumption and appropriation of São Paulo’s upscale malls by the elite and the poor

Viviane Riegel


According to Arjun Appadurai (1996), global flows are both economic and cultural, forming what he calls “scapes”: financescapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, ethnoscapes, and ideoscapes. Within these scapes, spaces are created and reproduced to give visibility to luxury lifestyles, creating the idea of a cosmopolitan city with places accessible only to a specific group of people, the upper classes. But the visibility of luxury through mediascapes promotes awareness of and desire for global fashion symbols by all social classes. The lifestyles of the wealthy attract more attention because of their travels to well-known international tourist cities and their greater interaction with people from other cultures, which allows them to develop an aesthetic perspective of cosmopolitanism (Cicchelli 2016). Among São Paulo’s landscapes, the Marginal Pinheiros zone has been developed since the 1990s as a modern business center connected to the global market and an area with a high concentration of luxury spaces for the internationally sophisticated elite. In this article, I discuss how elites in São Paulo project an image of the city as a cosmopolitan, global urban center, embodied in certain luxury spaces—notably, shopping malls restricted to the wealthy—and how thousands of impoverished, marginalized youths recently poured into these malls en masse to appropriate these luxury spaces and claim membership in the global city.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/708669