based on field research in recife and rio de janeiro, this article attempts to demonstrate why the analysis of the demand for respect, a central point in the social and political discourse of poor brazilian city-dwellers, allows one to highlight a fundamental dimension in the meaning of democratic citizenship in modern societies. first, this demand indicates the importance of the attachment to respect and the denouncement of humiliation among low-income urban brazilians. second, it unveils the tension between hierarchy and equality. the article then goes on to evoke certain social and political representations among the populations studied, leading to questions about the relationship between moral life and the right to legal protection. finally, the article discusses how the importance ascribed to morality is relevant to contemporary discussion on the sociology of recognition.