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The Making of Resistance: Brazil’s Landless Movement and Narrative Enactment
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economic History.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3579-2143
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation explores the story of Brazil’s Landless Movement: its historiographical prequel, its narrative components, its modifications, its enactment. The study derives from a non-essentialist understanding of the resistance agent, here construed as political subject – a collective of individuals, contingently unified in a specific political struggle, not necessarily representing a mutual material need, nor a common identity. From the premise of political subject contingency, this dissertation sets out to explore resistance continuity. The empirical case is Movimento do Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST – commonly narrated as one of the world’s most longstanding and successful social movements, continuously navigating Brazil’s uneven politico-economic topography. The research problem concerns how to understand resistance continuity, from the non-essentialist notion of political subject contingency.

My approach is to examine the animate story of Brazil’s Landless Movement. The MST historiography encompasses a prequel to that story. An empirical analysis of ethnographic sources and Jornal Sem Terra (MST’s internal newspaper) suggests that the scene of this prequel, alike the MST story, takes place at the social margins of the Brazilian nation-state project. Historiographical events and characters portray a specific historical context – five centuries of resistance – in which the MST story is situated. With the terminology of historian Reinhart Koselleck, MST’s historiography hereby produces a space of experience: specific understandings of the past that assign meaning to contemporary activities, fueling socio-political advocacies, then projected onto a collective horizon of expectation.

The contours of the MST story are not exclusively drawn by MST participants, but also, as implied by my meta-analysis of 275 MST-related scholarly texts, by academic storytelling. Ethnographic and meta-analytical inquiries thus verify the narrative’s stabilizing function for political subject formation. Yet the MST story is also notably flexible. A corpus analysis of Jornal Sem Terra reveals substantial narrative changes between 1981 and 2013. The antagonist of the MST story shifts from the traditional large landowner towards export-oriented agrifood corporations. This antagonist shift parallels an increased emphasis on the small-scale farmer, downplaying the original narrative protagonist: the landless rural worker. What remains constant is the narrative plot – agrarian social conflict – which then allows insertion of different characters into the storyline. Stability of the narrative plot enables flexibility of the story’s main characters.

Yet such narrative flexibility eventually reaches a point where it jeopardizes the narrative’s stability-producing function. This accentuates the activity aspect of political subject formation. My empirical analysis of 18 focus groups, 14 individual interviews, and ethnographic observations, demonstrates that the MST story is continuously enacted, through confrontative and constructive resistance activities, thus reviving the narrative plot of agrarian social conflict. Hence, the MST story is not only revisited by movement participants, reinforced through their personalized storytelling, revised for more precise applicability, but also revived when recurrently enacted. The making of resistance, through animate storytelling and narrative enactment, fosters continuity of a contingent political subject.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Economic History, Stockholm University , 2017.
Keyword [en]
MST, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, peasant, Brazil, social movement, autonomy, constructive resistance, historiography, narrative, collective memory, identity, subject formation, focus group interview, corpus analysis, meta-analysis
National Category
Economic History
Research subject
Economic History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-136165OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-136165DiVA: diva2:1050747
Public defence
2017-01-23, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2016-12-27 Created: 2016-11-30 Last updated: 2017-02-10Bibliographically approved

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  • apa
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