Challenging Social Inequality

The Landless Rural Workers Movement and Agrarian Reform in Brazil

Challenging Social Inequality

Book Pages: 544 Illustrations: 45 illustrations Published: May 2015

Latin American Studies > Brazil, Politics > Political Science, Sociology > Labor

In Challenging Social Inequality, an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars and development workers explores the causes, consequences, and contemporary reactions to Brazil's sharply unequal agrarian structure. They focus on the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST)—Latin America's largest and most prominent social movement—and its ongoing efforts to confront historic patterns of inequality in the Brazilian countryside. Several essays provide essential historical background for understanding the MST. They examine Brazil's agrarian structure, state policies, and the formation of rural civil-society organizations. Other essays build on a frequently made distinction between the struggle for land and the struggle on the land. The first refers to the mobilization undertaken by landless peasants to demand government land redistribution. The struggle on the land takes place after the establishment of an official agricultural settlement. The main efforts during this phase are geared toward developing productive and meaningful rural communities. The last essays in the collection are wide-ranging analyses of the MST, which delve into the movement's relations with recent governments and its impact on other Brazilian social movements. In the conclusion, Miguel Carter appraises the future of agrarian reform in Brazil.

Contributors. José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, Sonia Maria P..P. Bergamasco, Sue Branford, Elena Calvo-González, Miguel Carter, Horacio Martins de Carvalho, Guilherme Costa Delgado, Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, Leonilde Sérvolo de Medeiros, George Mészáros, Luiz Antonio Norder, Gabriel Ondetti, Ivo Poletto, Marcelo Carvalho Rosa, Lygia Maria Sigaud, Emmanuel Wambergue, Wendy Wolford


"Carter’s 2015 volume is the most comprehensive and extensive treatment of the MST to date, bringing together prominent scholars that have been working with and conducting research on the MST over the past three decades." — Rebecca Tarlau, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"The interdisciplinary nature of the collection—featuring geographers, anthropologists, and sociologists, as well as political scientists—offers readers many well-researched, diverse theoretical perspectives on the largest social movement active in Latin America. The various chapters from Brazilian scholars will acquaint readers with first-rate social science scholarship that Carter himself translated from the original Portuguese. This volume is the most complete book on what can be considered Latin America’s most innovative social movement." — Anthony Pahnke, Perspectives on Politics

"[W]ell written, clearly organized, and based on significant and in-depth research conducted at different times and across politically and ecologically diverse places. Chapters are linked by a clear, shared focus on social inequality and a similar yet geographically and temporally grounded manifestation and analysis of problems and struggles.” — Cathy A. Rakowski, Rural Sociology

"Challenging Social Inequality shows disciplinary and scholarly breadth. . . . This volume—launched early in the [Worker's Party] decline—contributes greatly to post-2018 political debates and MST history writ large." — Travis Knoll, The Latin Americanist

"Many books have been written on Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), but [this book] deserves a special place for its extensive coverage of the manifold aspects of the MST." — Cristóbal Kay, Latin American Research Review

"Challenging Social Inequality is the most comprehensive study to date of the agrarian question in Brazil and of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers, the social movement that has challenged land concentration, social inequality, and poverty in Brazil since the mid-1980s. The contributors, most of whom are Brazilian, examine the movement's history, organization, and strategies, and its interaction with the state, political parties, and other social movements. In addition, Miguel Carter addresses complex and controversial issues in the introduction and conclusion, further expanding our understanding of contemporary Brazil." — Leslie Bethell, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford

"This collection offers as definitive a history of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers as is now possible. The contributors examine the movement's founding and rapid expansion in every state; its conflicts with landowners and political authorities; its methods, grassroots practices, and achievements in seeking to impart the arts of husbandry, equality, and democracy to the rural third of the nation, which is largely landless, hungry, and bereft of the means of citizenship. Challenging Social Inequality is a complete guide to a social movement of enormous importance, one comparable to the civil rights movement in the United States particularly with respect to its capacity to mobilize, raise consciousness, and bring about change." — Ralph Della Cava, Institute of Latin American Studies, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Miguel Carter is Founding Director of DEMOS - Centro para la Democracia, la Creatividad y la Inclusión Social, a new think tank based in Paraguay.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

List of Figures, Maps, and Tables xiii

List of Abbreviations xvii

An Overview / Miguel Carter xxiii

1. Social Inequality, Agrarian Reform, and Democracy in Brazil / Miguel Carter 1

Part I. The Agrarian Question and Rural Social Movements in Brazil

2. The Agrarian Question and Agribusiness in Brazil / Ghilherme Costa Delgado 43

3. Rural Social Movements, Struggles for Rights, and Land Reform in Contemporary Brazilian History / Leonilde Sérvolo de Medeiros 68

4. Churches, the Pastoral Land Commission, and the Mobilization for Agrarian Reform / Ivo Poletto 90

Part II. MST History and Struggle for Land

5. The Formation and Territorialization of the MST in Brazil / Bernardo Mançano Fernandes 115

6. Origins and Consolidation of the MST in Rio Grande do Sul / Miguel Carter 149

7. Under the Black Tarp: The Legitimacy and Dynamics of Land Occupations in Pernambuco / Lygia Maria Sigaud 182

8. From Posseiro to Sem Terra: The Impact of MST Land Struggles in the State of Pará / Gabriel Ondetti, Emmanuel Wambergue, and José Batista Conçalves Afonso 202

Part III. MST's Agricultural Settlements

9. The Struggle on Land: Source of Growth, Innovation, and Constant Challenge for the MST / Miguel Carter and Horacio Martins de Carvalho 229

10. Rural Settlements and the MST in São Paulo: From Social Conflict to the Diversity of Local Impacts / Sonia Maria P. P. Bergamasco and Luiz Antonio Cabello Noder 274

11. Community Building in an MST Settlement in Northeast Brazil / Elena Calvo-González 293

12. MST Settlements in Pernambuco: Identity and the Politics of Resistance / Wendy Wolford 310

Part IV. The MST, Politics, and Society in Brazil

13. Working with Governments: The MST's Experience with the Cardoso and Lula Administrations / Sue Branford 331

14. The MST and the Rule of Law in Brazil / George Mészáros 351

15. Beyond the MST: The Impact on Brazilian Social Movements / Marcelo Carvalho Rosa 375

16. Challenging Social Inequality: Contention, Context, and Consequences / Miguel Carter 390

Epilogue. Broken Promise: The Land Reform Debacle Under the PT Governments / Miguel Carter 413

References 429

Contributors 469

Index 473
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5186-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5172-6
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