Sustaining Activism

A Brazilian Women's Movement and a Father-Daughter Collaboration

Sustaining Activism

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: 26 photographs, 1 map Published: February 2013

Activism, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies > Brazil

In 1986, a group of young Brazilian women started a movement to secure economic rights for rural women and transform women's roles in their homes and communities. Together with activists across the country, they built a new democracy in the wake of a military dictatorship. In Sustaining Activism, Jeffrey W. Rubin and Emma Sokoloff-Rubin tell the behind-the-scenes story of this remarkable movement. As a father-daughter team, they describe the challenges of ethnographic research and the way their collaboration gave them a unique window into a fiery struggle for equality.

Starting in 2002, Rubin and Sokoloff-Rubin traveled together to southern Brazil, where they interviewed activists over the course of ten years. Their vivid descriptions of women’s lives reveal the hard work of sustaining a social movement in the years after initial victories, when the political way forward was no longer clear and the goal of remaking gender roles proved more difficult than activists had ever imagined. Highlighting the tensions within the movement about how best to effect change, Sustaining Activism ultimately shows that democracies need social movements in order to improve people’s lives and create a more just society.


“This slim book is free of academic jargon and instead exudes authenticity and positivity. The women's stories about their own histories and current circumstances are handled capably by the authors who acknowledge the interesting dynamics that play out as they interview women whose own fathers rarely let them leave the house or attend secondary school. High school and undergraduate students interested in Latin American politics and women's studies will especially find this intriguing and informative.” — Jennifer Stout, Library Journal

“[T]he book itself, a unique collaboration between distinct voices and perspectives, is a rich, thought-provoking, and surprisingly accessible addition to the study of democratic social movements.” — Maggie Carter, NACLA Report on the Americas

"This book is a rich source for students of anthropology, offering gems of advice..." — Charmain Levy, Social History

Sustaining Activism works precisely because in the context of examining a women’s movement the scholarly value added by a father-daughter team can offer new windows on to the theme. . . . Inevitably, a father will have a different understanding and approach to such themes to a daughter, and so, very cleverly, this duo have provided an extra layer of analysis that can only benefit the reader and scholarship more generally.”  — Eugene Carey, Latin American Review of Books

"This is scholarship that grew from productive and transparent 'circuitous dialogue' among father and daughter, women and men, activists and researchers, university settings and local schools, teachers and students, and professional colleagues and personal friends in both Brazil and the US. It is scholarship rich with nuanced insights but highly accessible to a non-academic audience. It speaks simultaneously to deeply political and deeply private issues, which is the point." — Susan Besse, Luso-Brazilian Review

"Sustaining Activism is a highly unusual book, full of rich insights and fun to read. Authored by a father and daughter, each with a distinct voice, it is a work of engaged ethnographic research that involved extraordinary collaboration both between the two authors and between the authors and a group of women activists in southern Brazil. In contrast with many social-movement scholars and activists, the authors acknowledge that social movements can be messy and contradictory. Their absorbing account is analytically and emotionally very powerful." — Marc Edelman, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

"Sustaining Activism opens an intimate window onto the personal and political forces that propel grassroots women's activism in rural southern Brazil. Just as the women of Ibiraiaras and Sananduva invited Emma and Jeff into their kitchens and meeting halls, so the unique father-daughter dialogue that unfolds in this sophisticated yet highly accessible book lets us into those women's lives. This singular collaborative ethnography will be a treasured resource for students, scholars, and all those wishing to 're-enchant' politics." — Sonia E. Alvarez, Leonard J. Horwitz Professor of Latin American Politics and Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"This absorbing book—combining history, politics, sociology, memoir—is ultimately beyond category, much like the individual activists in Brazil whom it traces. Unique individuals can and do join forces to make a movement, as the authors have joined forces to make this book. Jeffrey W. Rubin and Emma Sokoloff-Rubin, each a distinct voice within a father-daughter team, exemplify the complex unities they write about so eloquently." — Mary Jo Salter, poet and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

"There are few studies that can teach students as much about the benefits of engaged ethnography and taking seriously the complexities of social movements than Sustaining Activism." — María Elena García, Chair of Comparative History of Ideas Program and Associate Professor of International Studies and Comparative History of Ideas, University of Washington

"An instant classic—lyrical, bittersweet, and deeply insightful." — Heather L. Williams, Associate Professor of Politics, Pomona College

"Let there be no doubt: this is not only a terrific work of social science, it is also a wonderful way for students to imagine themselves in the role of researcher, contemplate the challenges of working across generational lines and against dominant expectations about how knowledge production works. Our students were fascinated and inspired." — José Antonio Lucero, Joff Hanauer Honors Professor and Chair of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Associate Professor at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington


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Price: $24.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jeffrey W. Rubin is Associate Professor of History at Boston University, where he is a Research Associate at the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs.

Emma Sokoloff-Rubin is a student at Yale University Law School. 

Table of Contents Back to Top
Emma's Preface ix

Jeff's Preface xi

Part I: Origins

1. Leaving Home / Emma 3

2. Transforming Southern Brazil / Jeff 16

3. Family Ties / Jeff 28

4. Gambling on Change / Emma 38

5. Fighting for Rights in Latin America / Jeff 50

Part II: The Enchantment of Activism

6. Holding Paradox / Emma 59

7. Six Meetings / Jeff 69

Gallery of Photos 87

8. Intimate Protest / Jeff 96

9. Demanding Speech and Enduring Silence / Emma 113

Part III: Moving Forward

10. "When You Speak of Changes" / Emma 123

11. Movements in Democracy / Jeff 136

Acknowledgments 161

Notes 167

Index 179
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5421-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5406-2
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