Constellations of Inequality: Space, Race, and Utopia in Brazil 9780226499437

Winner of the 2018 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Brazil Section Book Prize In 1982, the Brazilian Air Force

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Constellations of Inequality: Space, Race, and Utopia in Brazil

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Constellations of Inequality

Map of Alcântara and Brazil The area marked “Recognized Quilombo Territory” is the 78,100 hectares recognized as quilombo territory by Brazil’s federal government since 2008 (INCRA 2008b)—­although resi­ dents have not been given the promised title to the land. The area overlaps with the 62,000 hectares marked “Claimed for Spaceport,” which was claimed by federal and state decrees. Representatives of Alcântara’s communities have also made a claim to the 8,713 hectares pictured as “Expropriated for spaceport” (Nova Cartografia Social da Amazônia 2015).

Constellations of Inequality Space, Race, and Utopia in Brazil

S ean T . M itc h e l l

The University of Chicago Press  Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2017 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact the University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. Published 2017 Printed in the United States of America 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17   1 2 3 4 5 ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­226-­49912-­3 (cloth) ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­226-­49926-­0 (paper) ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­226-­49943-­7 (e-­book) DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226499437.001.0001 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Mitchell, Sean T., author. Title: Constellations of inequality : space, race, and utopia in Brazil / Sean T. Mitchell. Description: Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017019616 | ISBN 9780226499123 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780226499260 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780226499437 (e-book) Subjects: LCSH: Quilombos—Brazil—Alcântara—Government relations. | Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara. | Economic development projects—Political aspects—Brazil—Alcântara. | Launch complexes (Astronautics)—Brazil—Alcântara. | Alcântara (Brazil)—Race relations. | Alcântara (Brazil)—Social conditions. | Blacks—Land tenure—Brazil— Alcântara. | Equality—Brazil—Alcântara. Classification: LCC F2651.A34 M583 2017 | DDC 305.800981/21—dc23 LC record available at ♾ This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-­1992

(Permanence of Paper).

For Saya and Aya

Contents Acknowledgments ix Introduction: Relaunching 1 Mimetic

Alcântara  1

Convergence and Complementary Hierarchy  23

2 Alcântara

in Space and Time  54


Interpreting an Explosion  76


Expertise and Inequality  96


Racialization and Race-­Based Law  115


The Making of Race and Class  136


Space at the Edge of the Amazon  157

Conclusion: Space and Utopia  176 Chronology 187 Abbreviations 195 Notes 197 Works Cited 215 Index 245

Acknowledgments To begin these acknowledgments, I affirm the cliché that many people contributed to this work, but its flaws belong only to me. Yet, despite the efforts of many people who have helped me develop this book, over the very long period I have taken to write it, I have gone through many solitary and ornery periods and had long, difficult periods of travel. So, my first thanks go to those who have supported me and put up with me during lengthy research, writing, and revision: my wife, Saya Woolfalk, and my daughter, Aya Woolfalk Mitchell, born in 2011 as this research was ongoing. Many scholars have commented on the work here and helped me in different ways. I ask them to forgive this impersonal list, which cannot do justice to the profound help each has given me. I begin with some of those scholars and friends whom I worked with principally outside of Brazil: Greg Beckett, Merle Bowen, Brian Brazeal, Kim Butler, Je­ remy Campbell, Lucia Cantero, Celso Castilho, Nicole Cas­ tor, Marina Cavalcanti, Mike Cepek, Beth Conklin, Aimee Meredith Cox, Alex Dent, Jonathan Devore, James Fergu­ son, Nicole Fleetwood, John French, João Gon­çalves, Sid Greenfield, Joe Hankins, Elina Hartikainen, Angie Heo, Jan Hoffman ­French, Bea Jauregui, Ben Junge, Don Kalb, Charles Klein, Micaela Kramer, Rocio Magana, Kathleen Millar, Gladys Mitchell-­Walthour, Marko Monteiro, Mihir Pandya, Vânia Penha-­Lopes, Patricia Pinho, Erika Robb-­Lar­kins, Stuart Rocke­ feller, Jennifer Roth-­Gordon, Stephen Scott, Jesse Ship­ley, Irene Silverblatt, Lisa Simeone, LaShandra Sul­livan, Ka­ren Sykes, and Jeremy Walton. There are many more, and I apologize for their absence here. ix

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My friend Aaron Ansell deserves special mention because we have had so many enriching conversations (and disagreements) about anthropology and Brazil that have shaped this book deeply. John Collins (who gave up his anonymity) and another anonymous reviewer engaged by the University of Chicago Press each made brilliant and extensive comments on the entire manuscript. Cassie Fennel and Sarah Muir, each of whom is a great friend and generous reader of drafts, helped me brainstorm for a title when I was working with such less-­than-­satisfying alternatives as Space and Race and Contradictions of Convergence. I was on the verge of giving up when Cassie hit upon the far superior Constellations of Inequality. At Rutgers-­Newark, I have benefited from wonderful colleagues. I thank Sherri-­Ann P. Butterfield, Aldo Civico, Ira Cohen, Christopher Duncan, R. Brian Ferguson, Clayton Hartjen, Carol E. Henderson, Alex Hinton, Nicole M. Butkovich Kraus, Jamie Lew, Jan Lewis, S. Priyadarsini, Isaias Rojas-­Perez, Gary Roth, Kurt Schock, Genese Sodikoff, and Dawn Wilson. Diana Catarino at Rutgers-­Newark transcribed interviews for the book. Michael Siegel, the staff cartographer at Rutgers, did a fantastic job of designing the map that serves as the frontispiece. The woodblock print on the cover is titled Vôo de Alcântara and was created by the wonderful Maranhense artist Airton Marinho. I thank him for allowing me to use the image. The project first took form when I was a graduate student at the Uni­ versity of Chicago, where I was advised by the brilliant Jean Comaroff, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, John D. Kelly, Joseph Masco, and Dain Borges. The mentoring by Michel-­Rolph Trouillot, John Comaroff, Michael Silverstein, George Stocking, and Kesha Fikes was also an essential part of my intellectual development at Chicago. Ana Maria Lima taught me in which I became very confident—­ and, in her laugh-­ a-­ Portuguese—­ minute Portuguese classes, made my early graduate school years not only bearable but fun. I also dearly thank Anne Ch’ien, in Chicago’s anthropology department, for her enormous support. In Brazil, Carlos Fausto, my advisor when I was based at the Museu Nacional, was an extraordinary mentor and friend. I benefited there from conversations with Lygia Sigaud, Federico Neiburg, and João Pacheco de Oliveira. Antônio Sérgio Guimarães has also been generous with comments on some of my work. Thaddeus Blanchette, Ana Paula da Silva, and Clarice Rios are always generous with their knowledge of Brazil and their hospitality in Rio de Janeiro. In Rio, I have also benefited greatly from working with Bruno Pacheco, Janine Targino, and Adalberto Car­ doso. Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida, with his brilliance, knowledge x

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of Maranhão and the Amazon, and political commitment, has been a model of scholarship and social action. I have also learned a great deal in conversation with Maristela de Paula de Andrade, Benedito Souza Filho, Carlos Aparecido Fernandes, José Maurício Arruti, and Cynthia Carvalho Martins. Patricia de Menezes Cardoso and Leticia Osorio helped me understand networks of NGOs in Brazil. Colonel Muniz Costa was generous in his comments and critiques of a very early version of what became parts of chapters 3 and 4, helping make my understanding of the Brazilian military much subtler. In São Luís, I have been fortunate to enjoy the hospitality and camaraderie of Rosenilde Rodrigues Ferreira. Jô Brandão is another great friend in São Luís, with a vast knowledge of Brazil’s social movements. Patrícia Portela Nunes, a close friend and intellectual partner, has helped me both understand and enjoy Maranhão. Brian Mier was often the first person I called when I arrived from the interior in São Luís, and he made the city a lot more fun. Neither of us lives in Maranhão anymore, but he remains one of my most knowledgeable and insightful sources about Brazilian politics. Zé Maria Medeiros, Jose Domingos Moreira Ferrao, Helénio Martins, Franz Gistelinck, Maria Ribamar Martins, and João Tavares all gave support and friendship in São Luís. In São Luís and Alcântara, MABE, STTR, MOMTRA, ACONERUQ, and CONAQ all provided invaluable information and institutional support. I owe enormous thanks to so many people in the town of Alcântara: Servulo de Jesus Moraes Borges is and, I hope, will remain a close friend. His wife, Eliete Cavalcanti, is a trusted friend who transcribed many of my interviews. Francinete Pereira da Cruz also transcribed many interviews and has consistently kept me informed about goings-­on in Alcântara. Nildo Araújo, Milena da Cruz, Ana Benedita Ferreira, Dionaldo Ferreira, Samuel Moraes, Cerliangela de Fátima Oliveira, Edivan Ferreira Oliveira, Jucelina Ferreira Oliveira, Aniceto Araújo Pereira, Maria Ribamar Silva Pereira, Elis “Leia” Regina, Vicente Amaral Rodrigues, Naires Ramos Rodriguez, Vilsom Araújo Serejo, and Wilson all provided support, friendship, and knowledge in Alcântara. I was received warmly throughout the villages of Alcântara’s interior. I owe great thanks to people in the villages of Mamuna, Samucangaua, Baracatatiua, Aguas Belas, Brito, Canelatiua, Castelo, Espera, Itamatatiua, Itapera, Maruda, Pepital, Peru, Prainha, Manival, Rio Grande, Santa Maria, São Mauricio, Só Assim, and others. I wish, in particular, to thank Tátila Cristina Silva Diniz, Inalado Faustino Silva Diniz, Inácio Silva Diniz, Luzia Silva Diniz, Danilo Serejo Lopes, Valdirene Ferreira Mendonça, Dorinete de Moraes, Ana Lourdes Diniz Pereira, Walmir Gomes Rabelo, xi

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José Werbert Ramos Ribeiro, Lúcia Rodrigues, Eulina Pinho Silva, Leandra de Jesus Silveira, and Maria de Loudes Siva. In the village of Mamuna, there are a number of people to whom I owe particular thanks. Sergio Augusto Diniz, Joana Batista Barbosa Diniz, Cipriano Pio Diniz, Cloris Nila Gabriela Diniz, and Antonio Sabino Fer­ reira Silva were generous with their friendship and with their knowledge. The family of Maria de Fátima Ferreira, in particular, took me in with great warmth. Writing these words in the seemingly vastly different world of New York City, I can’t think of a place that I’d rather be than her family’s house; thanks to Fátima herself, and to Tenorio dos Anjos Pereira, Idenildo Ferreira Pereira, and Tatiana Ferreira Pereira. This work was, at different times, made possible by funding from Ful­bright-­Hays, the National Science Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, the Center for Latin American Studies and Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, the Rutgers Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs, and the Rutgers Center for Latin American Studies. My writing and thinking were aided by support from the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago; the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame; the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis; and the Rutgers Institute for Research on Women; and by a residency at the Wertheim Study of the New York Public Library. I am grateful to the University of Chicago Press, which has been extremely supportive in this project. I have had the good fortune to have two wonderful editors there. I first submitted this manuscript to T. David Brent, who retired in December 2016 but still gave me many insightful comments. The project was taken over by Priya Nelson, who is a brilliant reader and interlocutor. Dylan J. Montanari, Kristen Raddatz, and Christine Schwab have also been highly supportive. Robert McCarthy did a fantastically careful copyedit of the book. A version of chapter 3 was previously published in the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology; chapter 4 in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies Working Paper Series; and chapter 6 in Focaal—­ Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. I thank those publications for allowing me to edit and use those materials. I also thank the Estado do Maranhão newspaper for allowing me to reproduce an image from that newspaper. My in-­laws, Harold and Shigeko Woolfalk, have also given me constant support, as have my brother and sister-­in-­law, Nick and Lauren Mitchell, and their two children, Lila and Ben.


A c k n o w l e d g ments

In so many ways (more than just the obvious ones), this work would have been impossible without my mother and father. My father, Wil­ liam P. Mitchell, a colleague anthropologist, is by far my best interlocutor and critic, and his influence is evident throughout these pages. His partner, Barbara Jaye, has also been a crucial source of support for me. I can’t imagine a more sharp-­eyed proofreader than my mother, Daphna Mitchell; any errors and clumsy prose in this book were, I assure you, inserted after she looked at it or against her urging.


1.  Porto do Jacaré

Fishing vessels docked at the Porto do Jacaré, Alcântara’s principal entry point. In the back­ ground stand eighteenth-­and nineteenth-­century houses, remnants of Alcântara’s brief pe­ riod of slave-­labor-­fueled opulence.

Introduction: Relaunching Alcântara Inequality never stands merely as fact, as the way things are or the way things are done: it requires moral reinforcement in collective beliefs. What beliefs and of what sort depends on place and history. 

Karen E. Fields and Barbara

J . F i e l d s , R a c e c r a f t: T h e S o u l o f I n e q u a l i t y i n A m e ri c a n Li f e

A Space Cavalry In 1982, a Brazilian air force team arrived on a mangrove-­ lined stretch of coast where Brazil’s dry northeast finally gives way to Amazon forest, carrying with them plans to build Brazil’s satellite launch base. The ruling military regime would give up power just a few years later, in 1985. However, when the team arrived, the nation’s military-­industrial base was surging with an export boom that continued until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.1 The peninsula of Alcântara, the site of the proposed spaceport, was once a wealth-­generating hub in an eighteenthand nineteenth-­ century cotton economy that imported enslaved people from Africa and exported raw material to England’s industrializing mills. Over a long period, after global demand for its cotton plummeted during the 1820s, however, it became one of Brazil’s poorest regions. Reports from the period when the air force arrived give a sense of how the place was viewed by those in charge of the air force team. With its garden plots and fruit trees growing from faded but regal stone plazas; its shoeless children playing on the worn cobblestone built from centuries-­old Portuguese 1


ballast; its countryside of villagers living in wattle-­and-­daub homes, sub­ sisting on fishing, gathering, and swidden horticulture; and, in the words of the director of the air force’s technical team, “tribal rituals”2 coexisting with battery-­powered “FM radios,” to these newcomers, Alcântara seemed to possess “a way of life . . . already on the verge of  col­lapse” (Lopes 1986). The air force would help it collapse and would, they promised, build something better. The team and later representatives spoke of a new era of riches, progress, and development, sparking great local excitement, but also some resistance. In 1982, Alcântara’s only electricity was provided by a generator that ran in the evenings and did not extend beyond the peninsula’s small town center. Alcântara’s interior possessed no telephones, and many villages were inaccessible to the area’s few automobiles. Many on and off the peninsula envisioned progress in the expansion of these amenities. But it was principally by foot, by sea, and by battery-­powered radio that news quickly spread throughout the peninsula that the air force would hire a number of young men. As one of those recruits told me thirty-­two years later, “everyone wanted to be part of the new project; for a kid like me with no expectations of education or travel, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.” Thirty young men were flown some nineteen hundred miles south to São José dos Campos, the heart of Brazil’s military-­and high-­tech-­industrial complex, and trained to travel Alcântara’s densely forested terrain on horseback to prepare villages for a land expropriation that would reshape life in the region and clear the ground for Brazil’s spaceport. Those young men were, as the colonel in charge exulted to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper in 1986, “the first space cav­ alry in history” (cited in C. A. Fernandes 1998, 47). During 1986 and 1987, the air force and its “space cavalry” of local young men moved some fifteen hundred villagers to air-­force-­built agricultural villages (agrovilas), with individual household land plots to substitute for collective swidden fields, enabling the initial construction of the base that was completed in 1990. In the decades since 1982, however, these promises and utopian visions have blurred into complex and harsh reality, setting in motion land conflicts, ethnoracial transformations, com­ peting Brazilian space programs, suborbital-­launch success, deadly satellite launch failure, suspicions of sabotage, international intrigue, and, al­ ways—­in this famously unequal country with long-­standing ambitions to international power—­conflicts over inequality. I cover a lot of ground in this introduction and book. So, before I pro­ ceed, I lay out a few signposts to make what follows as clear as possible. The land expropriation for the spaceport did not eliminate local pov2

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erty; it exacerbated it. Mostly self-­sufficient coastal villagers were resettled in inland agrovilas, with insufficient resources and support, so that they became dependent on meager and sporadic wage labor. Since the construction of the base, other villages have been slated for expropriation but, through political struggle, have held on to their land. A com­ plex land conflict continues to simmer in Alcântara. But conflicts there have changed. Once principally represented by a Rural Workers’ Union emphasizing class, politicized residents of Alcântara have come to mobilize around a clause in Brazil’s 1988 constitution that requires that the state grant land rights to quilombo (escaped-­slave) descended communities, emphasizing ethnoracial history and identity. One of the major topics of this book is the transformation in local conceptions of race, ethnicity, and inequality that have accompanied this change in political strategy and representation. Additionally, when the spaceport was built, it was part of a nationalist project to make Brazil a world power. But the military space program in Alcântara has had limited success, and has come to compete with profit-­seeking and internationally focused space projects, generating a significant nationalist backlash. These different projects for space travel put the site at the center of conflicts about the development of the Brazilian nation-­state in an unequal international context, another topic of this book. The struggles of villagers and the spaceport are situated side by side in space and time. But beyond this empirical proximity, through analysis of these different conflicts, this book offers an analysis of Brazil’s politics of inequality at multiple scales: local, national, and global. These inequalities at different scales—­and the ways they are concep­ tualized—­have changed over time. How and why they have changed is the unifying thread in the pages that follow. The ethnography and analysis in this book reveal how Brazil’s politics of inequality have transformed since the spaceport was conceived and demonstrate the utility of an ethnographic approach to understanding the relationships between inequal­ ity and politics. This book also shows how the political forms that mate­ rial inequality takes—­the solidarities, utopias, and forms of consciousness that it can generate—­are historically and culturally variable. Economic analysis, though crucial to understanding inequality, is not enough to un­ derstand how inequalities are rendered political. For that, we need ethno­ graphic and historical analysis. Economic analysis is not enough because inequalities are never simply economic facts. All human inequalities generate both structures of legitimation and utopias of redress: historically specific patterns that maintain and reproduce forms of subordination and others through which 3


challenges to subordination can be imagined and enacted. This book is about inequality and its reproduction, but it is also about the fate of various ways in which inequality’s challenge has been imagined and put into place. Alcântara’s conflicts offer a wide vantage on how structures of legitimation and utopias of redress have changed in the recent history of a nation so well-­known for economic disparity that “Brazilification” is often used as a global shorthand for widening inequality (Mitchell, Blanchette, and Silva, n.d.). By “utopias of redress,” I do not mean to imply that the projects I describe here are necessarily unachievable—­part of the “no-­place” implicit in the term utopia’s etymology.3 Like all political and technological projects, those arrayed in Alcântara contain a utopian element—­whether their protagonists acknowledge so or not—­because they presume a vision of the good, of the desirable. Particular utopian visions may or may not be reachable, but they are inevitably premises and goals—­even if unarticulated ones—­of political and technological projects.4 Such projects may be petty, self-­interested, and enacted without much thought to any conception of the common good. However, even the pettiest political or technological project presumes, to some degree, a utopian kernel: a vision of how social and material relations ought to be structured. Dating from 1961, Brazil’s space program was conceived as a project of First World catch-­up, imagined to contest global inequalities in the Cold War era of Sputnik and Apollo, when inequalities between states were measured at that most utopian and far-­reaching scale of extraterrestrial conquest. In the 1990s, however, this project of nationalist convergence with the First World encountered a neoliberal civilian competitor that emphasizes profit-­seeking projects at the spaceport. Neoliberalism, as I argue in chapter 3, is a political ideology that presents itself as quintessentially anti-­utopian—­interested not in the desirable but only in the possible, hemmed in by the supposedly unchangeable constraints of eco­ nomic law and human nature. But this simply obscures neoliberal­ism’s utopianism, its vision of the good.5 The establishment of the spaceport in Alcântara was also conceived as a utopian plan to modernize and improve local life there.6 And in the years since that implantation, in the face of the failure of the agrovila utopia, many locals have come to embrace Afro-­Brazilian history and identity as the cornerstone of their claims for rights of well-­being and citizenship, a utopian bid for justice in a society of monstrous inequality. The major research for this book took place during good years for Brazil. Under the 2003–­2016 leadership of a once-­socialist political party—­


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the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, Workers’ Party)—­and as an economic boom, social programs, and rising wages made a major dent in poverty and raised Brazil’s international profile, the nation was extolled around the world as demonstrating the possibility of the “convergence” of global rich and poor without major social upheaval (Cohen 2011). This idea of convergence plays an important role in this book. The utopia of convergence of rich and poor through state-­led development was the promise of both socialist and capitalist states during the Cold War (Ferguson 2006, 177) and of the undertaking of the Alcântara spaceport. Although this promise of  global convergence fell from international prom­ inence after the Cold War (Coronil 1997, 385; Ferguson 2006), it made a brief early twenty-­first-­century reappearance in many foreign accounts of Brazil’s successes. Another iteration of convergence underlies the once-­ dominant development strategy in Brazil (and elsewhere in Latin America) of “whitening” the nation through immigration and mixture (Andrews 2004; Borges 1993; M. C. da Cunha 1985; Dávila 2003; Guimarães 2012; Hanchard 1994; Schwarcz 1999; Skidmore 1993b). But, for reasons I ana­ lyze in this book, this racist version of convergence has also become sig­ nificantly weakened in twenty-­first-­century Alcântara and Brazil. None of these forms of convergence was in the cards; major social upheaval was. Amid an economic downturn, Brazil’s long-­simmering con­ flicts over inequality exploded nationally with massive protests in Brazil’s cities in 2013 and the eventual coup d’état–­like removal of the PT from power by right-­wing forces in 2016 ( Jinkings, Cleto, and Doria 2016). This book shows how Brazil has been riven by conflicts over inequality, even as these conflicts were briefly obscured during the economic boom years of the first decade of the twenty-­first century.

Inequality at Multiple Scales The seeds of the region’s contemporary politics were planted when free Afro-­Brazilian and mixed-­race villages began to form throughout Alcântara after around 1818 (Almeida 2006a, 2006b; Furtado 1959), as the re­ gion’s slave-­based cotton economy declined. This was long before slavery’s abolition in 1888. Some of those pioneering villagers were quilombolas, living in quilombos. Historically, a quilombo was a community of people who had escaped slavery in Brazil, although the meaning of the term has changed in ways this book explores. As a noun, the word quilombola refers to people who are members of a quilombo. Quilombola can also be used



adjectivally, as to describe the social movement that has become central to Alcântara’s politics, Movimento Quilombola (Quilombo Movement).7 Following abolition, the residents of the region developed a rural society rooted in collective swidden horticulture, fishing, and commercial and kin ties across the bay, in the state capital, São Luís. During this pe­ riod, the region was of little interest to national elites, except as an equa­ torial historic outpost with a small tourist industry. The region’s fate changed in 1980, when a state governor allied to Brazil’s military regime (1964–­1985) claimed much of Alcântara’s coast by decree to construct the principal spaceport of the nation’s fledgling space program. Conceived to make Brazil a world power in an era when major symbolic and material disputes over national prestige and inequal­ ity between states were waged through domination of space technology, the project was also supposed to modernize a region understood by planners as mired in the past. Yet no satellite has yet been launched successfully from the site, and the air force’s modernization plan mostly succeeded in exacerbating local poverty and depleting farmland. In 2016, two launchpads stand on the 8,713 hectares that were cleared by the air force. One launchpad, rebuilt after a deadly 2003 explosion, belongs to the air force. The other is civilian and profit-­focused, built for Alcântara Cyclone Space, a Ukrainian-­Brazilian consortium that disbanded in 2015. Some still plan to use its launch infrastructure for other profit-­focused launch projects. Each of these launch projects institutionalizes different visions of the role a Brazilian space program should play in an unequal world, two visions of Brazilian development that compete at many lev­ els in Brazilian society: the first a military-­nationalist vision, the second a neo­liberal one. Rural residents of the region, supported by a wide network of allies, have also struggled to create a better position for themselves in a deeply unequal context. In the early years of the conflict, a Rural Workers’ Union was the principal institution representing locals, and a perception of eco­ nomic exclusion informed the political projects of villagers and their allies. This economic focus has changed as villagers have come to depend on an ethnoracial defense of their rights, a gradual change that began in the late twentieth century. In a clause generally glossed as the “Quilombo Clause,” the Brazilian constitution of 1988, promulgated after military rule, required that the state grant inalienable land rights ( propriedade definitiva) to quilombo-­descended communities (remanescentes das comu­ nidades dos quilombos). The national quilombo movement that formed in the years since has become the most important representative of Alcântara’s residents.8 Over years of struggle, many in Alcântara have come 6

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to embrace and reinterpret quilombo and Afro-­Brazilian identities that had not been the key categories of political mobilization during Alcântara’s post-­abolition history. Spurred by opportunities opened by the Quilombo Clause, by the work of activists and intellectuals, by the increasing symbolic and juridical power of identity-­based politics in the post–­Cold War world, and by their changing social and material circumstances, residents of Alcântara have transformed local conceptions and relations of identity and inequality, making race and history key terms of citizenship and belonging. The many changes during this period in Alcântara have also helped to chip away at relations of patronage between villagers and local elites, while building villager alliances with far-­flung lawyers, intellectuals, politicians, and activists. I partially intend this book for those who want to understand the fraught social life of Brazil’s spaceport and the area’s residents, and how Brazil’s politics of race, inequality, and development have changed over recent decades. However, this is not a conventional book about inequality. Recent transformations to Brazil’s political and economic inequality have been the subject of much worthy recent scholarship (e.g., Arretche 2015; Medeiros, Souza, and Castro 2015; Pochmann 2014; Souza and Grillo 2009). My overarching concern here is with the relationship between inequality and political consciousness—­or how people come to understand and act upon the unequal conditions in which they find themselves. What people understand inequality to be, how they conceptualize its nature and how it can or cannot be (or should or should not be) transformed are cultural and historical matters as much as material ones. This book demonstrates the profound political consequences of the differing ways in which people conceptualize inequality and its redress, and how these conceptualizations are not merely the predictable result of economic or social indicators. People shape conceptualizations of inequality and its redress through political action as they draw on their understanding of historical knowledge, current realities, and fu­ ture possibilities. I draw here on E. P. Thompson’s insight that economic models cannot yield “ ‘true’ class formation[s]” or class consciousness. “No actual class formation in history is any truer or more real than any other, and class defines itself as, in fact, it eventuates” (1978, 150). Similar conclusions can be drawn about race, ethnicity, gender, or conceptions of national or regional development. All these conceptual categories, used at times to think about inequalities at different scales (i.e., between individuals, groups, and nation-­states), are shaped historically through cultural and material processes. How they manifest and are understood by historical 7


actors is never given simply by material conditions but by means of pro­ cesses that must be uncovered through historical and ethnographic work. As Barbara and Karen Fields argue in their searing attack on racial common sense in the United States, “inequality never stands merely as fact, as the way things are or the way things are done: it requires moral reinforcement in collective beliefs” that are always historically specific, although they are seldom recognized as such (2012, 277). Moreover, just as the terms of inequality’s legitimation are historically specific, so are the terms of its contestation. The utopias that generate projects of redress and escape from unequal relations are as historically variable as inequal­ ity’s moral justifications. The activists, politicians, scientists, bureaucrats, anthropologists, hor­ ticulturalists, and others who appear in the pages of this ethnography are participants in an encounter of a high-­technology project of global transcendence with the long-­exploited residents of a poverty-­stricken region of Brazil. In their political struggles, social activity, and technoscientific work, all these actors must confront questions about inequality at multiple scales, and about what is to be done.

Inequality and Equilibrium Throughout this book, I analyze Brazil’s changing politics of race. I begin here with perhaps the most canonical and controversial text about race in Brazil. In a famous passage of Gilberto Freyre’s Casa Grande e Senzala,9 this sociologist from northeastern Brazil writes that the “potential of Brazilian Culture lies in the wealth of antagonisms in equilibrium” (1933, 415). Freyre’s book is most often read as a founding charter for the myth of Brazilian “racial democracy,” the idea that race relations in Brazil are more harmonious than in other societies constituted through the enslavement of Africans by Europeans, particularly the United States. This “myth of racial democracy” was central to Brazilian nationalism during much of the twentieth century, but subsequently has faced withering cri­ tique (Hasenbalg 1979; F. Fernandes 1965; Hanchard 1994), as I discuss in chapter 6. Today, this once-­dominant idea of harmonious racial hierar­ chy is frequently challenged by intellectuals and by popular race-­based political movements, such as those in Alcântara, and is no longer central to most elite and some popular versions of Brazilian nationalism. Even so, the idea of racial democracy retains some popular currency in the related idea that Brazilian race relations are especially tolerant of ambiguity and


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complexity, an idea that remains influential in Brazilian scholarship and politics (DaMatta 1987; Fry 2005; on this see S. T. Mitchell 2017b). Freyre’s related idea that Brazilian society is constituted by an “equi­ librium of antagonisms” (equilíbrio de antagonismos), antagonisms that are balanced and therefore at an impasse, has received less attention than “racial democracy,” even though this latter phrase does not appear in Freyre’s most famous works (Guimarães 2005). “Equilibrium of antagonisms” captures better than “racial democracy” the tensions between Freyre’s romanticized (and eroticized) rendering of racial domination and his vivid descriptions of its violence. For Freyre, Brazilian society was characterized by the precarious balance between opposed elements: masters and the enslaved; intimacy and violence; formal and informal; African, Amerindian, and European cultures; and, most crucially for this book, blacks, whites, indigenous people, and a spectrum of ambiguous mestiços. Mestiços resisted absorption into those more transparently re­ ified categories of black, white, and indigenous. This situation differed from the United States (Andrews 1996), where the “one-­drop rule” socially categorizes children of black and white parentage as black ( Jordan 2014; Khanna 2010), and the notion of “blood quanta” mathematically delimits Native American membership through an ancestry calculation (Spruhan 2007). In Freyre’s Brazil, none of these opposed forces is ever quite able to vanquish the others, to break out into open conflict, or to lose “its most specific identity” (1933, 415; see also Araújo 1994). As I show in chapter 2, the vision of racial mixture that Freyre helped popularize often presumed the disappearance of Afro-­descendent and indigenous Brazilians; Freyre’s equilibrium is not without its contradictions. But equilibrium of antagonisms evokes the precariously balanced antagonistic forces of Alcântara’s contemporary impasse, as we will see. Alcântara is the site of many such antagonisms, seemingly suspended in equilibrium among villagers and their allies, on the one hand, and the military and civilian proponents of the space program, on the other. Many different groups are pushing for an end to that equilibrium, though it is hard to predict how or when it might break. As Evelyn,10 a young woman from the coastal community of Mamuna, told me in 2014, “It’s been decades of the same story in Alcântara. They don’t want to give us land title, and nothing changes.” Something will eventually give way in Alcântara, although I do not know when or how, but Evelyn’s perspective is a common one there. Despite all the changes to Alcântara’s politics of inequality that I have begun to describe—­the ascent and faltering of a nationalist space-­program focused on Brazilian convergence,



the emergence of a neoliberal space program focused on profits, and the rise of quilombo politics in Alcântara—­villagers continue to tend their farms on land that they tenuously hold, while the military and civilian wings of the space program tend their still unused launch platforms: an antagonistic but tenuous equilibrium.

The Formation of an Antagonistic Equilibrium: A Brief History My account of the events that led to this equilibrium begins with the construction of the spaceport. To implement the base and its long-­planned expansion, state and federal decrees (in 1980 and 1991, respectively) expropriated sixty-­two thousand hectares on paper for the base. So far, however, the spaceport occupies only 8,713 of those hectares, divided between military and civilian launch projects. According to sources in the space program, this is sufficient land for two or three launchpads but not for the array of commercial launchpads envisioned by proponents of a profit-­focused civilian space program (Conselho de Altos Estudos e Avaliação Tecnológica 2010, 66). Initially, the space cavalry was successful. Between 1986 and 1987 some fifteen hundred residents of the coastal villages where the base now sits were moved into seven air-­force-­built agrovilas, with additional coastal vil­ lages marked by the air force for future expropriation. Although houses in the agrovilas are constructed of cinderblock rather than wattle-­and-­ daub and are accessible by gravel roads and outfitted with running water and electric lights, most residents lament their resettlement in them and relate a story of increasing impoverishment, as I show in chapters 1 and 2.11 Like people in the remaining coastal villages, they previously practiced rotating swidden horticulture on communally held land, changing the location of plots each year. In the agrovilas, on the other hand, each house­ hold has been allotted approximately fifteen-­hectare plots for farming, without receiving sufficient technical support to make this new form of non-­swidden farming successful. Protests and blockades by the Rural Workers’ Union in 1986 vying for larger land allotments were unsuccessful, and much of the agrovila land was soon overfarmed. In the inland agrovilas, moreover, the residents have been separated from the sea and forest resources that had been crucial to their former more or less independent subsistence. Agrovila residents today have become a struggling and wage-­dependent semipeasantry.


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The social programs and rising wages promoted by the PT governments that held the presidency from 2003 until 2016 substantially improved the lot of Brazil’s poor for a time (Neri 2012). Yet, even when I was last in Alcântara in 2014, the relative poverty of the agrovilas in contrast to Alcântara’s coastal villages is striking. I first visited Alcântara in 2001, lived and conducted intensive research there for most of 2004 and 2005, and have returned periodically ever since. Well-­known, I usually receive a warm welcome and a warm meal wherever I arrive on the peninsula. In the agrovilas, this usually involves scraping for money (to which I try to contribute discreetly) and noticeable rationing of meat or fish to household members. But in coastal villages such as Mamuna, Brito, and Canelatiua, which still maintain their traditional productive systems, the meal usually consists of abundant fish, as well as fresh fruit gathered in the forest. This easily perceptible contrast in life circumstances makes clear why resistance to expropriation by the remaining coastal villages is so strong. As Ana Lívia, the owner of a house in the agrovila Marudá, where I slept for a few nights in 2014, put it to me as I tried to unobtrusively place a hen I had purchased from a neighbor in her kitchen, “I’m sorry, Sean. This is embarrassing. When we had guests at my old house it was all abundance [ fartura]: fish, juçara, farinha as much as you could want (à vontade).” Like Ana Lívia, most agrovila residents speak nostalgically of their prior life and once-­abundant natural wealth, providing a cautionary tale to those still under threat of expropriation. Nonetheless, the federal government has long planned to expand the operating area of the base by some additional ten to twenty thousand hectares of coastal land. But resistance by villagers and their allies, budget shortfalls, a military-­ civilian split in Brazil’s space politics, and a problematic international con­ text have so far prevented that expansion. Drawing on proposals for a space program developed in 1961, the government initiated plans for a launch center in Alcântara in 1979 and began to realize them in that first air force trip to Alcântara in 1982. By the time the military began to implement its spaceport plans, however, the military regime (1964–­1985) was already losing its hold on political power. Even so, the military-­industrial complex fostered by the regime was booming. By the end of the 1980s, fueled principally by arms sales to Iraq during the Iran-­Iraq war (when the United States was also allied to Iraq), Brazil was the world’s fifth largest exporter of arms (Conca 1997, 2; Simons 1988). With their steady income, the military and related industries were able to invest in new military technologies and programs, including clandestine nuclear weapons, the AMX tactical fighter plane, the



2.  Fishing in Mamuna

Two men fish in the brackish inlet that separates Mamuna from the land occupied by the spaceport.

Osório tank, and a navy submarine program, as well as the VLS (veículo de lançamento de satélite) launcher to launch satellites from Alcântara (Conca 1992, 143). To many in the military, the long-­standing nationalist goal of a global power in the tropics seemed imminent. By the end of the 1990s, however, this military-­technological infrastructure had collapsed. The end of both the Cold War and the Iran-­ Iraq war had reduced Brazil’s arms sales and altered the political context for those sales. Brazilian politics, moreover, also took a neoliberal turn that did not favor state-­led military-­industrial development (chapter 3). As a result, key firms developed by the military government (Avibrás, Órbita, and Brazil’s still-­major airplane manufacturer, Embraer) became either defunct or partially controlled by private capital. The military space program similarly lost favor along with the rest of Brazil’s military-­ industrial complex. In 1994, as part of the broad demilitarization of the Brazilian government, and also responding to pressure from the United States (then as now wary of potential military and commercial challenges posed by another national rocket-­launch program in the West-


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ern Hemisphere) the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration created the AEB (Brazilian Space Agency) under the civilian Ministry of Sci­ence and Technology. Brazil was left with two (often feuding) space programs, one military and the other civilian. Continuing its policy of reducing the influence of the Brazilian military, the Cardoso administration in 2000 signed a contentious “Technology Safeguards” accord that gave the United States control of much of the base. Because it generated intense nationalist opposition from both the political left and right, the accord never entered into effect (see chapter 7). Despite various setbacks, proponents of the Brazilian space programs nonetheless continue to plan to expand the Alcântara spaceport to (1) win multimillion-­dollar civilian launching contracts with foreign governments and corporations and (2) reinvigorate the military’s disaster-­prone launching program (see chapter 3). At the same time, and in at least partial opposition to these goals, the federal government is under considerable pressure to create an amicable solution for Alcântara villagers. These villagers had begun (at first slowly) in 1993 to organize around the constitutional rights held by remanescentes das comunidades dos quilombos. In 1993, Machado (a pseudonym), an activist from Alcântara who was one of the youths in the space cavalry, began to attend the CCN (Centro de Cultura Negra, Black Cultural Center) in the nearby state capital, São Luís. Like many local leaders of Alcântara’s quilombo movement, he did not initially consider himself black (relatively dark skinned, he would be unambiguously black in the United States). In his story of his own racialization, it was only after leaving the air force and attending the CCN that he stopped thinking of himself with the ambiguous color category moreno (a flexible term that means something like “brown” or “tan”) and began to call himself negro (a term for black that is frequently used by politicized people in Brazil) and quilombola. Machado became a pioneer in fostering a race-­based politicization of inequality in Alcântara and gets close treatment throughout this book, especially in chapters 5 and 6. Widespread organizing to transform local conceptions of race and inequality and to protect the land of Alcântara’s villagers as quilombolas began in earnest in 1999, spurred by a seminar held in Alcântara. This sem­ inar, “The Alcântara Seminar: The Space Base and Social Impasses” (Sem­ inário Alcântara: A Base Espacial e os Impasses Sociais), featured state-­level left-­wing politicians, a representative of the federal Ministério Público Fed­ eral (which often gets translated as the Attorney General’s Office), and rep­ resentatives of left-­wing sectors of the Catholic Church, as well as jour­ nalists, academics, and villagers from throughout the peninsula. Since the



seminar, the victories for Alcântara’s social movements have been im­ pressive. MABE (Movimento dos Atingidos pela Base Espacial, Move­ment of  Those Affected by the Space Base), an organization formed at that sem­ inar, for example, has won funding from a German NGO and, until the Workers’ Party was removed from power in 2016, from sectors of the federal government. These funds have allowed MABE activists to organize throughout the municipality and, in alliance with other social movements, to block the spaceport’s expansion. Although the term quilombola has many meanings in Alcântara that I discuss throughout this book, from a juridical standpoint, villagers in the regions threatened by expropriation are quilombolas, a matter settled in 2004 by the FCP (Fundação Cultural Palmares, Palmares Cultural Foundation), the federal organ then responsible for certifying quilombo-­ descended communities. Their ethnolegal status as quilombolas, moreover, has been further bolstered by the actions of Brazilian and international organizations, providing people in Alcântara more leverage than might be expected of poor rural people in their negotiations with the federal government. The conflict in Alcântara and the threat of future forced relocations have garnered criticism from the United Nations special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing (Kothari 2004; Saule Júnior and Cardoso 2005), and in a case tried before the Inter-­American Commission on Human Rights (Inter-­American Commission on Human Rights 2007). Problems arising from the conflict have also been publicized by the national and international press, as well as by NGOs (including the American Anthropological Association; see Chernela 2002, 9–­10) and by my own publications. Despite this publicity, however, and even though the disputed areas won official federal designation as quilombos in 2004, no land titles have yet been awarded because of pressure from the military. Although villagers’ legal claims to their land remain precarious, years of mobilization have fostered enormous social changes among young people in the villages at the center of conflict. In contrast with older people, who often refer to themselves with the ambiguous moreno, or simply as poor or “small” folk, rather than with the politicized negro, the young more often refer to themselves as negros and as quilombolas, viewing their relationship to an exclusionary and exploitative national society through an understanding of rights grounded in a history of resistance. One woman in her seventies, for example, told me in 2009, “We are small folk [ gente pequena], and there are big folk [gente grande] who want this land.” Her great-­granddaughter interrupted: “No! We’re just as important as they are, and the base needs to respect our land because the quilombo14

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las have constitutional rights.” Like many of her generation, and unlike her great grandmother, this young person grounded her relation to Brazilian society through the category quilombola. The spaceport today hosts two launchpads: one built by the profit-­ focused Brazilian-­Ukrainian ACS (Alcântara Cyclone Space), although that site awaits a new user since the dissolution of ACS in 2015; the other was rebuilt by the air force after a deadly 2003 launch explosion that destroyed the original launchpad. The explosion caused many fatalities and has been poorly explained, generating many unofficial explanations (the main topic of chapter 3), including that of sabotage by the United States. Satellite launch plans for both sites are frequently made and as fre­ quently postponed, and it is not clear when satellites will be launched from either. For many nationalists within the space program and much of the mil­ itary brass, the decline of the military program, the explosion and failed launch in 2003 (as well as earlier failed launches in 1997 and 1999), and the rise of the quilombo movement are the result of an antinational con­ spiracy organized by neoliberal Brazilians, foreign governments, and foreign NGOs (discussed in chapters 3 and 7). Nonetheless, the quilombo movement, as well as some of those advocating for the expansion of the base, are part of the coalition that kept the PT in power until 2016. In consequence, the conflict in Alcântara stands at a fragile impasse: villagers have retained their land, but they have not received the land titles mandated by Brazil’s constitution. Two launchpads are built, but they stand unused except for occasional, and successful, suborbital launches. A few employees contracted by the space program administer small development projects in Alcântara’s villages, assuaging local fears of expropriation. However, many of the space program’s advocates hope for future expropriations. Alcântara’s antagonisms are perched in tenuous equilibrium.

Complementary Hierarchy and Mimetic Convergence: The Structure of the Book With this history in mind, I want to return to the argument that the ways in which inequality is legitimated and redressed are historically specific, and that all forms of social inequality generate both structures and imaginaries of legitimation and redress. I ask readers to hold on to two key con­ cepts as they read. Although framed at a high level of abstraction, these concepts help to make sense of recent changes to the politics of inequality 15


in Alcântara and Brazil. The first, complementary hierarchy, is a structure of legitimation that sustains inequalities through relations and conceptions of unequal reciprocity between the poor and rich, the weak and strong, and so on. The idea is similar to clientelism, or patron-­client relations, as often used in the social-­science literature (Ansell and Mitchell 2011; Auyero 2001; Gay 2010; Taylor 2004). But complementary hierarchy is a broader concept. It encompasses relations of vertical reciprocity between elected officials and impoverished voters—­the classic model of clientelism—­but also Brazilian forms of racism that, as Roberto Da­ Matta has characterized in ideal-­type form, are historically premised on the idea that “whites, blacks, and Indians are unequal, but complementary” (1997). Each of these forms of complementary hierarchy has been historically important in Alcântara, and I argue that they have been sig­ nificantly weakened during the period of struggle around the spaceport, challenged by new relations and conceptualizations of inequality. The second key concept utilized throughout this book is not a structure of legitimation but a utopia of redress, a set of material and discursive arrangements through which inequality may be challenged. This second concept is mimetic convergence, a utopia of redress that imagines the reduction of inequality through the erasure of difference—­that inequalities will decline as poor nations and poor people become progressively more like the rich. Like complementary hierarchy, mimetic convergence has been central to the politics of inequality at different scales in Alcântara and, I argue, is also in decline. At its inception, the spaceport in Alcântara was part of a project of catch-­up, a project that might erase differences between Brazil and the nations of the First World. The dominant historical models of redress of racial inequality in Brazil—­at both the national and personal level—­have similarly involved projects of convergence, in this case that of assimilation and whitening (Arruti 1997; S. T. Mitchell 2017a; Schwarcz 1999b; Skidmore 1993). Whitening is a particularly violent utopia of convergence, as it imagines the disappearance of black and brown populations in Brazil. Denise Ferreira da Silva refers to it as “Brazil’s particular strategy of racial subjection . . . the logic of obliteration” (2010, 16). Each of these models of redressing inequalities at different scales is a once-­dominant form of mimetic convergence, and each has come to weather serious challenges in Alcântara’s twenty-­first-­century politics of inequality. During the decades of conflict in Alcântara, both complementary hierarchy and mimetic convergence have declined in their power to shape people’s perceptions of Alcântara’s conflicts, creating new possibilities for


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people’s politicization of inequality. In addition to this introduction and a conclusion, the seven chapters of this book explore in different ways and on different scales the changing politicization of inequality in Al­ cântara, and they show how the decline of complementary hierarchy and mimetic convergence in shaping people’s perceptions have created new possibilities for people’s politicization of inequality. After this introduction, the book’s first chapter describes the ethnographic situation in Alcântara and makes five arguments that continue through the rest of the book: (1) the federal government’s relations to Alcântara reflect deep divisions within that government; (2) during the period of conflict in Alcântara, villagers have developed new forms of adversarial consciousness and a new awareness of their collective interests; (3) at the local level, this adversarial consciousness has taken sustenance from the decline of poor people’s dependence on patron-­client relations with local elites—­a decline in complementary hierarchy; (4) the form that this adversarial consciousness has taken results, in part, from a decline in the belief that mimetic convergence can resolve issues of in­ equality; and (5) this decline in the power of mimetic convergence is per­ ceptible in the changing politics of both local struggles and those of Bra­ zil’s space program. Chapter 2 extends these arguments through further ethnographic exposition and through an examination of the history in which free Afro-­ Brazilian and mixed-­race rural communities developed in Alcântara over the nineteenth century, long before Brazil’s abolition of slavery in 1888. This history is a key to understanding the nature of Alcântara’s contemporary conflicts. Additionally, drawing on Trouillot’s analysis of people’s participation “in history both as actors and narrators” (1995, 2), I show the varied ways the region’s history and contemporary reality is narrated by different actors. Elite accounts describe Alcântara’s nineteenth-­century depopulation and decay; the poor, instead, often narrate this period as one of abundance. Among the contemporary protagonists of Alcântara’s conflicts, I show how Alcântara’s history and contemporary relations are used in conflicting ways to understand Alcântara’s social and political life. The next two chapters continue to analyze the changing politics of inequality in Alcântara but through the frame of development, technology, and expertise. Chapter 3 explores the implications of narratives stemming from the explosion of Brazil’s VLS-1 satellite launch rocket in Alcântara in 2003. The explosion killed twenty-­one Brazilian technicians on the launchpad but the official explanations for the explosion have left many unsatisfied. I examine interpretations of the explosion, which



circulate among different interested parties, and analyze three imaginaries of progress and national development implicit in these interpretations: the nationalist, the neoliberal, and the redistributive. The importance of the launch to Brazil’s space program, the event’s gruesome outcome, the opacity of its causes, and the uncertainty surrounding its investigation have made the event a metonym for different groups’ ideas about the Brazilian nation-­state and its possible and desirable futures. Both this chapter and chapter 7 analyze Brazilian nationalism, and I note that right-­wing nationalisms have been largely ignored in the scholarship in Latin America. In chapter 3, I also argue that science-­and-­technology studies have generally done a poor job of analyzing the relations between technology and inequality. And I show how the utopias of spaceflight are themselves inflected by inequality. Globally dominant nations and corporations most often claim to represent all of humanity in the dream of spaceflight. For aspirational powers, such as Brazil, however, claims to stand in for all of humanity are rare, and spaceflight is more often conceived as a project of convergence or profit. Through an ethnographic analysis of a meeting in 2005, chapter 4 demonstrates how expertise and knowledge function in contemporary Brazilian politics. The chapter focuses on a meeting between government representatives, activists, and villagers in Mamuna, a village slated for expropriation since 1986, but not yet expropriated. Relying on studies of technology and expertise (Callon and Latour 1981; Carr 2010), I make the following three arguments about the role of expert knowledge: (1) participants in Alcântara’s conflicts frequently frame their arguments by placing boundaries around technical, natural, and social domains; (2) such framing privileges particular forms of expertise; (3) such expertise is a crucial force in establishing and contesting relations of inequality in situations where globally dispersed technologies are important (everywhere) and when ambiguous group-­specific rights are involved, such as those of the quilombolas. In my consideration of the ontological character of some political claims—­their tendency to rely on statements about what is rather than what ought to be—­I briefly consider the so-­called ontological turn in anthropological theory to argue against the construal of social differences as ontological ones. The following two chapters give a close reading of Alcântara’s politics of race and inequality. The first two decades of the twenty-­first century have witnessed the emergence of a media and scholarly panic in Brazil over an alleged racialization of the citizenry. As affirmative action and race-­based law have become institutionalized parts of Brazilian governance, critics warn that new forms of (violent) racialization of the populace will follow. 18

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Chapter 5 examines this racialization thesis by examining the relationship between the quilombo rights grounded in Brazil’s 1988 constitution and the racialization of political consciousness in Alcântara. Against scholarly critics of race-­based policies (Fry et al. 2007), I show how social struggles have racialized the law, not, principally, the other way around. New laws, such as the Quilombo Clause have, however, opened a space for social move­ments to reassess existing racial forms. The chapter also examines how real ambiguity of forms of ethnoracial identification in Alcântara accounts for some divergent perspectives about quilombos among some of the qui­lombola allies in social movements and universities. Chapter 6 continues this analysis of race and inequality but through the frame of political consciousness and utopia. The chapter considers some of the tensions between the class-­based politics of Alcântara’s Rural Workers Union and the race-­based politics of the quilombo movement to make a series of arguments about political consciousness in Alcântara and elsewhere. I also address the extensive literature critiquing the weakness of cross-­class Afro-­Brazilian solidarity, which is structurally similar to literature on the weakness of cross-­race working-­class solidarity in the United States. In the chapter, I take a cue from E. P. Thompson to argue that political consciousness is the partially contingent result of culturally specific struggles and utopias, as much as of determinate historical conditions. I also draw on comparisons to the Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street movements in the United States to show how differing political utopias and forms of organization can generate dif­ ferent forms of political consciousness, even under materially similar con­ ditions. The chapter also brings together a series of arguments present in previous chapters, showing how the rise in quilombo politics in Alcântara needs to be understood through an analysis of (1) the decline of “whitening” and mestiçagem (racial mixture) as models of mobility for nonwhite Brazilians, that is, a decline in mimetic convergence; (2) the increasing national and international juridical and symbolic power associated with quilombo-­identified political movements; and (3) the decline of relations of patronage between poor rural people in Alcântara and the locally powerful, that is, a decline in complementary hierarchy. Chapter 7 examines the relationship of Alcântara’s conflicts to the politics of the Amazon. The importance of the Amazon to different groups, and its flexibility as a signifier, has contributed to surprising alliances in the struggles over the spaceport: at times social movements and the military have found common ground in opposition to foreign and neoliberal projects for the spaceport; at times, proponents of civilian and military space projects have allied in opposition to the quilombo movement; and, 19


at times, sectors of the Brazilian left and right have been aligned in opposition to imperial threats to Brazilian sovereignty at the spaceport and in the Amazon. I argue that these alliances are all grounded in what I call territorial nationalism—­which is focused on the protection of national territory from outsiders—­quite different from the developmentalist national­ ism that was central to the spaceport’s founding—­which was focused on the technological and economic development of the nation. This book is about the politics of inequality at Brazil’s spaceport, but it is also about utopia, or the different ways in which people come to imagine and attempt to enact inequality’s redress. The conclusion to the book further elaborates the causes and consequences of the decline of mimetic convergence and complementary hierarchy for Alcântara’s and Brazil’s politics of inequality; it provides an analysis of Brazil’s changing electoral politics and offers thoughts on utopias of space travel and about what the future might—­and ought to—­hold for Alcântara. Alcântara’s residents and the project of Brazil’s spaceport were brought together partly by chance. The residents of Alcântara might instead have found themselves struggling for their land against the planners of a beach resort or against Brazil’s encroaching agribusiness soy frontier. For their part, the planners of Brazil’s space program could not have known in advance that they would attempt to build their equatorial spaceport12 in an area with deeply remembered traditions of winning and holding land from powerful adversaries through resistance and persistence. And they could not have known that those villagers would find such a wide and influential network of allies. But for all the contingencies that brought these groups together and Alcântara to its impasse, I argue in this book that important symmetries are also perceptible in the politics of the space program and the politics of quilombola rights as they have emerged in Alcântara. Brazil’s satellite launch program was from its inception a project aimed at diminishing global inequalities, at flattening global technomilitary hierarchies, as it simultaneously generated tension over local inequalities. The political projects of many villagers and their allies are also aimed at redressing the local and national inequalities that have long marginalized Alcântara’s residents. The changes I describe in these different projects reflect changes to the ways inequality and its redress are imagined and enacted in the context of economic neoliberalism that characterized Brazil’s 1990s, the redistributive governance of Brazil’s 2003–­2016 Workers’ Party governments, and the state-­sponsored multiculturalism that spanned both these periods. The disparate ethnographic objects of observation in this book


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are intertwined because, empirically, they come together in conflict over the same bit of land: Alcântara, Maranhão. However, just as crucially, they provide an empirical vantage on how inequality can produce different kinds of consciousness, and different utopias, at different scales. To understand all this, let us come down from the distant orbit of abstraction and depart for Alcântara.


3.  Alcântara’s town center in July 2014

In the background is the Church of Nossa Senhora de Carmo, the site of the hearing described in the text.


Mimetic Convergence and Complementary Hierarchy Without doubt, the historical [Brazilian] model of social cohesion, based in the assimilation of differences in service of acculturation and civilization, has lost credibility as a political utopia.  Pa u l a

M o n t e r o , “ M u lt i c u lt u r a l i s m o , i d e n -

t i d a d e s d i s c u r s i v a s e e s pa ç o p ú b l i c o ”

Unequal Encounters I am sitting in a sweltering church in March 2005, regretting that instead of the shorts I, like most men, usually wear in Alcântara, I am stuck with the now-­sweat-­drenched formal pants that I put on in deference to the gravity of today’s occasion. Before me in the seventeenth-­century structure, a gilded and recently restored eighteenth-­century altar rises up, its joyously pudgy rococo angels reaching heavenward and toward a golden crown. On the walls, engraved stones commemorate long-­dead owners of enslaved people: merchants of salt, rice, sugar, and, especially, cotton. The 150 or so people with me in the pews are evenly divided between men and women; they are all Brazilian; almost all are black or brown, and, although they have dressed as finely as they can, most are visibly rural and poor. Some bureaucrats and urban NGO representatives are also present, mostly identifiable by their light skin, middle-­class clothing, and the visible marks of urban comfort that I suppose I share. Our eyes are set on a slide show projected onto a screen in front of the altar. It is controlled by a man who is also Brazilian, of East Asian origin, and dressed in the clothes of an 23

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urban professional. Like me and many others in the place, he fans himself with some of the pamphlets prepared by the Brazilian government ministries represented at this meeting—­the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agrarian Development, and the Special Secretariat of Policy for the Promotion of Racial Equality, among others. It is almost midday, and we have been in this stifling air for over three hours. In the back of the hall are a few more light-­skinned men, these in mil­ itary dress. Unlike the other government representatives, these men from the air force have not prepared any pamphlets, and they will not speak publicly during these two days of hearings. When I try to talk to a lieutenant colonel later that day, he brushes me off—­but not before intimating that I, and the civilian officials present, are part of an international plot against Brazil’s space program. The man presenting the slides is an engineer and official from the civilian-­controlled Brazilian Space Agency. This civilian space agency works uneasily alongside an air force space program that is, nominally, under its direction. To the weary crowd, and with surprising emotion, he explains the sig­ nificance of a chart titled “Export guidelines: Comparison between export segments by aggregate value.” The chart is divided into two columns: “Industrial sector” and “Average price per kilogram,” all figured in US dollars. Running from the cheapest to most expensive per kilogram item, the chart informs the crowd that the mineral sector and its product, iron ore, command a mere $0.01 per kilogram on international markets. The agricultural sector, the next lowest-­valued item, comes in at $0.30. One might guess that this would be relevant to the people in the crowd. But the people present do not sell much from their farms other than the thick, crunchy farinha d’água (manioc meal) that is a staple carbohydrate in this region where Brazil’s northeast meets the Amazon, the only significant cash crop here on the peninsula of Alcântara, and which, after living for more than a year in Alcântara, I have come to find as essential a complement to a plate of rice and fish as most locals do.1 They also sell, on regional markets, charcoal (a by-­product of swidden horticulture) and other forest products. Women sell the laboriously and collectively produced babaçu oil, made from the nuts of the babaçu palms that are abundant here on the eastern perimeter of the Amazon, as well as gathered fruit such as juçara,2 muricí, and burití. Men sell fish and shellfish from the nearby bay of São Marcos and its brackish inlets, as well as wild forest game, the hunting of which is, in most cases, illegal.


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But such sales are subordinate to Alcântara’s subsistence economy, and its residents sell nothing on international markets, nor anything bearing any relationship to the figures on the screen. Machado, my friend and local social movement leader who sits on my left, harrumphs (perhaps partially at the US anthropologist fiddling with the controls of an expensive digital voice recorder on his right): “A quilombola like me, I’ve never even seen a dollar.” His statement attests to the absurdity of this presentation about big-­money exports in a municipality in which, according to a study carried out a few years earlier, 95.87 percent of rural families earned less than US$100 per month (Forum/DLIS Alcântara 2003). Even though economic conditions had improved somewhat since the survey, with Bolsa Família, the Workers’ Party’s conditional cash-­transfer program, providing small monthly cash payments to families, most people in the church were still cash poor. The engineer continues to make his case, dollar values ascending: steel and celluloid, US$0.30–­$0.80 per kilogram; automotive materials, $10; the electronics sector, $100 per kilogram of audio or video equipment; the defense sector, a mere $200 per kilogram of rocket; aeronautics, $1,000 for one kilogram of commercial airplane; the defense sector again, tied with cellular-­ telephone makers, $2,000 per kilogram of missile and mobile phone; aeronautics again, $2,000–­$8,000 for one kilogram of military airplane; and, finally, the priciest industrial sector on the chart. “This is why this project matters for Brazil and all of us,” the engineer pleads, clearly recognizing that few in the church are swayed. The space sector: one kilo of satellite will set a buyer back $50,000.

Challenges to a Developmentalist Teleology The point of the chart was not simply to inform the crowd that satellites are worth a lot more per kilogram than iron, sugar, orange juice, soybeans, or farinha d’água. The least-­schooled horticulturalist in the crowd no doubt knew this. Rather, the presentation was part of a public hearing in which a highly divided Brazilian federal government was unveiling its plan for the transformation and expansion of Brazil’s principal space­ port—­one of many such plans that have come and gone since the 1980s—­ and making its best case that villagers should give up much of their land to facilitate spaceport expansion. Several features of this meeting would have been unthinkable during the 1980s and 1990s, the first two decades of the Brazilian spaceport’s


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existence in Alcântara. The government’s new tactics mark changes in the structure of this conflict that shed light on the changing politics of inequality in Alcântara and Brazil. At its announcement in 1980, the spaceport, or CLA (Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara, Alcântara Launch Center), was heralded by Brazil’s then Ministry of the Air Force as the most ambitious scientific project to be undertaken by a “developing country” (Choairy 2000, 65; Meireles 1983). Broadly, when representatives of the waning military government (1964–­1985) first touched ground in Alcântara to recruit young locals to expropriate backwoods villages, the politics—­not only of the base’s construction but also sometimes of public opposition—­most often appealed to goals of progress, development, and whole-­cloth socioeconomic transformation and convergence ( between Brazil and the First World and among Brazil’s regions and unequal citizens). The spaceport’s construction was sold locally and nationally as helping to raise Brazil into the ranks of the major world powers while simultaneously pulling local villagers out of deprivation and exclusion (deprivation here imagined sometimes in socioeconomic and other times in explicitly racial—­and racist—­terms). This whole-­cloth transformation was imagined and institutionalized at multiple scales. Villagers were to be moved from scattered and winding settlements, where they practiced rotating horticulture on communal land, into rectilinear villages, where they would practice modern farming on individual plots, and where they would share in the progress brought by the base. Brazil was to have a space program with military applications, one that would help fulfill Brazil’s destiny as a world power. After three decades in Alcântara punctuated by technological mishap and land conflict, proponents and opponents of the government’s plan to transform and expand the base spoke about the spaceport and its surround in markedly changed terms. Once an engine and index of Brazil’s push for technoeconomic convergence with the First World, by 2005 the base was more often cast as a generator of profit and, sometimes, sovereignty. And, while villagers were once incorporated into the project as archaic but modernizing remnants of a disappearing Brazil, they now were more often cast as modern subalterns, with an identity increasingly understood in ethnoracial terms. Let us consider again the opening vignette and its slide show presen­ tation: although the bureaucrats present represented federal government agencies, the chart had been prepared neither by the military nor by any other government agency but by AIAB (Associação das Indústrias Aeroespaciais do Brasil, Association of Brazilian Aerospace Industries), an organization that represents private Brazilian aerospace com­panies. More26

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over, what the bureaucrat was proposing to villagers was the planned construction by a civilian space agency of launching platforms to be used for profit by foreign governments and Brazilian and foreign corporations—­ notably through Alcântara-­ Cyclone Space, a joint Brazilian-­ Ukrainian company then under formation to launch satellites from Alcântara.3 In contrast, when the base was built, the principal institutional actor was the Brazilian military, and the launching project was conceived as part of a push for nationalist development and a bid for entrance into the First World. Published in Rio de Janeiro in 1985, just as construction of the base was beginning, an essay by the well-­known Brazilian astronomer Ronaldo Rogério de Freitas Mourão, “Why Brazil Must Intensify its Space Research,” captures this nationalist ambition succinctly: “In the next 20 years, some space projects now under study will profoundly affect the economic, political, and social perspectives of the world’s nations. These projects will increase enormously the current technological lacunae that exist between developing countries and those on the path to transform into the super-­civilizations of the future” (Mourão 1985). Inequality is central to the push for the space program here. The world will divide into “developing countries” and “super-­civilizations.” For its proponents, the construction of this base was part of the drive to enlist Brazil among these super-­civilizations, fulfilling a long-­standing promise of Brazilian nationalism. But by 2005, this utopia of technomilitary convergence with the world’s great powers was hard to find in pronouncements about the space program. Much more typical of the space program in 2005 was the profit-­minded ambition represented by the slide show presentation in the church. It is not that such developmentalist4 nationalism is completely absent from Brazil’s current space program. As I show, especially in chapters 3 and 7, the attempt to transform the space program into a civilian and commercial project with strong commercial and only mild developmentalist ambitions—­that is, a space program that can properly be called neoliberal—­has generated a fierce backlash, particularly in the military. But even the strongest contemporary supporters of the space program—­in particular, the civilian space program—­frame their claims differently than did their predecessors. The most articulate and prolific defender of the Brazilian space program—­civilian and also military—­ José Monserrat Filho, for example, in a 2001 interview with the online science magazine ComCiência, implored: “We have already lost so much time and we need to act now with much greater determination and aggressiveness in order to sell the advantages of Alcântara as a truly 27

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competitive option on the world market. This can bring more resources and more experience for our whole space program, which will gain more of its own impetus” (ComCiência 2001). In a 2014 interview I had with Monserrat Filho, he made a similar point, emphasizing the importance to the space program of international collaboration (with China, Israel, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine, all countries that have at times shown interest) and of the base’s commercial potential. Although Monserrat Filho, like the bureaucrat at that day’s meeting in Alcântara, is a tireless advocate of Brazil’s extraterrestrial aspirations, his vision of earthly technopolitical advance for Brazil has important differences from those of his predecessors. Despite some dissenting voices, well-­placed proponents of the twenty-­first-­century space program speak as often of market share—­or, in the case of AIAB’s chart, the price per kilo of satellites—­as they do of an autonomous launch program. And they sel­ dom speak of a space program that might spur a nationalist convergence with the world’s great powers.

Contradictions of Convergence At the widest scale, one of the key arguments of this book is that this utopia of redress for inequality, the idea that the poor would somehow follow along the same teleological trajectory as the rich, becoming more and more like the rich—­the idea that a decline in inequality must entail a decline in difference—­has lost the dominance that it held during much of the twentieth century. It no longer shapes the way people think about the redress of inequality in Alcântara with the hegemony that it did during the spaceport’s early years. This utopia of redress for inequality was dominant during the Cold War, as one response to the competing promises for the amelioration of global inequalities promoted by capitalist and communist powers of the First and Second World (Coronil 1997, 385; J. Ferguson 2006, 176–­93). The utopia of convergence en­joyed a brief resurgence in international and Brazilian accounts of Brazil during the economic boom of Brazil’s first decade of the twenty-­first century (e.g., Cohen 2011) and with the much-­debated rise of a so-­called new middle class comprising as many as 40 million Brazilians (Klein, Mitchell, and Junge 2018; Neri 2012; Pochmann 2014).5 But the utopia of convergence vanished from international and Brazilian accounts during the period of political conflict and economic decline that began in 2013 (Pinheiro-­Machado and Dent 2016; Mitchell, Blanchette, and 28

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Silva, n.d.). I call this utopia of redress, in which poor nations and poor individuals are imagined to follow the rich in some teleological pantomime, mimetic convergence.6 Mimetic convergence was a developmental “grid for interpreting and explaining the world’s inequalities” that was globally dominant in the decades after World War II, as James Ferguson has shown (2006, 177). Focusing on the collapse of postwar developmentalist ideology in contemporary Africa, Ferguson has observed a transformation much starker than that in Brazil, despite some important similarities. Ferguson describes a developmentalist temporalization of inequality that has, since the Cold War, come undone. In a clear description of mimetic convergence, Ferguson writes, “The effect of this powerful narrative was to transform a spatialized global hierarchy into a temporalized (putative) historical sequence. Poor countries (and by implication, the poor people who lived in them) were not simply at the bottom, they were at the beginning . . . history—­the passage of developmental time—­would in the nature of things raise the poor countries up to the level of the rich ones” (178; see also J. Ferguson 1999). Contemporary Brazil is not facing the same degree of socioeconomic hardship as much of contemporary Africa. But the changes in Alcântara’s conflicts that I document in this book mark changes in the way in which socioeconomic and sociotechnical inequalities tend to be understood and acted upon in Brazil, too. The developmentalist utopia from which the space program was born conceived of inequalities along a tem­poral line, in which the telos of development (in varieties of both the political Left and Right) held out the promise of a confluence of the developed and underdeveloped somewhere in the future. In the Brazil of neoliberal capitalism that emerged after the Cold War, and of multiculturalism and redistribution that emerged under PT (Workers’ Party) governments between 2003 and 2016, that utopia of teleological convergence is no longer dominant. This is not to say that Brazil’s space program is no longer the site of many nationalist ambitions or that Brazilian policy makers no longer think about and plan for the nation’s ascension into the ranks of international powers. Such ambitions and projects run through many plans for the space program and the nation, as we will see in the pages that follow. Moreover, many of the years that I have been researching in Brazil have been marked by ambitious projects of south-­south cooperation and of national development plans (Burges 2014; Boito and Berringer 2014; Cesarino 2012). But the difference between AIAB’s chart and Cold War–­era attempts to enter Mourão’s “path to transform into the super-­civilizations 29

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of the future” shows us how the unitary teleological grid on offer during the Cold War has receded, leaving the purpose and meaning of national development open to new forms of contestation. In its focus on the value of space technologies in international markets, the presentation to the villagers was drastically misaimed at people who mostly earned their livelihoods through subsistence activities. But, less obviously, it hinted at shifts in the imaginaries of inequality, progress, and time institutionalized in Brazil’s space program. As shorthand, we might say that earlier visions of the space program institutionalized an imaginary of international inequalities framed in temporal terms: Brazil was behind but would strive to catch up to the world’s powers, which were ahead, in the future. In the space program’s early twenty-­first-­century iteration, on the other hand, the institutionally dominant imaginary of international inequality is one we might gloss as spatial: Brazil’s space program here may never help the nation “catch up,” but the equatorial base in Alcântara has a value, identity, and a niche that can be protected—­ and be highly beneficial to the nation—­or at least to some in the nation. There are close symmetries between this transformation about the utility of the base and the transformation of the imaginaries through which race and class inequalities are imagined in Alcântara as well, as we will see. While twentieth-­century projects of national progress tended to temporalize inequality (conceptualizing the poor as behind, delayed in their progress), today multiple competing utopias of redress compete to fill the space left open by the diminished hegemony of mimetic convergence. Throughout this book, I examine the loss of mimetic convergence’s hegemony and the shift from mimetic convergence to the politics that are increasingly dominant in twenty-­first-­century Brazil and elsewhere, in which the permanence of identity—­and thus the fostering of identities—­has become crucial to projects that might foster equality. To gloss this historical change, consider the shift from the positivist national slogan of “Order and Progress” (Ordem e Progresso), emblazoned on the national flag,7 to the national slogan of the Workers’ Party administrations of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (hereafter, in keeping with Brazilian usage, referred to most often as “Lula”), “Brazil, a Country of/ from Everybody” (Brasil, um País de Todos).8 The first describes a state-­led imaginary of future transcendence of current reality, or mimetic convergence, as Brazil progresses toward world power, while the second implies an imaginary of coexistence and identity, even though the slogan leaves unanswered questions about the hierarchies in which this “everybody”


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will be arranged. These questions presented by Lula’s slogan remain unanswered in Alcântara, and much of this book charts the struggles of different groups to answer them.

The Emergence of Quilombos Returning to this chapter’s opening vignette, here is something else that would have been unthinkable during the 1980s: the term that the man sitting next to me, Machado, used to describe himself, and that many of the villagers now use to characterize their relationship to the Brazilian state and their own political action, quilombola, was scarcely known in the Alcântara of the 1980s, and I am not aware of anyone who called himself or herself a quilombola then. Historically, during the period of African slavery in Brazil, from the sixteenth century until abolition in 1888, quilombo designated a colony of people who had escaped from slavery, and a quilombola, someone who lived in such a colony (I. B. Leite 2012). In Brazil’s 1988 constitution, the term came to designate a special category of citizenship, and it only became important to the lexicon of Alcântara’s political conflicts in the 1990s.9 Today, however, the term is ubiquitous, and although the transformation is not universal, an emerging young generation of political leaders in Alcântara—­ young people whose parents often tried to dissociate themselves from biological and social legacies of slavery—­confidently identify as quilombola. As slavery declined over Brazil’s 1870s, Brazilian elites were aware of the “scientific racism” that dominated international scholarship on race, and they worried that the racially mixed nation was doomed to backwardness. From that period through the first decades of the twentieth century, the dominant project of national development was one of embranquecimento (whitening), aimed at solving this problem of national development by “whitening” the nation through immigration and mixture. These ideas and policies began to face challenges among intellectuals and policy makers in the 1930s as an ideology of “racial democracy” or harmonious racial mixture, as frequently associated with the works of Gilberto Freyre (1933) and the policies of Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas (Seyferth 1996), in office from 1930 to 1945 and 1951 to 1954, became the dominant ideology of nation building (Andrews 2004; D. E. Borges 1993; M. C. da Cunha 1985; Dávila 2003; Guimarães 2012; Hanchard 1994; Schwarcz 1999b; Skidmore 1993b). But an ethos of everyday whitening of people’s families and personal identities


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long outlasted this national project of whitening (Guimarães 2012; S. T. Mitchell 2017b; Telles 2006, 90–­94), as I discuss in chapter 5. The words of one technician from INPE (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, National Institute for Space Research), who was working in Alcântara for a few months in 2005, and with whom I spoke at length in one of Alcântara’s few bars—­the sites of the best conversations I managed to have with elite workers on the base—­express clearly a vision of mimetic convergence for Alcântara’s residents: “These quilombo leaders are pulling Brazil backward [ puxando Brasil pra trás]. The space program might bring them a lot of opportunities for their children, to have something like my kids in São José dos Campos, but they want to be black [negro] and want a Brazil that is stuck in the eighteenth-­century racial categories.” The technician, who had an elite university education and who would be considered white anywhere from Alcântara to Alaska, had been talking with me for a while about comparative Brazil and US racial categories before he said this—­frequently an enlightening topic of conversation for me in Brazil—­which perhaps informed the way he put it. He was clearly wrong in supposing that Alcântara’s quilombo leadership does not want education and broader opportunities for their children, which they do, or that this is incompatible with quilombo identification, which it is not. But more important here is how he imagined they might achieve education and social progress: through relinquishing blackness and quilombo politics, by becoming, presumably, more like his kids in São José dos Campos. But this idea, common as it was in Brazil’s twentieth century, has much less social power than it once did. Frequently, when officials on the base discuss the base’s relationship to the people around it, they present this relationship temporally, with the space program cast as the future, and the villagers as the past. But to­ day, this framing is largely rejected by people in Alcântara. During one widely attended public hearing in the nearby state capital, São Luís, that was supposed to address the causes of the VLS-1 explosion in 2003 (a central topic in chapter 3), the commander of the CLA, an air force colonel, received a strong dose of seemingly unexpected criticism regarding the conditions faced by Alcântara’s villagers. The lengthy criticism came from state deputy Domingos Dutra, long allied with Alcântara’s social movements. Frustrated, the colonel asked a riled-­up crowd clearly supportive of the deputy: “Who among you doesn’t want electricity? Who doesn’t want a telephone? Who doesn’t want television? The base offers Alcântara progress but you act like you don’t want it!” The implication of the colonel’s statement was that to critique the existing relation between the CLA and its neighbors was to criticize 32

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technology per se, to relinquish progress. Departing from Alcântara’s specificities, he cast the struggle as one of technological progress versus primitivism as such—­as though the rural electrification of Alcântara were somehow incompatible with people retaining their land, and locals’ progress depended on relinquishing local lifeways. But I rarely met people in Alcântara who thought that they would reap benefits or progress from Brazil’s space program. When I did, it was not because they saw them­selves as potentially benefiting from the space program as such but, rather, that they saw some specific potential economic gains: military service in the air force for some young men, domestic work for women, the possibility of romantic or sexual involvement with men from the base for young women, or the establishment of small businesses (bars, small stores) catering to the base’s employees (who in large part live on the base or commute to the nearby city of São Luís). But it is much more common in Alcântara for people to perceive themselves as economically hurt by the presence of the base, principally for the pressure that it puts on land and water resources in the region. And nobody that I met talked about being part of a collective generically benefited by progress brought by the space program. Instead of relinquishing their way of life to participate in the space program’s progress, many more people in Alcântara today see an affirmation of quilombo identity as the key to enjoying the fruits of national progress and belonging. The emergence of quilombo politics in Alcântara hints at a different kind of formation than mimetic convergence for imagining and institutionalizing progress toward equality. The emergence of Alcântara’s qui­ lombolas from a population that, when the spaceport was conceived, was supposed to disappear, assimilate, or whiten is, partially though not entirely, related to changes in law, as I show in chapters 5 and 6. But, like the transformations in the imaginaries institutionalized in the space program, the emergence of quilombo politics marks the faltering of the dominance of a temporal frame of mimetic convergence for conceptualizing ways of contesting and escaping the inequalities between Alcântara’s villagers and elite Brazilians. Villagers are today not so likely to sup­pose that they must disappear or somehow become identical to elite Brazilians to achieve social progress. I am arguing here that utopias of redress that emphasized the possibility of teleological convergence were dominant in Brazil during the time of the spaceport’s installation. But, over decades of changes both locally and at a wider scale, utopias of redress that stress identity, history, sovereignty, and profit have come to find more adherents. This change has come about both because of the failure of convergence-­focused projects 33

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in Alcântara and elsewhere and because of the emergence of newer developments, such as neoliberalism, with its focus on profits made possible by market niches; the territorial nationalism I will discuss in chapter 7; and the quilombo movement, with its focus on history and identity. Another way to think of this contrast is as a contrast between what Mikhail Bakhtin called chronotopes (1981)—­orientations toward time, space, and difference. We might think of mimetic convergence as a kind of convergent utopia. Convergent utopias are chronotopes that imagine a politics of whole-­cloth transformation, an orientation toward time that imagines inequalities (economic, social, racial) as resolving in an eventual future convergence. But such convergent utopias have increasingly come to compete with primordialist utopias. Primordialist utopias are chronotopes that posit a politics that valorizes properties seen as already extant, an orientation toward time, space, and difference that spatializes inequality rather than temporalizes it. Over the decade and a half I have been conducting research on Alcântara, I have seen convergent utopias become much more plausible to people there than primordialist ones. By evoking the primordial, I am not making an ontological claim. As it shapes politics and ethnicity in contemporary Brazil, primordialism is not an ontological “explanation for ethnic consciousness, but [ . . . ] a phenomenological description of how that consciousness is experienced from within by those who share it,” as the Comaroffs suggest (2007, 12). It is not that the primordial re­ fuses to disappear; it is that the idiom of the primordial has become so charismatic for many movements that are, in many ways, new in their political goals and social forms.

From Rural Workers to Quilombolas Construction on the base began in 1983, and between 1986 and 1987 ap­proximately fifteen hundred residents of rural Alcântara were removed from their land, generating significant local resistance. In alliance with sectors of the Roman Catholic Church and the local Rural Workers’ Union, villagers blocked the roads in 1986 and won some promises (mostly broken) from the federal government. But the people resisting did not yet consider themselves quilombolas, and their political goals were markedly different from current goals. As far as the local political leadership and representatives of the federal government were concerned, Alcântara’s residents were “trabalhadores rurais” or rural workers. Although slavery, ethnicity, and color were important parts of people’s conception of them34

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selves and of their histories (Linhares 1999; C. A. Fernandes 1998; Sá 1975), ethnicity and identity were not key idioms of political struggle or citizenship. Progress, land, and economic equality were. It was through the course of their struggle that these “rural workers” came to define themselves as quilombolas, doing so with the ideological and material support of national and international NGOs. These NGOs, and a burgeoning Brazilian quilombo movement, emphasized the ethno­ racial status rather than the class position of rural inhabitants. The 1988 constitution included the Quilombo Clause, which for the first time recognized the rights of “quilombola remnants” to their land, inaugurating a new category of citizenship in Brazil. This clause, which had been a last-­ minute addition to the constitution (Arruti 2003), was later employed by NGOs and local activists as part of their program to resist the loss of their lands to the spaceport. During this struggle and the struggle of emerging quilombo movements throughout Brazil, activists transformed what had been a historical statement regarding quilombos in the constitution into an ethnic one, so that ethnoracial identity, and its permanency, became a key component of local politics. The rights that the quilombo movement has come to mobilize around are broad social rights grounded in a conception of an identity rooted in the past, though also oriented toward the present and future. John Collins has described a similar shift in Brazil’s northeastern city of Salvador, Bahia. There, many poor people have come to embody the requirements of what he calls “properly historical populations,” subalterns able to embody the objectifying logics of heritage-­focused bureaucratic projects in their own bids for recognition and political participation (2015, 302; see also J. F. Collins 2011, 687; Povinelli 2002). The opportunities opened for poor Brazilians by the decline of mimetic convergence and the emergence of history-­and identity-­centered forms of politics marks a major shift in Brazil’s politics of equality and identity. It has helped win Alcântara’s residents many allies and some victories. But it also creates certain limits. To make their claims to political power, equality, and national participation, Alcântara’s residents must perform the role of remanescentes de quilombolas, a theme I return to throughout this book.

If You’re Not the Government, Then Who the Hell Is? The meeting was one of many that I attended in Alcântara at which representatives of Brazil’s federal government engaged in a failed attempt to convince the residents of Alcântara’s threatened villages that, 35

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for reasons of technical necessity, personal gain, and national duty, they should accept a space-­program development plan that would entail the loss of an indeterminate (but undoubtedly significant) amount of their land. The events at the base in Alcântara have also been affected by changes in Brazilian economy and governance over recent decades. The first two stages of villager relocation were organized by military agencies and carried out by enlistees on horseback from Alcântara in 1986 and 1987, just after the fall of the military regime in 1985. During the 1990s, INFRAERO (Empresa Brasileira de Infraestrutura Aeroportuária, Brazilian Corporation for Airport Infrastructure), the public-­private corporation that had been created by the military government in 1970 to administer Brazil’s commercial airports, was placed in charge of the base’s expansion, an expansion that, nonetheless, was never carried out. In August 2004, Brazil’s president, the former union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, attempted to unify the government’s policy on Alcântara and signed a decree empowering a GEI (Grupo Executivo Interministerial, Executive Interministerial Group) comprising seventeen federal ministries, four federal secretaries,10 and two subministerial organs (the air force, subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, and the Brazilian Space Agency, subordinate to the Ministry of Science and Technology). This group, representing a wide range of interests, was assigned by the president to “articulate, make viable, propose, and follow the progress of the actions that are necessary for the sustainable development of the municipality of Alcântara, and which are oriented towards facilitating conditions adequate to the efficient functioning of the National Program for Space Activities (PNAE [Programa Nacional de Atividades Espaciais]) and the development of the local communities, respecting their specific ethnic and sociocultural characteristics” (Brazilian Space Agency 2005; Presidência da República 2004). By 2005, consequently, after nearly two decades of political democra­ tization, neoliberal reform, villager mobilization, and launch failures (see chapter 3), and under a new left-­leaning federal administration determined to preserve some of the neoliberal macroeconomic reforms of the previous administration (Boito 2003; Boito and Berringer 2014; G. M. Rocha 2002; Singer 2012), the agencies responsible for carrying out this expansion and land expropriation were a changing mix of civilian gov­ ernment, private groups, and NGOs. The Brazilian government has planned to expand the operating area of the base into an additional ten to twenty thousand hectares of coastal land since the 1980s, but has been stymied by a combination of budget 36

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shortfalls (see chapter 3) and resistance from the villagers. Alcântara’s residents had grown used to this changing array of military, civilian-­ government, and private agencies announcing the imminent relocation of the villages spread along the peninsula’s eastern coast. But for the villagers, these announcements existed as omnipresent threat and anxiety, not as material reality. During the period that I conducted major fieldwork in Alcântara (2004–­ 2006) the Lula administration allocated R$600 million (then approximately US$300 million)11 toward the creation of a launching facility, the CEA (Centro Espacial de Alcântara, Alcântara Space Center) to be run by the civilian AEB (Agência Espacial Brasileira, Brazilian Space Agency). This civilian-­run CEA was to operate alongside and in conjunction with the existing military facility (CLA), the launching base run by the Brazilian air force. Commercial launches would take place at the CEA, which would also possess a “space center” open to the public and roughly modeled on the Kennedy Space Center in the United States, while Brazilian government launches would take place at the CLA. The GEI was also supposed to convince the many threatened villagers that they should willingly give up some of their land (with probable damage to their way of life and relative independence) for promises of alleged benefits to be provided by a shining new technological center. Such promises had proved illusory in the past. Despite the GEI’s assurance that 5 percent of the funds to develop the base were to be allocated to the “sustainable development” of the region, and the government’s reassurances that expropriation would be minimal and that most villagers would only have to evacuate the area on launch days, the government failed dramatically to convince people that they should welcome the new construction. People in the communities around the launching center consistently refused to sign the agreements presented to them by federal government employees. Warned by the experiences of kin in the agrovilas and disillusioned by two decades of failed promises that the military spaceport (CLA) would bring local development and a better life, most people remained mistrustful of federal government claims and promises. For example, a few months after the meeting where we were shown the peculiar per-­kilo chart, a representative of SEPPIR (Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial, Special Secretary of Politics to Promote Racial Equality) traveled to the villages of Mamuna and Santa Maria to speak of the GEI’s plans. SEPPIR was then12 a ministry-­level agency, created by the Lula government, whose staff came primarily from the ranks of black social movements.13 The SEPPIR official, who had been a 37

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black-­movement activist before joining the government under the Lula administration, relied on a comparison often made by people from the Brazilian Space Agency. He compared Alcântara—­in a region among the poorest in Brazil—­to São José dos Campos—­the city in the state of São Paulo that is the hub of Brazil’s military, aeronautics, and much of its information technology industries, and which has one of the highest standards of living in Brazil. Like São José dos Campos, he assured the villagers, Alcântara would get university campuses (in a municipality where the last mayor’s perfidy shut down ramshackle one-­room country schoolhouses throughout the countryside for many months out of the two years that I spent there), hospitals, supermarkets (where the few of us in Alcântara who lived principally from money rather than the land and sea regularly traversed the Bay of São Marcos in order to purchase groceries in the city of São Luís), convenience stores, and employment. But as one young woman from Santa Maria said to me in conversations the next day, “I have an uncle who lives in São Jose dos Campos. He has a job in construction but says the only place to live is in a dangerous favela.” Similar points were made often made by the people in Alcântara I talked to in the days following. Most of Alcântara’s villagers repeated in interviews and informal conversations that they didn’t have the qualifications for most of the jobs that the government was predicting and that they had no expectation of participating in the bounty promised by the SEPPIR official. Most also have friends and relatives in the shacks and stilt houses of São Luís’s urban periphery, close to gleaming condominium buildings, and are aware that urban wealth and development is no guarantee of well-­ being. But, though generally seen as implausible by locals, such pro­mises are still sometimes made by an ever-­changing array of government officials in Alcântara. This frequent turnover in the agencies and policies responsible for the base was another common source of anger and distrust. Administrative upheavals were exacerbated by a complex bureaucratic division of functions that seldom left any particular individual clearly in charge or responsible for any particular impact on Alcântara’s residents. During a visit to speak to community leaders in September 2005, for example, the Brazilian Space Agency president shrugged off every complaint about the loss of land or the scarcity of promised jobs: “I am not the government,” he responded, then continued: “There are twenty-­three federal government organs responsible for the development of Alcântara; and the job of the [Space Agency] is simply to implement the PNAE [Programa Nacional de Atividades Espaciais, the National Program for Space Activities, movement leaders which establishes policy].” Community and social-­ 38

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grew visibly frustrated, a disgruntlement expressed by Machado when he demanded: “If you’re not the government, then who the hell is?” Machado and the other frustrated community leaders at that meeting were confronting problems that social theorists have long addressed (Abrams 1988; Dewey 1927; R. B. Ferguson 2003; S. T. Mitchell, forthcoming; Trouillot 2001; Weber 1949 [1904]): despite a commonplace tendency to represent the state as a unified subject, it is not. The coherence and identity not only of the state but also of the other socially active collectivities in Alcântara have been under repeated reconstruction. Alcântara’s quilombos, for example, are not simply given but the result of an attempt at ethnoracial construction in process. My point here does not concern the personal convictions of this or that government official. I had the impression that many of the government officials whom I met in Alcântara were genuinely concerned about the situation of Alcântara’s villagers. Months after that meeting, I visited the engineer who opened this chapter with his slideshow presentation at his office on the Brazilian Space Agency’s campus in the national capital, Brasília. He had become AEB’s liaison to Alcântara’s residents four years before the meeting. On his office walls hung a large aerial photo of the peninsula of Alcântara and a poster featuring Alcântara’s Caixeiras (ritual drummers and singers who are all women and mostly black). His work in Alcântara had clearly left a mark on his life. Although he was reserved during our hour-­and-­a-­half interview, my impression was of a man concerned principally with developing the space program but not indifferent to the plight of Alcântara’s villagers. But he was just one in a long string of federal representatives sent from Brasília to Alcântara—­an area that is a bit farther from Brasília than Biloxi is from Brooklyn and about as dissimilar.14 While most of the federal workers I met seemed genuinely concerned with achieving some decent solution to Alcântara’s conflicts, they also came laden with conflicting orders and imperatives. Before the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, which has left Alcântara’s villagers with a government more uniformly hostile to their interests, the federal government was highly divided. The PT ministries in the GEI, one of the agencies most recently involved in Alcântara, tended to ally themselves with Alcântara’s social movements—­ especially the Ministry of Agrarian Development (Ministério de Desenvolvimento Agrário, MDA), the Ministry of the Environment (Ministério do Meio Ambiente, MMA), and the SEPPIR. The Ministry of Science and Technology, the AEB, and the military agencies, on the other hand, had strong ties in 2005 to Alcântara’s conservative mayor, who favored the expansion of the base, rather than to its social movements. 39

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One result of this split in the federal government’s approach to Alcântara’s local politics has been the development of new avenues of financial and political support for Alcântara’s residents, helping free poor people from some of their dependence on local elites and making possible a reshaping of local relations of hierarchy. During the time that I lived in Alcântara, for example, the SEPPIR awarded a grant of R$50,000 (then approximately US$25,000) to MABE, by far the launch center’s most powerful institutional opponent in Alcântara. The funds for a federal program to train Alcântara’s young adults for a (then nearly nonexistent) job market, moreover, were allocated through representatives of MABE and an allied organization, the Association of Black, Rural, Quilombo Communities of Maranhão (A Associação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas do Maranhão, ACONERUQ). This strategy of “marginalizing the mayor,” which Ansell has noted was a key aspect of the Lula government’s strategy in poor municipalities (2014, 162–­85), allowed some Workers’ Party actors in the government to bypass the conservative mayoral administration, even as this strategy set different organs of the federal government, and their local allies, in opposition to each other.

Alcântara and Lulismo Most of the years since I started traveling to and living in Brazil in 2001 have been historically good ones for the poor in this most unequal country. I have noted the decline of mimetic convergence as an imaginary for conceiving inequality’s reduction, but Brazilian governments during this period took inequality’s reduction seriously, and with some success. January 2003 marked the start of the Lula administration, and by the end of Lula’s second term in 2010, he was regarded as a hero by most in Alcântara. Social and cultural affinity account for some of this high regard. Like Alcântara’s residents, Lula was born poor in Brazil’s poorest region, the northeast, and, also like Alcântara’s residents, he frequently suffered the scorn of Brazilian elites: disparaging remarks about his “bad grammar” were ubiquitous among the educated classes during his years as president, while Brazil’s major media sources were heavily opposed to his administration (Feres Junior and Kerche 2013).15 Lula made his political reputation as the leader of steelworker strikes during the military government (1964–­1985) and had been a PT presidential candidate in every direct election since 1989.16 Moderating his tone, trimming his beard, and hiring corporate media managers, he finally won


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his first presidential election in 2002, riding the anti-­neoliberal wave that marked Latin American politics at the start of this century. Lula proved one of that wave’s most politically cautious riders. To maintain political power, he allied with and appointed many powerful ministers from conservative parties and was allied with the conservative and extremely powerful group of José Sarney17 (whom I discuss in chapter 3) in Maranhão. Moreover, some in his administration and the successor administration of the PT candidate he favored, Dilma Rousseff, were involved in elaborate graft schemes to pay off political figures in order to hold together this ideologically incoherent alliance (H. Ribeiro 2015). Dilma was eventually removed from office in a 2016 impeachment led by the same conservative politicians with whom the PT governments had entered opportunistic alliances. Still, several initiatives of the early twenty-­first-­century governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff have helped to reduce poverty and inequality throughout Brazil, including Alcântara. These include increases to the minimum wage, labor protections, federal housing subsidies, investment in public education, affirmative-­action programs, and conditional cash-­transfer programs. Various economic indicators reflect Brazil’s federal focus on poverty reduction in these years. Between 2003 and 2011 social spending rose from 11 percent to 16 percent of GDP, all during a period of significant economic growth (Weisbrot, Johnston, and Lefebvre 2014, 2). From 2003 to 2014 the real minimum wage increased by 76.2 percent, and from 2000 to 2012 unemployment-­insurance coverage increased by 99 percent (3). Between 2003 and 2014 informal labor decreased from 22.5 percent to 13.3 percent of the broader labor force (16). Additionally, between 2003 and 2011 education spending increased from 4.6 percent to 6.1 percent of GDP (8). And over that period the federal government created eighteen new public federal universities that have significantly expanded higher-­education options available to poor young people, including those in Alcântara (Madeiro and Ramalhoso 2014). Moreover, higher-­education access has also been expanded by quota (affirmative-­action) programs (about which, see chapter 5). These affirmative-­action programs were initiated in 2001, prior to Lula’s 2002 election, but they were expanded significantly under subsequent PT administrations. The stabilization of inflation under Fernando Henrique Cardoso, both as finance minister in 1994 and then as a two-­term president, also created conditions favorable to these PT initiatives (Clements 1997). These initiatives, as well as Brazil’s economic boom, fueled principally by commodity sales to China from 2003 to 2012, were just getting


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started during my key years of research in Alcântara. But in subsequent visits I have seen how they have improved economic life, as well as educational opportunities for people in the region. But the contradictory and seemingly incompatible collection of agents, organizations, ideologies, and interests arrayed in Alcântara, all in some way allied with the federal government, also epitomize the style of governance that the Lula administration brought to Alcântara. While the ad­ ministration seldom promised the erasure of difference and inequality through mimetic convergence, as had earlier instantiations of the space program in Alcântara, Lula’s government operated on the premise that opposed interests could be harmonized, that the quilombolas could somehow keep their land, inequality be reduced, the base be expanded, and the air force and civilian space programs both be accommodated in their projects. The key message of the GEI, and of federal programs during this period in Alcântara, was that there could be some reconciliation of classes and interests, and some reduction of inequality, without conflict. As economist André Singer has noted in his analysis of the style of politics he dubs Lulismo, the new redistributive efforts won the support of Brazil’s poor at the cost of structural reforms, such as agrarian reform, tax reform that might have made a more substantial dent in Brazil’s inequality or that might have undermined the power of oligarchs, such as Maranhão’s Sarney, whom I discuss in chapter 3 (Singer 2005, 2012, 2015; see also, Cuadros 2016). Historian Lincoln Secco has noted in a published interview that “the model of governance of the PT is a calculated conciliation of classes” (Truffi 2015). These structural problems posed by such “calculated conciliation” are clearly manifested in Alcântara. The quilombolas have won state recognition but not constitutionally mandated land title; they have won some economic gains, but nothing that might begin to breach the vast gulf of inequality separating them from Brazil’s elites; and the federal approach to Alcântara has attempted to harmonize the irreconcilable interests of the air force, the quilombo movement, the Sarney oligarchy, and Alcântara’s villagers. Perry Anderson wrote of this conjuncture in Brazilian politics: “For Gramsci, hegemony in a capitalist social order had been the moral ascendancy of the possessing over the labouring classes, securing the consent of the dominated to their own domination, in Lulismo it was as if the dominated had reversed the formula, achieving the consent of the dominant to their leadership of society, only to ratify the structures of their own exploitation” (P. Anderson 2011). Perhaps. But any conciliation of classes would not be easy, and in Al­ cântara at least some forms of hegemony have been eroding. Without 42

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structural reforms or land title, with a long history of broken promises, and without the promise of mimetic convergence, many of Alcântara’s res­idents have become sharply politicized in the time I have been researching there and have not readily acquiesced to their own exploitation. At times, the conciliation of groups—­the equilibrium of antagonisms—­ in Alcântara has broken. Notably, in 2008, as the Ukrainian-­Brazilian company ACS (Alcântara Cyclone Space) was preparing to move equipment into the forested area between the seaside communities of Mamuna and Baracatatiua to build their new launch site. The air force, which controls the CLA, had prohibited the construction of this civilian and profit-­ focused installation within the CLA’s perimeter. Villagers staged a blockade to prevent equipment from entering the forest. A 2008 court decision favored the villagers, and the new launch site was built on the existing base, though it now sits unused (B. de C. F. Costa 2013; W. Lima 2008). And, at a national scale, this conciliation has broken down through a revolt of the middle and upper classes. In the face of a severe economic downturn, the federal government’s harmonization of interests became impossible. The architects of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment have moved to force the poor to bear the brunt of the downturn, notably through a constitutional amendment, written into law in December 2016, that freezes social spending for twenty years, locking in austerity, while making no move to freeze the payment of creditors or reform Brazil’s highly regressive tax system (Carta Capital 2016).

The Development of Distrust; Distrust of Development The decline of mimetic convergence on the national scene can be at least partially attributed to the decline of Cold War–­era developmentalism. Mimetic convergence was the promise of the Cold War, as the communist and capitalist worlds both competed for the allegiance of the “Third World” with the promise of equality, with the promise of convergence. Yet, on the local scene, mimetic convergence has lost its power for somewhat different reasons. First, the quilombo movement has provided an alternative identity-­based way for people to conceptualize and struggle against inequality, while “whitening” has come under sustained assault as a model of personal and familial ascension (Guimarães 2012) (see chapters 5 and 6). Additionally, reality has undermined the air force’s promises of local convergence. More than two decades before the slide show presentation with which I began this chapter, when representatives of the Brazilian space program 43

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first came to Alcântara to make their case to villagers, they spoke not only of a transformation of the Brazilian nation’s position in world affairs but also of a total transformation of the local area. For Alcântara, a poor municipality, which from the first decades of the nineteenth century until the last decades of the twentieth was of little interest to elites from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, or Brasília, the air force promised a new era of riches, progress, and development. Choairy, who wrote and published a master’s thesis at the Federal University of Maranhão based on research during the construction of the base, writes: “They announced a new time, of plenitude, progress, and development for the population that, according to [air force] officials, lived in a primitive form, with obsolete technological resources. With this project, the municipality was ‘rescued for the twentieth century,’ as the [then] Director of the GICLA [Team for the Implantation of the Alcântara Launch Center] put it” (Choairy 2000, 71). Such a transformation never came to pass, and the people who were removed to construct the base have encountered increased poverty. Sent to live in government-­ built agricultural villages (agrovilas), they were transformed into a struggling and wage-­dependent semipeasantry. The people sitting in the church listening to the presentation on the economic benefits of the base were aware of these cruel local realities and the history of unfulfilled government promises. Their individual experiences and knowledge have been confirmed by Federal University of Maranhão anthropologists, Maristela de Paula Andrade and Benedito Souza Filho, who organized their students into the GERUR (Grupo de Estudos Rurais e Urbanos, Rural and Urban Study Group) to conduct studies of the base’s impact. They have found a precipitous drop in agrovila food security as a result of the base’s implantation (Andrade and Souza Filho 2006). Despite claims that the base would bring development and prosperity, and although the base provides some jobs, relocation to the agrovilas was a great blow to the local economy. In my interviews and conversations with people and in residents’ meet­ ings with space-­program officials, residents of both the coastal communities and the agrovilas frequently spoke of a loss of fartura (abundance), community life, and independence. In a 2005 interview with Letícia, a resident of an agrovila named Marudá relocated from an old coastal village also named Marudá, laid out this perspective while recounting the process of her relocation and current life: Today we live in fear of everything. They didn’t used to speak of unemployment. But they took us from our productive land by the sea and put us in unproductive land. . . . My sister and I didn’t want to leave. We were the last to leave. . . . At the time, there 44

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were people who made visits, lawyers, technicians. They spoke with the community and formed a local leadership. They got some people to ally with them. The [Rural Workers’] union and the church were always against this. But the population didn’t trust the union. They trusted the air force, and we are living the consequences. . . . Young people from the agrovilas end up in [state capital] São Luís, in [the neighborhoods] Vila Embratel and Liberdade, get into prostitution, drugs, gangs. . . . There’s no community any more. Everyone is suffering. Even in [the coastal villages] of Mamuna and Canelatiua. People in the agrovilas go back there because they don’t have fartura [abundance] any more. But those communities still hold together. It’s harder in the agrovilas. But even in Mamuna, for thirty to forty days, when there’s a launch, nobody is allowed to fish. They should give us a basic-­needs food package [cesta básica] during those days. . . . It’s sad, the fartura we had that we don’t have. We have to pay for the water and light in the agrovilas, but how can we get the money? I used to work at the air force [na Aeronáutica], but it’s a misery wage.

Letícia’s perspective was one I heard again and again in Alcântara. In this understanding of the past and present, people have been deprived of the access to natural resources that once made possible their community life and independence. In the agrovilas, they are now dependent on services (light, running water, purchased food) and on the spaceport for employment, or they must move to the city. As I have outlined, the early twenty-­first century has provided an economic boon to the area, largely because of the policies of wage increases and conditional cash transfers of the federal government during a period of significant economic growth. But, during this boom, Alcântara had to swim against the tide of decline that came with the implantation of the CLA. In 1996, manioc production in Alcântara had fallen to 4,907 tons, compared to the 8,139 tons produced in 1985 before the 1986–­1987 relocation to the agrovilas—­a 40 percent drop in production of the region’s most important crop (IBGE 1996; Almeida 2006b, 2:84). Between 1980 and 1991, moreover, the United Nations Human Development Index for Alcântara declined from being roughly on par with Nicaragua to roughly on par with the much-­poorer Zambia (M. Oliveira 2001). Although neither the agrarian census nor UN data are very reliable for Alcântara (where much of people’s livelihoods comes from subsistence farming, fishing, and gathering, and where scattered backwoods communities complicate large-­scale data collection), and the 1980s was a period of economic stagnation in much of Brazil, these data’s indication of a dramatic decline in the quality of life closely accords with local perceptions. The villagers’ distrust had developed over a long period characterized by failed promises of local development and happy coexistence. Most 45

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residents of the villages in the “security zone”—­the military’s designation for the region slated for the base’s expansion—­had kin in the agrovilas who spoke often about the difficulty of acquiring food and their diminished communal life. Older participants at the hearing referred to the 1983 Rural Workers’ Union (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais, STTR) petition, which demanded: “For our survival, we want: (1) good and sufficient land to work, outside of the expropriated area; (2) proximity to the sea, because the great majority of us receive part of our family’s sustenance from fishing; (3) to remain together, because of the familial ties and friendships that unite us in our villages; (4) water, which is never lacking where we live; (5) pasture for our animals; (6) definitive property title to the land, once we have assented to it.” The Minister of the Air Force approved these demands and signed the document in notarized form (in cartório) in 1983. Yet, due to a combination of unforeseen consequences, bad luck, incompetence, bad faith, and frequent changes in government personnel, these promises were not kept. Notably, before the implantation of the base, the Modulo Rural (the minimum amount of land that the federal government may legally use in any given agricultural region to settle a family of five) in Alcântara was thirty-­five hectares. However, despite air force promises to the contrary, an April 1986 decree by president José Sarney (the same state-­level potentate José Sarney whom I discuss in chapter 3) reduced the Modulo Rural in the parts of the municipality expropriated by the federal government from thirty-­five to fifteen hectares, making the communal rotating horticulture practiced in the area nearly impossible in the agrovilas. The reality of life in the government-­built agrovilas stands in direct contrast to what was promised: residents eke out a bare existence on poor and insufficient land for which they do not possess title and which is mostly located far from the sea. Independent villagers threatened by the expansion of the base are aware of these failed promises and voice doubts about any new government promises both in private and at public meetings. A 2005 interview with Machado about his time with the space cavalry captures some of the loss of trust in promises of convergence as widely felt in Alcântara. Machado: We represented the positive face of this project. You understand? Sean: Yeah. Machado: And we were duped. Sean: And you felt . . . ? Machado: We felt . . . Damn, man [pô cara]. A young eighteen-­year-­old guy in those days, living semi-­illiterate in a rural area. He goes to São Paulo, comes to know 46

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another world, starts to have money in his pocket. Then he comes back. Because of the good food, the physical exercise, the climate, even his skin color changes. He comes back here and he’s seen in a different way; the whole local society starts to see him differently. Sean: How did people in Alcântara perceive your group? Machado: We were all seen as people who had progressed in life, who were progressing in life, and people saw the chance of progressing the same way that we did. And the whole society believed this. The most concrete proof of this is when you open the Rural Workers’ Union’s archive, you perceive that they had only one point of struggle back then: the struggle for thirty-­five hectares; the struggle wasn’t to remain on the land. Today we’re trying to help Mamuna, Baracatatiua . . . stay on the land. And that’s the big difference of the work that we have started to do with the black movement. Sean: Another thing: you’re speaking of the relation that the military had with the people in the communities. How has this relation changed? Machado: Back then, we were seen favorably. Everything was new. For instance, during this first stage of the project when there was going to be the relocation of families, the better part of the soldiers were from that region of communities. They were children and nephews of the people who were being relocated. The kinship relation really made us more persuasive. But nobody sees the space program favorably any more.

Development projects often engender consequences at odds with their stated goals. This disjuncture is a central point of much of the crit­ ical ethnographic literature on development (Escobar 1995; J. Fergu­ son 1994; Gupta 1988; Li 2007; J. C. Scott 1998), although such failure is not inevitable. But it is quite clear that the project of state-­led development and relocation in Alcântara failed to bring the promised prosperity and left residents poorer than they had been (Choairy 2000; Andrade and Souza Filho 2006; Andrade 2006; P. P. Nunes 2011; Pereira Júnior 2009). Indeed, members of the air force team ignored early warnings that the project of the agrovilas would not succeed in obtaining the proposed goals. In 1985, a technical commission report from MIRAD (Ministério da Reforma e do Desenvolvimento Agrário, Ministry of Agrarian Reform and Development) warned that the soil of the proposed agrovilas was too poor to support the populations to be placed there (Andrade 2006, 17). Unheeded by the air force, MIRAD’s analysis proved sadly accurate after just a few years in the agrovilas. The disjuncture between government promises and agrovila reality is a central theme when villagers discuss their relation to the base. At 47

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one meeting with representatives of the federal government, Lemos, the graying farmer and president of Alcântara’s Rural Workers’ Union, expressed these widespread concerns: We don’t believe you, because we have already been through this process. Since ’83, we’ve seen commitments signed and then broken. So, it’s hard to believe, when we don’t see any concrete change. . . . Unfortunately, Alcântara never benefited from this project; we’ve only suffered losses and great disadvantages. The proof is that the communities are poorer today than they were before. Somebody can even say to me, “You live in a shack.” My friend, this doesn’t matter. I may live in a shack covered with thatch and walled with mud, but I have my food and my children are well fed. For me, this is the important thing. . . . Yes, we want development. And someone might say, “If you want development you’ve got to accept the launching project.” But for us, the project hasn’t brought any development.

Lemos was expressing the perspective of many that the base had impoverished Alcântara’s villagers. Like his neighbors, Lemos was flatly opposing the government’s plans. He was also countering the belief that villagers were backward and rejected development, a discourse common both to some of the would-­be modernizers of the Brazilian space program and to some of the urban lawyers, academics, and intellectuals who had taken up the villagers’ case, as I discuss in chapter 2. For many of these metropolitan allies, the goal of the political struggle was less about villager livelihood and more about nourishing and fortifying a quilombo identity and way of life. By stressing development, Lemos challenged the assumption that the villagers are simply remnants of a past and, as such, necessarily stand in opposition to the base and to the development that it is usually presented as offering. Challenging a common perception about village life, Lemos was also articulating an almost universal sentiment among villagers: they wanted development but had been lied to and misled during the two decades since the construction of the spaceport.

Complementary Hierarchy As Alcântara’s residents have found new sources of political and economic power, and as they have come to believe that they cannot trust the pronouncements of authorities, they have become increasingly politicized. This is especially so at the local level. Even during the early years of conflict in Alcântara, some residents were willing to stage block-


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ades and make sharp demands on the air force and the federal government. But, in their relations with local elites, an ethos of deference and reciprocity prevailed—­an ethos in decline during my period of research. Poor people’s new sources of cash and new alliances with powerful outsiders (NGO lawyers, urban activists, anthropologists, sectors of the federal government) that I have described in this chapter are part of the reason for this change. In an anthropological study of the implantation of the precursor to Bolsa Família (Brazil’s conditional cash-­transfer program that awards cash grants to poor families), called Fome Zero (Zero Hunger),18 Aaron Ansell has noted that it was an express goal of government officials in the young Lula government to change political culture among poor people, undermining local forms of what he terms intimate hierarchy and installing a more oppositional political culture (2014). Indeed, Lula’s PT successor, Dilma Rousseff, went so far as to claim that Bolsa Família “swept away clientelism in Brazil” (cited in Diniz 2013), and other scholars have noted a decline in recent years of the patronage that has long characterized Brazilian politics (A. Borges 2010; Sugiyama and Hunter 2013). As Ansell argues, PT officials were not always successful in their attempts to transform poor people’s political culture, but Bolsa Família has certainly helped release poor people in Alcântara from some of their dependence on local elites, helping spur new ways of politicizing inequality.19 In this chapter I have analyzed the utopia of redress, mimetic convergence, and I have argued that mimetic convergence’s decline at different scales has opened possibilities for new ways of politicizing inequality in Alcântara. Here, drawing on Ansell’s intimate hierarchy I also note the importance of the structure of legitimation, complementary hierarchy. Com­ plementary hierarchy depoliticizes inequality by rendering the weak and the strong interdependent—­a structure of interaction that was, until recently, dominant in Alcântara’s local political system. The emergence of alliances between quilombolas and far-­flung political allies that I have begun to describe, along with the increasing economic independence of Alcântara’s residents from a local regime of clientelism, have undermined this complementary hierarchy, fostering new possibilities for inequality’s politicization. This insight, and the phrase “complementary hierarchy” as I use it here, came to me during a long conversation with Machado in 2009. As he often did when we talked at length, Machado discussed his efforts to spur people in Alcântara to political action and of his successes and failures in this. He said, “People are poor, so their best hope is to have a


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white friend. All they want is a white friend. And people are subservient. They think, ‘if I can just do something that helps someone up top, I might get something that I need.’ ” Machado’s critique can be analyzed from many angles. It mixes idioms of race and class—­as is common in settings where ethnoracial, class, and other status categories are ambiguously intertwined. But more importantly here, Machado clearly articulates what I have called complementary hierarchy: the subservience that is sustained through the hope of a weaker party to win favor from a stronger—­by the hope of the weaker party to be useful to that stronger party. Machado continued, “But I think people are less subservient today than they used to be. Nobody needs the mayor like they used to.” Such subservience, at least as it sustains a regime of depoliticizing hierarchy at the local level, Machado suggests here, is declining in Alcântara’s local politics. It is important to note that I am not suggesting that poor people’s dependence on elites has simply gone away. Alcântara’s residents’ reliance on local elites has come at the cost of their dependence on the support of federal programs such as Bolsa Família (which is under political assault by Brazil’s conservative leadership as this book goes to press), and their new dependence on more distant elites: the lawyers, activists, and intellectuals who have become villagers’ key allies. I cannot know what these new alliances will yield in the long term. Perhaps they will yield new kinds of depoliticizing patronage with those more distant elites, similar to the patronage that Adolph Reed Jr. has described in the United States (2001). Moreover, the oppositional stance that these distant elites have attempted to foster (Ansell 2014) has come to compete with an often-­conservative evangelical Protestantism (Hughes and Machado 2016)—­on the rise in Alcântara and throughout Latin America. The oppositional solidarity that left-­wing elites have attempted to foster in Alcântara has had some success in undermining a local regime of complementary hierarchy. But its longer-­term fate is not clear, and it is not the only game in town. For example, I took a long, early 2005 bus ride through the interior of the Baixada Maranhense (near Alcântara) with Janaína, a nationally important quilombo-movement activist whom I discuss at greater length in chapter 5. A frequent subject of my interviews, Janaína is herself skilled at the arts of interviewing. She questioned the people near us about the recent municipal elections in the towns we passed through, trying to get a sense of local politics. One young man responded to her queries: “I voted for the guy my father and my pastor told me to vote for. That’s what we always do.” Janaína answered him with some indig-


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nation: “That’s silliness [bobeira]. You should vote for whom you think is best, for you, for people like you, for poor people and for black people. If not, these thieves [ladrões] will continue to steal from you and your father, and no one’s life will get better.” Chastened, the young man meekly responded, “I know. I will next time.” It is worth noting that, in his timid response, the young farmer was showing deference to Janaína, a worldly self-­confident urbanite—­accompanied by me, a white foreigner snapping photos with an expensive digital camera that emerged from an expensive backpack. There are clear hierarchies in the relations between poor rural people and emerging activist elites. But the ethos Janaína tried to instill, and which I saw activists try to instill throughout my time in Alcântara, was one of assertive solidarity, and against an ethos of dependence on local elites. That ethos of assertive solidarity has, at least partially, taken hold. In recent visits to Alcântara, I have found people more confident than they were even in 2005 about making adversarial claims not only on the space program but also on the municipal administration. During my two years of intensive fieldwork for this book (2004–­2006), schools in Alcântara were closed for months at a time with children at home, working in the fields, or playing in town. Successive mayoral administrations were ac­ cused of embezzling federal education funding, leaving the town’s teach­ ers unpaid and on strike. Yet, although municipal employees, teachers, and the parents of Alcântara’s children were obviously not happy about this situation, and, if prompted, would complain resignedly about it, to my strong surprise at the time, few in Alcântara would say anything bad about individuals in the administration who, relying no doubt on some portion of that federal money, were generous with many families: providing building material, food, transport for the sick, and generators, and hosting lavish social events. The refrain I most often heard when I asked about the mayor was “he (or she)20 is a bad mayor, but a good person.” By 2009, both mayors had been found guilty in federal court of embezzling funds, and in my more recent trips to Alcântara many poor people tend to express quite different attitudes about politics and about their relation to locally powerful figures. When I last visited Alcântara in July 2014, for instance, the now-­disbanded Ukrainian-­Brazilian company, Alcântara Cyclone Space, kept a small office in town, as the company awaited the resumption of launch-­preparation activities that had ceased in 2013 because of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. Representatives of the company and municipal employees were quietly administering some small development projects in communities around the base (building pools and electric grinders to produce farinha d’água21 and providing


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4.  Alcântara Cyclone Space truck in Mamuna

An Alcântara Cyclone Space truck is parked in Mamuna as the company’s employees and municipal officials administer small development projects in the village. In the background, some brick structures stand among wattle-­and-­daub houses, a result of the PT-­era federal housing subsidy Minha Casa Minha Vida (My Home My Life).

classes in natural-­beauty-­product fabrication to women). The company was seeking to build goodwill among communities that had already won a significant political battle with the company, forcing the placement of the company’s launchpad onto the existing base, rather than onto villager land. I walked through the village of Mamuna one day in 2014 talking with some representatives of the company along with a few officials from the mayor’s office, and villagers energetically expressed the expectation of further development aid from both. One woman in her forties, Mariela, whom I had known previously to be extremely cautious in her dealings with local political figures, said archly to the officials: “Things are fine between you all and us for now. But we are watching.” Moreover, no one whom I talked to during that July 2014 trip to Alcântara seemed reluctant to say bad things about the current or past mayors, a remarkable change from a decade before.


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Alcântara’s Politicization For readers familiar with Brazilian politics in the early twenty-­first century, or with the recent anthropological literature on Brazil, this politicization vis-­à-­vis local political figures will not in itself be surprising. My observation here is consistent with James Holston’s influential argument, based on research in the urban peripheries of São Paulo that, since the 1970s, an “insurgent citizenship” has come to politicize residents of Brazil’s urban peripheries. Holston charts the struggle of residents of those urban peripheries for control of their land, and argues that residents of Brazil’s urban peripheries have been converting violence into “law talk” (Holston 2008, 234; Caldeira 2000; see also Caldeira and Holston 1999), creating a new kind of insurgent citizenship that breaks down older clientelist relations of dependence and renders people anonymous but empowered citizens. Despite the vast gulf between rural Alcântara and urban São Paulo de­ cades earlier, Holston’s observations are similar to my own. But, as Hol­ ston himself shows, it is not enough to say that politics are insurgent—­ adversarial politics can take many different forms, depending on material and discursive conditions. In this chapter, I have begun to analyze those forms and conditions in Alcântara, showing how (1) governance in Brazil in the early twenty-­first century has been highly divided, as is clearly reflected in the federal government’s approach to Alcântara, leaving the site a key domain of conflicting projects to address inequality; (2) many villagers in Alcântara have developed a new kind of adversarial political consciousness, a conceptualization of their collective interests, which was much more muted in the early years of the spaceport’s implantation; (3) this politicization at the local level stems, in part, from poor people’s declining dependence on local forms of complementary hierarchy; (4) this politicization also results, in part, from the weakening of a key imaginary of the redress of inequality, which I term mimetic convergence, the idea that the poor people and countries will “catch up” to the rich in a kind of progressive teleological emulation of them; (5) and that the decline of this imaginary of mimetic convergence can be perceived both in quilombo politics and in the institutionalization of the space program. There is more to it than this, as I elaborate in the chapters ahead. First, we need to turn to a closer examination of Alcântara and its histories.



Alcântara in Space and Time you can see a city so much better . . . when—­like Alcântara—­ all its people have left and nothing remains of them (not even a dresser mirror in one of those roofless houses)—­just the persistent certainty among the ruins that on the ground where brush now grows they actually danced Ferreira Gullar, Poema Sujo (Dirty Poem)

They always say that nobody lives out here in the interior: in [the villages of ] Mamuna, Brito, Canelatiua, Baracatatiua . . . that it’s just forest, just abandoned. So, they thought they could build their base and build some kind of new world. But it’s just the old owners who left. We’re still here, we’ve always been here, and we won’t leave.  A n i n h a ,

resident of Mamuna, 2006

Decadência and Memory Alcântara and the surrounding region were the frequent subject of a mournful literature during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The recurring tropes of this literature, which includes works of fiction and poetry of high quality (Azevedo [1881] 2010; Gullar [1976] 1990; Montello 1978), are of decay, disappearance, and emptiness, a reclaiming of Alcântara by nature, a tropical land without people. The 54

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chap­ter’s first epigraph, by Maranhão’s best-­known twentieth-­century poet, Ferreira Gullar,1 starkly captures the theme of emptiness that runs through this nostalgic genre.2 Gullar plaintively asks in his book-­length poem, “it is impossible to know at how many speeds a city moves.” It is impossible from any single vantage point, at least. Similar tropes have been dominant themes of Maranhão’s historiography too. Through what Almeida terms the ideologia da decadência (ideology of decay or decline), historians once viewed Alcântara through the lens of decline, its streets and countryside empty, its industry halted (Almeida 1983; see also C. A. Fernandes 1998, 23; F. P. da Silva 2001, 21). In this version of history, Alcântara was once filled with life and people, and then emptied out, as though the many who remained to build lives for themselves did not exist. The physical appearance of the central town has undoubtedly stimulated these tropes of decay: while the town rises jaggedly and majestically from the waters of the bay of São Marcos, its streets exude a sense of opulence long destroyed. In the town’s Praça da Matriz, the central plaza, only the great stone facade of the Church of São Matias remains standing. Along the Rua da Amargura (Bitterness Road) that overlooks the sea, ruins of former homes and plantation houses stand crumbling and pillaged, overtaken by dense tropical foliage and occupied only by oc­ casional grazing bulls among stands of banana trees. But this ideologia da decadência belies Alcântara’s long-­robust social life: those streets and backwoods are empty only of most of the light-­ skinned elites who once commanded the region’s labor. It was the elite that fled during the nineteenth century, but the descendants who remained have continued to plant those banana trees and graze their livestock amid the ruins, even if illicitly. In the past, the descendants of the enslaved were ignored in narratives of decay. But those who arrive in town these days are usually former rural horticulturalists. They turn up regularly, improvising households in what may be the harbinger of a com­ ing urban sprawl and density on the peninsula.3 Michel-­ Rolph Trouillot’s observations about the absence of the Haitian revolution in much nineteenth-­century historical writing help us understand the ideologia da decadência in Maranhão’s historiography. Trouillot argues that the French authors who wrote about Saint-­ Domingue at the turn of the nineteenth century “could read the news only with their ready-­made categories, and these categories were incompatible with the idea of a slave revolution” (1995, 73), in a land that was then the greatest generator of wealth in the Caribbean. In Haiti, as in Alcântara, “the production of historical narratives involves the uneven 55

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5. Ruins on Amargura Road

Ruins on Amargura Road, on the outskirts of Alcântara’s small urban nucleus, overlook the sea. The plants surrounding the ruins have recently been illicitly grazed by a local person’s cattle. Banana trees have been planted in the background. Although these signs of rural subsistence culture in a semiurban context long past a brief period of opulence are sometimes represented as evidence of Alcântara’s decadência (decay, decline), they can also be read as robust manifestations of its current social vitality.

contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means for such production” (xix). Alcântara’s former enslaved, unlike elites, did not have the means to produce nationally circulated narratives about themselves. The ideologia da decadência erased the formation of Alcântara’s quilombos, revealing a similar unthinkability of this once-­wealthy land being taken over by the descendants of en­ slaved people. But times have changed. Today the ideologia da decadência is itself in decline, while narratives of escaping enslavement are ascendant. The presence of quilombos in the region was once unthinkable. Writers about Alcântara once saw only the disappearance of the Afro-­Brazilian past and present, or that it might assimilate into Brazil’s mestiçagem—­the harmonious racial mixture that became the dominant national myth during the twentieth century. Today, however, quilombos in Alcântara have gone


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from being unthinkable to being the principal way in which the area’s residents can call upon broader publics, and the principal way many outsiders think about Alcântara. The evocation of a heroic past and of former enslaved people who won the land has become the most powerful way in which Alcântara’s residents can make a claim on national institutions for their land and for equality. This ideological resurgence of the once-­disappeared quilombos is con­ sistent with a transformation that has occurred throughout Brazil. Manuela Carneiro da Cunha (1994, 123), for example, has noted that “Since the 1980s, the [predicted] disappearance of indigenous [Brazilian] groups [ has given] way to a steady demographic resurgence” (1994, 123; see also Ramos 1998, 96; J. P. de Oliveira 1998; Warren 2001). Quilombos, like Índios (indigenous Brazilians),4 have not disappeared, nor have they become undifferentiated: “Brazilians like the idealized . . . national population,” which had been the dominant national expectation for indigenous Brazilians and the descendants of enslaved Africans during much of the nineteenth and some of the twentieth century (Ramos 1998, 96; see also Arruti 2003). Brazil’s quilombos and Índios now claim political and social rights that, combined with political mobilization, have fostered a flourishing of these identities. Significantly, while agrarian reform efforts by modern Brazilian governments have been limited,5 the federally protected categories of quilombo remnant communities, extractive reserves, and indigenous lands have nonetheless opened up the possibility of identity-­based agrarian reform (Cunha and Almeida 2000). Forms of alterity that once seemed to doom people to disappearance have been turned on their heads and have become the very conditions through which some exploited and marginalized groups can make claims on their citizenship and very right to exist. Since my first trip to Alcântara in 2001, I have seen some of these transformations take place. During that first trip, for example, I got on a tourist boat to Alcântara with a mix of Alcântara residents and Brazilian tourists. Eager to learn all I could, I chatted with an Alcântara-­born tour guide, leading the Brazilian tourists on a day trip. “How can I get to the quilombos in the interior?” I asked. “There are no quilombos here,” he answered, with a frustrated air. “The villages of the interior are all the remnants of plantations [ fazendas].” Yet, only three years later, when I was in Alcântara conducting my long-­ term fieldwork, this same tour guide was actively telling tourists about the quilombos, and when, with a group of tourists, he would run into me, he would ask me to talk about the quilombos to his charges, a role I happily


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played. Quilombo has today become the dominant frame through which tourists, activists, scholars, and bureaucrats think about Alcântara’s rural residents. But there is little agreement about what quilombo means.

The Formation of Quilombos The peninsula, once called Tapuitapera6 by the Tupinambá, was renamed Alcântara by Portuguese colonists in 1648 and assigned the status of villa, its new name chosen for a section of Lisbon that itself had been given the Arabic name for “the bridge” during Muslim rule in Portugal (711 to 1249) (Viveiros 1999, 28). In 1650, the Portuguese on the peninsula, who then numbered three hundred people, built the area’s first sugar mill (28). I do not know the indigenous population of the re­­gion at the time, but early seventeenth-­century sources report fifteen to twenty indigenous villages in the region (D’Abbeville 1614, 146, cited in Veiga 2013, 88). Sugar planters worked enslaved indigenous people. But because the soil was not ideal for sugar, production stagnated. Consequently, the region did not become an important economic center until the cotton economy took off nearly a century later in 1755. The cotton trade was monopolized by the Companhia Geral do Comércio do Grão-­Pará e Ma­ ranhão, also founded in 1755. In that same momentous year, indigenous slavery was abolished, and these now-­free indigenous Brazilians settled by religious orders in those areas of northeastern Alcântara that were re­ cently designated for the expansion of the spaceport. In the years after 1755, much of the rest of the peninsula was rapidly converted to cotton plantations (Almeida 2006b, 2:46), which relied on the large-­scale importation of enslaved Africans, a trade in humans that developed much later than in most of northeast Brazil (Gomes 2002). Before 1755, no more than three thousand enslaved Africans had been imported to Maranhão. But with the rise of the cotton industry and the end of indigenous slavery in 1775, the situation changed rapidly. Approximately twelve thousand Africans were imported in the twelve years from 1755 to 1777. Responding to the increased demand for Maranhense cotton in British markets created by the trade vacuum caused by the American Revolution, some thirty-­five thousand enslaved Africans were imported to Maranhão from 1778 to 1800 and another forty-­eight thousand from 1801 to 1820 (Assunção 1995, 267). As Beckert notes, between 1770 and 1780 Maranhão’s cotton exports doubled, nearly doubled once more in the following decade, and then, nearly tripled by 1800 (2014, 94). In 1796, as the region’s planters were vigorously importing 58

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human beings, cotton accounted for more than 80 percent of Mara­ nhão’s exports (C. A. Fernandes 1998, 68). On the eve of Brazil’s 1822 in­ dependence from the Portuguese empire, Maranhão was the Brazilian province with the highest percentage of its population enslaved, at 55 per­ cent (Assunção 2010, 69). As Caio Prado Júnior famously put it, “white cotton turned Maranhão black” (1961, 458). Alcântara had become a central hub in the cotton economy, but its period of opulence lasted barely longer than a half century. Around 1818, Maranhão’s cotton economy began an unsteady but consistent decline, as cotton exports from the United States came to dominate the international market (Assunção 1995, 267; Beckert 2014; A. C. Leite 1994). There was a brief renewal of cotton sales during the US Civil War in the mid-­nineteenth century, when the British market reopened, and a few fledgling attempts to establish sugar production in poor soils that limited production compared to competitors to the south of Maranhão (in Pernambuco and Bahia). However, the latter two thirds of the nineteenth century in Alcântara were marked by the decline of the plantation and export economy. During this period of cotton’s decline, free black communities proliferated in Maranhão’s interior (Almeida 2006a, 2006b).7 This was a process facilitated by the diminished power of local elites who were weakened not only by economic decline but also by chaos surrounding the Brazilian war of Independence (1822–­1825) and Maranhão’s Balaiada Rebellion (1838–­ 1841) (Assunção 2010, 69). Historians have documented numerous cases from this period of small communities of people who had escaped slavery hiding in the region’s forest close to the declining plantations (Assunção 2016, 368). The banning of the slave trade in 1846 raised the price of enslaved people in Brazil and, after that period, there were forays into Alcântara by raiders (capitães do mato) who hoped to sell reenslaved people in the economically booming Brazilian south (C. A. Fernandes 1998, 15–­16; Andrews 2004, 80). Nonetheless, free black rural communities continued to form, doing so principally through three processes: some descendants of the enslaved purchased land, others received land donated by former landowners, and others seized land through violence (Almeida 2006a, 2006b; P. P. Nunes 2011).8 Before and after the abolition of slavery in 1888, free black communities in Maranhão, as in much of Brazil (Alberto 2012; Butler 2017) faced varied repression, frequently for “vagrancy” (vadiagem) (Cruz 2007; Valença 2014). However, by the time of abolition, the region was principally populated by free rural communities. It was only later that these communities began to define themselves as quilombos, a process that is one major focus of this book. 59

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Villager Accounts Villager stories about their past stand in precise contrast to the ideologia da decadência found among Maranhão elites. Contrary to elite analyses of decay or vagrancy, local accounts by the free poor usually stress freedom and abundance, as Almeida’s work has documented (2006a, 2006b). In local memory, the period after the decline of the cotton plantations was when Alcântara’s villagers took control of the land and freed themselves from domination. One 2004 interview with an octogenarian rural man, Zé Tigre, is exemplary: My parents . . . and a great aunt, who was a slave . . . told me. She said, “listen my children . . . we were slaves and we would get only one hour to sleep. Some had to pick cotton, and they picked cotton; some had to break babaçu nuts, and they broke babaçu nuts; some had to roast farinha . . . and they would roast farinha. Then, we were all free, and we had the land. Dawn would come and you’d still be sleeping . . . we’d be at peace . . . when we needed to work, we would work, when we needed to fish, we’d fish.”

In Zé Tigre’s recollection of his great aunt’s stories, people could work and sleep when they wanted after they took control of the land, a marked contrast to the ideologia da decadência. This chapter’s second epigraph, a statement by Aninha, a resident of the village of Mamuna, ex­presses similar sentiments. Consider the words of another Mamuna resi­dent, Francinaldo, speaking at the contentious meeting between the com­munity and an air force lieutenant colonel:9 You’re seeing our strength. We don’t want to leave here. My father was born here, he died eighty-­five years of age, and it’s here that I know how to live. I was born here. I grew up here. I don’t know how to live away from here. What I know to do is this. It’s planting. It’s farming. This is what I know. . . . I haven’t studied much. Until eighth grade.10 . . . but I have my education, as a farmer. . . . In rice, beans . . . I know how to work on all of these things. This is what I know. I don’t want to leave here . . . here the land is ours . . . the best thing that exists for us is this food. We have our daily bread [pão de cada dia] . . . we head into the nearby woods. It would be three minutes by car, just ten minutes by foot. We can head there in the morning to work, then come home, eat some food, sleep a little, and at two in the afternoon we’re working again. And we have all the food we need. Our companions in the agrovilas must leave at six in the morning. They get home at six in the afternoon, with flat bicycle tires, crazed and weak with hunger. We don’t want to fall into that. 60

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Like Zé Tigre, Francinaldo emphasizes the freedom of action available to residents of Alcântara’s coastal land. Yet, while for Zé Tigre’s aunt, the important contrast was with the enslaved past, for Francinaldo, it is with residents of the agrovilas, whose lives he sees as constrained by the impositions placed by the spaceport. But his words mimic those of Zé Tigre’s aunt: life on the agrovilas is cast as similar to that as a slave.

Alcântara in Time and Space Tourist guides usually describe the town of Alcântara (as distinct from the entire peninsular municipality, including the countryside) as a decaying colonial hamlet of about five thousand,11 with little industry except for tourism and small-­scale fishing, situated in regal decay across the bay of São Marcos from Maranhão’s capital, São Luís. Approaching Alcântara from the often-­choppy bay, on one or two daily commercial passenger boat trips to and from the capital, this description appears almost complete. Eighteenth-­century Portuguese stonework stands chipped in the sun, overgrown babaçu palms rise in the background. A few adolescent boys and men wait at the port to offer the mostly Brazilian tourists guided tours of the town’s few cobbled streets. They point out the pelourinho, a sunbaked pillar of stone in the central plaza where the enslaved were once chained and whipped, the ruined Church of São Matias, where Alcântara’s white elite once worshiped, and the once-­opulent mansions, some restored by the intermittent infusions of federal money that have come to the town since it was declared national patrimony in 1948. Tourists who enter the Casa de Cultura Aeroespacial, an air-­force-­run museum in Alcântara’s town center, are shown homages to Brazil’s air force and space program (repeatedly identified with progress and the future) and to the economic and cultural improvements that the spaceport has brought to the area (which is repeatedly identified with primitiveness and the past). As if an illustration of the incoherence of casting contemporary social relationships in this temporalizing frame (Fabian 1983), a narrator in the CLA’s two-­hour promotional video describes the people outside the base as living with “centuries-­old customs” at the very moment that any unlikely tourist who had the patience to sit through the entire video12 is shown clips of villagers dancing to 1970s reggae.13 As those tourists embark on the afternoon boat back to the capital, at around four or five on a weekday afternoon, depending on the tides, they might also notice a bus marked “Ministério de Aeronáutica” arriving with a cargo of passengers for a ship that awaits them at the port.14 61

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Urban professionals and their mostly darker-­skinned companions in Brazilian military dress file onto the ship bound for the state capital, São Luís. Few workers at the spaceport, which sits some twelve kilometers from the seaport, will spend much time in the town of Alcântara or interact significantly with the residents of the rural communities around the base. But even those spaceport workers who never set foot in the Alcântara of wattle-­and-­daub and cinderblock houses, rutted concrete, colonial cobblestone and (mostly) dirt roads, but instead fly directly in and out from the landing strip at the base, nonetheless encounter some people from Alcântara within the base’s perimeter. Many of the air force recruits who work on the base are young men from the villages of the interior, and just about everybody who lifts a broom or a rag in the offices and residences on the base is a woman from Alcântara. Still, all the jobs on the base that require formal education are staffed by people from outside Alcântara, usually from the wealthier and very distant states of the south and southeast. Alcântara is not the only place where a satellite-­launching base mingles uneasily with a society built on the remains of tropical plantation slavery. At the Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guiana, the European

6. São Luís–­Alcântara passenger boat

A passenger boat from Alcântara disembarking in the state capital, São Luís. 62

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7. Ministry of the Air Force bus

A Ministry of the Air Force bus takes workers and soldiers from the port to the CLA in April 2004, along Alcântara’s best-­paved road. No military branch has possessed a ministerial seat since 1999, but some officers in Alcântara are resentful of civilian control of the space program, as the bus’s sign reflects. Around the bus, revelers walk through town in costume on a procession during Alcântara’s annual Festa do Divíno Espírito Santo (Festival of the Divine Holy Ghost).

Union launches satellites from the same ground where enslaved Africans once tended French plantations, and where French prisoners waited out their lives in the colonial penal colony Devil’s Island (Redfield 2000). Even at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, a similar social and geographic logic is at work. The slavery-­based equatorial societies of the Atlantic, once central to the building of a transatlantic colonial economy (Mintz 1985; Trouillot 1992), today have few economic advantages other than tourism and the potential gravitational advantages of equatorial satellite-­launching bases.

Mamuna and Communal Land and Labor In Alcântara, I lived in a rented house in town and rode a motorcycle into the interior, where I slept on a hammock in different villages for a few weeks at a time. I was almost always met with a kind welcome, and 63

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a place to hang my hammock, wherever I went in the interior. The village that most often appears in these pages and where I spent the most time is Mamuna, a seaside community just outside the CLA’s perimeter, which has been threatened with expropriation since 1986. I describe here a ride to Mamuna on an early February morning in 2005, during which, as I often did, I gave a ride (carona) to a villager who needed a lift. We left the town of Alcântara on the peninsula’s main rutted but paved (state-­administered) road. Traveling around the perimeter of the spaceport, fenced only in some places, after about fifteen minutes we turned onto a gravel road that leads to the parched agrovilas. After another fifteen minutes of driving past the agrovilas’ cracked concrete row houses, we turned onto a bumpy dirt road—­sometimes impassable during the rainy season—­careening by the plots of agricultural land belonging to the residents of various agrovilas. The village of Mamuna was still about an hour away. While daylight lasts, one invariably encounters men and women walking along the road, sometimes bicycling and occasionally motorcycling. Most are either traveling to or from agrovila fields, or else heading to or from the village at Mamuna. They travelled to Mamuna to fish, to visit friends and kin, and to engage in various economic exchanges. There is a vigorous trade in fish from Mamuna that includes oysters flushed from the brackish inlets, although the oyster population has declined as a result of overfishing that occurred after the creation of the agrovilas (Souza Filho, Lôbo, and Aspar 2006, 89). Rural people also travel to the town of Alcântara to buy goods such as clothing, cooking oil, and cachaça (sugarcane liquor). Until 2006, when federally funded rural electrification made refrigerators possible in the villages of the interior, people used to produce and sell ice from the agrovilas, which have had electricity since they were built. The annual agricultural cycle revolves around the rainy ( January to July) and dry (August to December) seasons, which structure villagers’ productive activities throughout the year. For much of February, after the rainy season has begun, and the season’s fields have been cleared and the manioc planted, people head to other fields to plant rice or harvest beans, as they were doing on that morning when we rode to Mamuna. Men generally do the felling of fields and the planting, while women help with the harvest in addition to their house work, childcare, and food preparation. During February, people race along the muddy roads, flailing their arms against the clouds of lembecas—­the ravenous but, mercifully, quickly disappearing black flies, which swarm roads and fields for a few weeks each year. Riding quickly on the motorbike, we nonetheless got some painful bites. 64

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8. Making farinha d’água

A man in Mamuna pours manioc from a tipiti in preparation for roasting.

During the dry season, around August, people plant the sangal—­or dry-­season manioc. Planted in fields smaller than those cultivated during the rainy season, this manioc does not begin to grow until the rains begin in January and February. The manioc, by far the principal crop in Alcântara, is always harvested one year after it is planted. Because of its importance to local subsistence and economy, I briefly describe the production of farinha d’água from this manioc, which utilizes techniques and technologies that are principally of indigenous origin (Frota, Maranhão, and Marchi 2015). To produce farinha d’água, a key carbohydrate in many parts of the Amazon, manioc root is bundled into large sacks and left to sit in the water for four or five days, where it softens and begins to ferment. Today, some villages possess manufactured pools for this, along with electric grinders. But, the fermentation is usually carried out in a natural body of water. As we passed through one area on that trip, I smelled the familiar not-­quite-­pleasant odor of the fermenting manioc. After softening, the manioc is ground and strained through a locally made wicker grater (caititu) and then pressed in a tipiti. The tipiti, made locally from wicker straw ( palha), is a hanging press that, fashioned in a cylindrical, helically wound braid, squeezes its contents as it 65

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hangs. The manioc meal is left in the tipiti until the manioc’s venomous liquid is extracted, and is then manually roasted for a few hours in the casa de farinha or casa de forno (farinha house or oven house). Each agrovila and village in Alcântara has at least one casa de farinha. These casas de farinha are generally held and maintained communally and used on a rotating basis. After roasting, the long-­lasting manioc meal is ready to eat or to store for use throughout the year. To my taste, it has a satisfying crunchy texture and light, vaguely fermented flavor. My passenger was carrying a small bag of farinha d’água on that trip, as do many rural travelers in the region. We snacked on it and drank water as we briefly took some shade from the now piercing sun. After another hour on that dirt road, past paths where residents of the agrovilas were entering the forest—­officially an off-­limits military-­security zone—­to plant, extract fruit, and make charcoal from the wood felled from that year’s fields, we arrived at Mamuna’s village limits. Our journey seemed long, but for most villagers, the trip would have been even more difficult. Although the development of an expansive federal and municipal bureaucracy in town made it necessary for residents to travel frequently to Alcântara, the people of Mamuna and other quilombos on the coast have long maintained closer ties to urban São Luís than to the nearby town of Alcântara. As in many other villages along the Alcântara coast, one resident of Mamuna owns a sailboat, and at least weekly takes it with passengers and cargo through the choppy bay to reach the city. Getting to Alcântara, which people do for basic commerce, medical care, or sometimes work and school, has at times been more difficult. During the first decades of the spaceport’s existence, people from Mamuna would either walk the whole way along the beach (an approximately three-­hour walk) or walk along the beach until they reached the base’s technical center, where they would try to catch a ride on one of the base’s buses. Both routes were forbidden by the air force in 2005, when two women (one from Mamuna and one an employee of the base) died in an accident on one of these buses. When I was last in Mamuna in 2014, there was a pau de arara (flatbed truck) that would take people into town almost daily for a fee. During my major research between 2004 and 2005, there were fifty-­six wattle-­and-­daub houses in the village of Mamuna. In addition to their generally better upkeep, the few relatively well-­to-­do homes were distinguished by a layer of plaster and paint over the mud walls, and sometimes roofs of ceramic or tin. Most house roofs, however, were made of thatch from pindoba or burití palm. Today there are some brick houses, made possible by the Workers’ Party federal housing subsidy, Minha Casa Minha 66

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9. Sailboat in Mamuna

A man from Mamuna tends his sailboat. The sail has been made from flour sacks.

Vida (My Home My Life). These houses are each generally occupied by one or two parents and their nonadult children. Single parents are almost always women. A few households are populated by children and their grandparents, the parents having moved to São Luís. As adolescents begin to have children, young men and women generally build a house of their 67

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10. Raising a house in Mamuna

Young people in Mamuna enjoy themselves as they fill the frame of a villager’s new house with daub. This is collective labor in rural Alcântara but considered light and festive. The owner of the house will owe comparably light labor to each of the people who helped him or her. This work is typically done on the weekend, and the owner of the house generally provides food and drink (usually cachaça) to the laborers.

own in the village, or in a neighboring village. Intermarriage among the villages is common. Although some of these pairings last for the couple’s lifetimes, there is no strong social rule requiring couples to stay together. Some young people from Alcântara’s countryside move to São Luís, or occasionally other Brazilian cities, to seek jobs, usually as domestic housemaids or bricklayers. Young men return to rural Alcântara more often than women. Although life as a domestic worker in São Luís is difficult and poorly remunerated, such jobs are more abundant than those that are available to Alcântara’s young men. One of the major problems in the agrovilas, and in some other nearby villages, is that there is no longer land for the next generation to build houses or to farm. Faced with this land shortage, as well as the varied allures of the city for young people, young people from the agrovilas return to live in Alcântara much more rarely than young people from the coastal villages. Continuing on the dirt road past the last houses in the village, we came to the soccer field, where young men play against each other al68

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most daily, and on weekends for prizes of beer. We then passed the site of a two-­room brick schoolhouse, built by the municipal government in 2005. Finally, after about another five minutes, we arrived at the bay and great brackish inlet (igarapé ) that separates Mamuna’s land from that controlled by the launching center. Except for a few outlying houses, most residences face the dirt road that runs through and constitutes the center of the village. A communal casa de farinha is located at each end of the village. Almost any day of the year, some family can be found roasting farinha d’água in these structures. In addition to the recently constructed schoolhouse and the evangelical church, three central meeting places line the main track between the village’s house rows. Consisting of collections of wooden benches and hammocks15 sheltered under the shade of a great tree, these three gathering places are the sites for most community meetings, but on a typical day they simply serve as spaces where men rest and socialize. Although these gender boundaries are not rigid, women rarely socialize under the fruit trees; they generally receive visitors inside or in front of their houses. By the time we arrived in Mamuna at around eight thirty, after leaving town around seven before the sun would have made riding unbearably hot, the working day was in full swing. A group of men was on a boat trip of a few days, taking charcoal to the ports in São Luís via sailboat—­ one of the main sources of cash for Alcântara’s villagers. Other men were fishing and still others working on the farms spread throughout the surrounding woods. A nearby group of women was spreading white goopy piles of wet tapioca onto cloth to be dried in the sun. A by-­product of one of the varieties of manioc meal made here ( farinha seca, distinct from farinha d’água), this tapioca would later be roasted into a tasty breakfast cake. Another group of women was spreading small shrimp on a tarp to dry in the sun. Much of this labor is gendered. Labor is also shared in structured ways. Throughout rural Alcântara, people trade labor time that is deemed equivalent through a system that people refer to as trading days (trocando dias). For example, women harvest the babaçu nut, found throughout the forest, and extract its oil, which is used for cooking and sold in São Luís (while I was there, its price ranged from the equivalent of US$1.50–­$2.00 per liter). Each woman collects her own nuts, but groups of around ten women together perform the laborious work of cracking the hard shells with axes and crushing and then boiling the nuts. Each woman keeps and sells the oil from her own babaçu harvest but owes equivalent labor to every one of the women who helped her. For men, similarly difficult 69

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11.  Women breaking babaçu nuts in Mamuna

Oil produced from the nuts is an important source of income for women in the village. Here, a group of women in Mamuna work on nuts that one woman has collected. That woman will own the oil, which she will likely sell in São Luís. She will then be responsible for aiding in the production of babaçu oil for each of the women who helped her.

and thus high-­value labor is the felling of forest in preparation for swidden planting. Men sometimes perform this task alone or with their sons. But more frequently they exchange the labor with other men, and more rarely, women. Work that is considered easier, in particular, the application of clay in the building of wattle-­and-­daub houses, is usually performed together by men, women, and children in a festive environment. This easier labor, however, while it necessitates reciprocal work, cannot be exchanged for the more difficult tasks. Although land is de facto held communally in Mamuna and other villages in Alcântara, an individual or family that clears an area for planting has exclusive usufruct rights to that land and its produce for the period that crops will grow there. In most cases, this is one year, the amount of time that manioc tuber takes from planting until harvest. After that year, the ground is left fallow and reenters common possession until somebody again farms it, generally five to ten years later. At times, people will


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continue to use the land on which manioc was planted for fruits and herbs. The crucial feature of this system is that, while the fruits of particular acts of labor and exchange can be possessed individually, natural resources cannot be: they are communal goods and regulated as such, a system of resource use known in Brazilian anthropological literature as uso comum, or uso comunitário (common use) (Almeida 2000, 2006a, 2006b; Andrade 1999; Prado 2007; Sá 1975). So, while people in rural Alcântara can lay exclusive claim to the fish they catch, or even to the perpetual produce of a fruit tree that is both close to a particular person’s house and planted by that person, nobody can lay exclusive claim to an area of beach, a stream, a wild stand of fruit trees, or (except for usufruct rights) a tract of forest. The ethnographic work of Maristela Paula de Andrade and her students at the Federal University of Maranhão describes the relationships of Alcântara’s villagers to the natural world. Putting these relationships at the center of the disputes in Alcântara, Andrade writes: “It is precisely this wealth [and abundance of the natural world], understood from their point of view, which, according to them, the air force wants to take away” (Andrade 2006, 32). A local discourse of natural abundance is, indeed, ubiquitous in Alcântara’s villages, despite their extremely limited access to cash, in contrast to the sense of impoverishment, desperation, and lament that I often found in Alcântara’s urban nucleus and in São Luís. This rural discourse of abundance, however, coexists with a robust sense of national exclusion vis-­à-­vis money, technology, and rights of citizenship.

Fantasies of Economism and Communitarianism This system of communal land holding and shared labor has long been crucial to everyday life in Alcântara’s communities. But it is not so well understood by some of the urbanites involved in Alcântara’s politics. To explore this, I will briefly take us to another part of this book’s ethnographic terrain, the home turf of many of the governing institutions dispatched to Alcântara: Brazil’s capital, Brasília. It is hard to imagine a more complete material and social contrast to rural Alcântara than Brasília. Designed in the 1950s in high modernist style by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, as part of a development project for the nation, the planned central city is all futuristic curves and angles and wide avenues built for cars. While in Brasília, I traversed those avenues by bus and foot, along with the many working class residents of the region’s “satellite cities”


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(on Brasília, see Holston 1989). Although the military bureaucracies no longer have ministerial offices, they have retained the most imposing architectural presence in the Esplanada dos Ministérios (Esplanade of the Ministries). Positioned closer to the Presidential Palace than any of the other ministries, and with one building for each of the branches of the military—­now called comandos rather than ministries—­and one for the Ministry of Defense, the military bureaucracy’s expansive presence in the capital seems to belie the military’s loss of political power during the 1990s.16 In August 2005, I arranged to interview an official assigned to Alcântara’s development and the expansion of the spaceport at the Ministry of Defense. On my arrival, following a short interrogation session from a young woman in the lobby of the Ministry of Defense building, I was assigned a guide who took me to an elevator and deposited me at the of­ fice of the official I was to interview. Accepting a thimbleful of coffee from one of the tuxedo-­clad waiters circling through the ministry, I settled into a comfortable leather sofa. Because I knew I was regarded with suspicion by many military officials, I sat nervously. “Would they revoke my research visa—­or worse?” I worried. After ten minutes unsuccessfully trying to calm myself by observing the surroundings and writing fieldnotes, I was grateful for the interruption when the civilian ministry official arrived. He greeted me with smiles and stiff pats on the back. Gripping my shoulder with what might have been a friendly nervousness of his own—­or perhaps imperiousness—­he led me to an office and an austere black glass table. There, opposite my designated chair, sat another man in civilian clothes, as well as two majors in the air force, all apparently briefed and ready to see me. Although I had anticipated being the one asking the questions at this meeting, these men asked many more questions of me than I of them. I did manage to get in a few questions of my own, though. In their responses, the friendly but imposing officials made their contempt for the quilombo movement clear. They were convinced that the assertion of common use of natural resources—­crucial to many claims of the ethnic distinctiveness of Alcântara’s villagers—­was a farce concocted by cynical activists from outside Alcântara. As proof they cited the complaints of those villagers who were moved to the agrovilas in the 1980s. “If they didn’t have any concept of private property,” one of the majors asked me rhetorically, “why are they so upset about the loss of land?” In chapters 3 and 7, I discuss the intellectual and material roots of the opposition to the quilombo movement, but here I want to point


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out that the men at the Ministry of Defense relied in their argument on the unstated premise of the universality of homo economicus: a model of human nature that makes economistic and individualized concepts of property inevitable and universal. They and other opponents of the quilombo movement often take assertions of communal economic life as facile falsehoods, deliberate deceptions that they believe are unmasked through the demonstration or assertion of some individual economic interest among the villagers. The military officials were wrong in their denial of a communal economic life, as I have shown above; they were not wrong, however, about some of the converse misconceptions that some urban intellectuals, activists, and bureaucrats bring to the situation in Alcântara. Many urban supporters of the quilombo movement interpret Alcântara’s common use, or uso comum as the very negation of homo economicus, that uso comum epitomizes a kind of communitarian utopia. But this belief in a selfless communitarianism has more to do with metropolitan fantasies than with the reality of life in Alcântara. This perspective is closer to a wishful negation of individualized economism than an actual insight into village life. As Graeber has argued, the ideas of pure economistic interest and selfless altruism are interdependent, each a historically specific construction that represents people’s actual behavior or motivations poorly. When “market principles” are viewed as the key organizing principles of society, they become “balanced,” Graeber writes, “by their opposite: family values, altruistic charity, selfless devotion to a faith or cause—­all principles that are, as it were, brought into being as complements to the pure psychology of ‘rational, self-­interested calculation.’ These are as Mauss [Mauss 1990] reminds us really just two sides of the same false coin” (2001, 257).17 During my time in Brasília, and frequently in my research, urban quilombo-­allied officials fell back on a simplistic negation of econom­ ism—­the other side of the military officials’ coin—­in their representations of rural Alcântara’s social life. The day before my “interview” at the Ministry of Defense, for example, I had visited the office responsible, since a 2003 presidential decree, for titling quilombo communities, INCRA (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária, National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform), a branch of the MDA. Their cramped quarters offered a stark contrast to those of the expansive Ministry of Defense, as did the relaxed openness with which I was received. In my interview with one of the Workers’ Party–­appointed officials in charge of titling quilombos throughout Brazil, though, I encountered the by-­then familiar negation of economism.


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Since the same 2003 presidential decree that made INCRA responsible for quilombo land title (see chapter 5), the federal criterion for determining quilombo status has been the exquisitely slippery “self-­ identification.” But to get a deeper sense of the official’s perspective, I asked what, beyond self-­identification, characterized a quilombola. She began: “A quilombola is that person who lives in quilombo territory. They have distinct cultural traditions and practices and they self-­identify as quilombola.” This was all tautological, straightforward, and bland enough. But it was markedly distinct from the dominant anthropological perspective in Brazil, which tends to follow Fredrik Barth’s ([1969] 1998) emphasis on delimiting ethnicity according to the boundaries that social actors consider meaningful, rather than according to any criteria of cultural content (M. C. da Cunha 1986, 118; Warren 2001, 218). This Barthian perspective is also frequently cited and, at least officially, relied on by the NGOs and officials allied with the quilombo movement, as well as indigenous movements in Brazil. As one of the lawyers supporting the quilombos in Alcântara put it to me in conversation, expressing the Barthian position, “it doesn’t matter what kind of culture they have; if they say, ‘we are quilombolas and those other people aren’t,’ that’s how you determine whether they are quilombolas.” But the official at INCRA took a different tack, which had also become familiar to me. She emphasized that evidence of individual economic interests disqualifies someone as a quilombo: “In Maranhão the population is black [negro], so you could say it is one great big quilombo. But it isn’t so simple; there are those who have their communities, who live a collective life. They are quilombolas, not those who live for the individual, who say: ‘What can I gain if we become a quilombo?’ ” Yet in Alcântara’s villages, both factors are in play: people are concerned with their individual gain as well as with the ways in which they might benefit from their identification as quilombolas, and they are also concerned with a form of collective life in which people are actively dependent on each other and engage in myriad forms of reciprocity. Economic and political activities in Alcântara are reducible neither to instrumental and self-­interested economism nor to its communitarian negation, although many of the urbanites involved in Alcântara understand life there principally through either of these poles. To the people of Alcântara, however, it is not a case of either/or. In this chapter I have described the history of the formation of Alcântara’s rural communities, provided some relevant elements of social life there, and showed the contradictory ways that this history and so-


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cial life are interpreted by differently positioned actors. These “working misunderstandings,” to use Sahlins’s term (1985, 61), are a fundamental piece of this ethnography, and we will see actors with radically different conceptualizations throughout this work. Let us turn now to some of the conflicting aspirations and utopias that have also structured this conflict.



Interpreting an Explosion Order and accidents seem equally impossible.  F r a n z

K a fk a , “ T h e A e r o p l a n e s

at B r e s c i a ”

Technoscience and the Future On the morning of Friday, August 22, 2003, in Alcântara, there was a clear sky, a gentle wind, and none of the unseasonable rain of a few days earlier. In a region prone to fierce dry-­season gusts, the calm weather was welcome, both to villagers taking to choppy seas in rickety sailboats or planting the sangal (the dry-­season manioc) and to the technicians of Brazil’s space program running the final tests on the nearly twenty-­ meter-­ high tubes of delicate electronics and heavy explosives that, in three days—­if the calm weather held—­would propel Brazil’s ascent into space and the ranks of spacefaring nations.1 Images taken that Friday by the base’s security cameras reveal an orange flare between the rocket’s propulsors and the launching platform at 1:26:06 p.m.2 The ensuing explosion of the rocket then engulfed the camera, killed and carbonized twenty-­one engineers and technicians, blanketed surrounding villages with noxious clouds, set Brazil’s space program back years or decades (Monserrat Filho 2003a, 38), and set loose a spiral of narratives and counternarratives about the meanings and causes of the explosion. This chapter is not an inquiry into the explosion itself, which ended the third attempt to lift a Brazilian satellite into orbit aboard the Brazilian satellite launch vehicle (VLS-1).3


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Nei­ther I nor other interpreters of the event have de­finitive knowledge of its proximate causes. Rather, this chapter seeks to investigate how different interpretations of the event reveal the inequalities, conflicts, and imaginaries of the future and of the nation-­state undergirding perceptions of the explosion and Brazil’s faltering space program. Discussions surrounding the explosion reveal significant popular anxiety and conflict about the national and local future.4 The perspectives I analyze here identify setbacks for some ambitious possible futures, projects to remake the nation and reconfigure historic inequalities on multiple scales. Technoscientific projects are teleological “future-­oriented endeavors [that] imply movement toward a goal and thereby involve assumptions or expectations about the future” (Bloomfield and Doolin 2011, 63). Such assumptions and expectations about the future are particularly salient in projects oriented toward spaceflight—­that most far-­reaching and utopian of human technological endeavors. Moreover, as a conspicuous consumer of resources, space launching inevitably generates questions and conflicts about the allocation of resources and social inequalities. After describing the development and circulation of the official report on the VLS-1 explosion, this chapter analyzes three broad interpretations of the explosion encountered in my ethnographic research: (1) inter­ pretations of nationalists, particularly the Brazilian military, who see the event as a symptom of foreign sabotage and neoliberal treason undermining the undertaking to make Brazil a world technomilitary power; (2) interpretations of those associated with the civilian space program, who tend to attribute the explosion to military incompetence and who advocate instead a space program geared for profit, foreign partnership, and private capital; and (3) interpretations of locals, who mostly read the event in terms of their experiences of local and national (but not international) inequalities and their hopes for greater inclusion in an exclusionary society, and who have had some success mobilizing around an emerging ethnoracial political identity—­quilombola—­ to redress those inequalities. These interpretations express three ideal-­type contested visions of the nation-­state in contemporary Brazil: the nationalist, the neoliberal, and the redistributive.

Investigation and Circulation The official federal investigation into the explosion was characterized by secrecy and was widely mistrusted; it did not establish a definitive


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proximate cause for the explosion. Secrecy, as Masco writes in his work on the US nuclear complex, “is wildly productive: it creates not only hier­ archies of power and repression but also unpredictable social effects, including new kinds of desire, fantasy, paranoia, and, above all gossip” (2006, 272; Simmel 1906, 465). Like nuclear technologies, space technologies have military and nonmilitary uses; their circulation to others is zealously limited by those who hold them, and, consequently, their development and deployment have been characterized by secrecy and deception since their inception (Taubman 2003). In the state of Maranhão, where the spaceport is located, the mass media are dominated by former Brazilian president, state governor, and then-­president of the Brazilian senate, José Sarney. Sarney has been the key political figure in Maranhão since 1966, when as a young writer and lawyer from the small city of Pinheiro,5 he allied with Brazil’s military government (1964–­1985) and rose to the governorship. Since then Sarney, his family, and his associates have constructed a wide network of clients who possess near total control of Maranhão’s state-­level mass media. Most people in Maranhão get their news from the unfailingly pro-­ Sarney television station the Mirante6 (roughly, the Observatory) and the newspaper Estado do Maranhão. A few less prominent competitors pro­ vide mirror-­image anti-­Sarney caricatures. The main such competitor, the thin anti-­Sarney daily Jornal Pequeno is, despite its one-­note polemi­ cism, generally the first newspaper I read when I’m in the city of São Luís (I usually also read one of the pro-­Sarney dailies as well). A 2003 satiric column by the paper’s regular political humorist, “Dr. Pêta,” clearly evokes Sarney’s political domination of the state: “You’re born,” the column begins, it’s in the maternity hospital Marly Sarney. To live, you have the neighborhoods: Vila Sarney, Vila Sarney Filho, Vila Kiola Sarney . . . or Vila Roseana Sarney. You want to study? You have the schools: Roseana Sarney, Sarney Neto, Fernanda Sarney, Roseana Sarney, Marly Sarney, or the school, named after the very José Sarney. To do some research, you can get a taxi at the Marly Sarney taxi stand and head over to José Sarney Library (at Maranhão’s largest private university, which many people swear also belongs to Sarney). To read the news, you can check out the [newspaper] Estado do Maranhão, also Sarney’s property or, instead, his television station. Want to find out about public finances? Head to the Roseana Sarney Court of Accounts. To leave the city, cross the José Sarney bridge, then take José Sarney Avenue to the Kiola Sarney bus station and then, after a few hours on the “wonderful” roads and bus stations of Maranhão, you’ll arrive at José Sarney county. Don’t like it? Want to complain? Then sue me and I’ll see you in Desembargador Sarney Court!


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Although the Internet has made it harder for corporations, governments, and political bosses to control information, and Sarney group can­ didates have lost many important elections in recent years, Sarney’s near monopoly of Maranhão’s mass media remains strong. In a book-­length study of the explosion, a journalist from Sarney’s Mirante television station ( J. Nascimento 2005) contended that Sarney himself first alerted the press to the explosion. According to the journalist, Sarney was at his beach house in the state’s island capital, São Luís, when he noticed an expanding mushroom cloud across the bay, in Alcântara. Sarney is said to have demanded an immediate press investigation (M. Nascimento et al. 2004, 99–­100). But while the mushroom cloud quickly blew off the peninsula, the cloud of rumor about the event was starting to take shape, and whether or not Maranhão’s strongman really had the quickest eye in a city of one million, neither Sarney’s reporters nor others would have access to much information in the first hours after the explosion. Only top military staff had access to the telephones at the base after the blast, and they claimed to be unaware of anything unusual ( J. Nascimento 2005, 102). When authorities finally gave an interview to the press hours later, they confirmed the VLS-1 explosion and provided the number of missing persons. The general representing the air force ruled out sabotage—­a quick denial now often adduced as evidence of a cover-­up (Rezende 2003; Schlichting and Oliveira 2004, 71). Although the official investigative commission was initially dominated by the military, pressure from the families of deceased technicians opened it up to include representatives of academia, industry, families of the victims, and a group of Russian specialists (M. Nascimento et al. 2004, 22).7 According to the conclusions of the expanded commission’s report, later supported by a congressional inquiry (Brazilian Chamber of Deputies 2004), either an electric current or an electromagnetic discharge from within the rocket’s machinery may have caused the propulsor’s mys­terious firing—­the electromagnetic discharge being more likely. But the complete destruction of the rocket and all those present at the explosion (ghastly images of their burned bodies were later circulated) made it impossible to determine the origin of the charge. The report also listed the human, institutional, mechanical, and environmental factors that might have contributed, notably, inadequate financial resources and poor coordination among the space program’s groups (M. Nascimento et al. 2004; see also, Brazilian Chamber of Deputies 2004; Johnson and Almeida 2008). It was also widely reported that the federal police investigated the presence of foreigners, but the results of this investigation into possi­ble


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foreign sabotage remain secret. There exist, then, at least two official investigative reports into the 2003 explosion: a public one, by the official investigative commission, dismissing foreign sabotage, and a federal police report into the presence of possible foreign saboteurs, the results of which remain secret. Suspicion of the public investigation’s conclusions is a constant feature of discussions of the explosion in the state of Maranhão, although Sarney’s media have generally reported the investigation’s conclusions unquestioningly. Early in my fieldwork, just after the release of the report, for example, the Brazilian Society for Scientific Progress held its regional meeting in São Luís. At a talk about the report by a space-­program engineer, local university students expressed nearly universal suspicion. But to each theory of sabotage (including, among many others, the suggestion that an explosive charge had been fired from ships in the bay or detonated by foreigners “vacationing” in Alcântara, or that a malicious program in the US-­engineered onboard computer system was to blame) the engineer explained, “We investigated this a lot. But there hasn’t been any indication of this type of action.” The audience boisterously expressed its doubt. I have no idea what caused the VLS-1 to explode; nor do most people who opine about it. The official report’s conclusions are plausible to me, but neither I nor its critics have the means to definitively evaluate them. However, the lack of transparency of an investigation advertised as transparent (Zaverucha 2005, 232), the differential access to information of the various interested publics, the indeterminacy of the official report’s conclusions, and the unintelligibility of launching technology to those without extensive technical education created a perfect climate for the circulation of counternarratives and made the explosion an exceptionally flexible signifier. Space launching is, moreover, perhaps the most vivid way modern nation-­states project their power—­both literally and figuratively. As Cold War space programs were metonymic of United States and Soviet progress and power, the fraught trajectory of Brazil’s space program became for interpreters of the explosion a metonym for the trajectory of the nation-­state.

Reverse Engineering the Nation Until the last few decades, most research that brought anthropological tools to science, technology, and society (STS) investigated the produc-


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tion of scientific knowledge and technological objects, rather than the “relationship between the meanings of scientific facts or technological artifacts and their sociopolitical milieu” (Edwards 1996, 34). The STS work that did consider the sociopolitics of technoscience generally focused on world centers of technoscientific production, rather than those on the margins. However, in an era of high stakes global conflict over access to patents (Coombe 1998), computer code (Coleman 2012), weapons materials (G. Hecht 2012), and restricted dual-­use technologies (Gusterson 1999), the distribution of technoscience is fundamental to global inequality and has become a matter of deep concern outside these zones of privilege.8 Over the last decade and a half, consequently, scholars have increasingly considered questions of global power, difference, and inequality from the perspective of STS. In an influential article on “Postcolonial Technoscience,” for example, Warwick Anderson called scholars to “seek to understand the ways in which technoscience is implicated in the postcolonial provincializing of ‘universal’ reason [and] the description of ‘alternative modernities’ ” (2002, 643). This is an important challenge to the naïve, metropole-­focused universalism of much work in STS. But reconceptualizing inequalities once viewed through the telos of “development” or “modernization” with the homogenizing temporality of “alternative modernities” replaces a temporal conceptualization of inequality with a spatial one, but it leaves the relationships between technoscience and global inequality unanalyzed (see Kelly 2002; J. Ferguson 2006, 176–­93). As I have argued thus far, the decline of mimetic convergence—­or the idea that the poor would somehow advance along the same teleological trajectory as the rich, thereby ameliorating inequalities—­does not in itself reduce inequality. Similarly, saying that those without access to powerful technoscience are “alternatively modern”—­as many anthropologists and STS scholars today do—­dethrones modernity’s simplistic unitary teleology but leaves unquestioned and unaltered still-­underlying technoscientific inequalities. Jet-­setting anthropologists who travel the world with expensive gadgets to do research with poor people—­a category that includes many anthropologists, including me—­obscure the links between inequality and technology when eschewing questions of distribution and, instead, rely on the populist gesture of “alternative modernities.” Yet those inequalities are of great interest to the many Brazilians who have interpreted the explosion of the VLS-1. Technoscience, therefore, demands ethnographic attention to those sites where it is a subject of aspiration, conflict, and fantasy. For many


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supporters of Brazil’s space program “development” and “modernity” are not discourses to provincialize as much as goals to achieve—­and eth­nographers should take such perspectives seriously. Successive Brazilian governments and agencies have tried to reverse engineer space technologies that are fun­damental components of contemporary tech­ noscientific and military power but that are monopolized by a few global powers. Despite the importance of provincializing power and va­loriz­ ing the provincial, we should be careful not to confuse inequality with difference. While this work in postcolonial technoscience is rightfully influential, a counterbalance to its flattening populism can be found in the scholarship associated with PLACTS (Pensamiento Latinoamericano en Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad; Latin American Thought in Science, Technology, and Society) and dependency theory (Cardoso and Faletto 1979; Dagnino, Thomas, and Davyt 1996; Evans 1979; Herrera 1971). These older bodies of theory from the Global South critique the globally unequal distribution of technoscience, which they rightly understand to be an essential aspect of a global system of exclusion and exploitation. The tensions between these different bodies of work should encourage us to provide ethnographic attention not only to difference but also to inequality; symmetry should be an important research principle, as STS scholars have long emphasized,9 but we should not ignore the asy­m­ metrical rigors of technological catch-­up; we should try to grasp “a world of multiple modern sciences” (Harding 2011, 18), each requir­ing understanding in its own terms, as we also recognize that such tech­noscientific multiplicity enables political and economic inequality. These tensions also help bring this chapter’s questions into clearer focus: what happens when a national technoscientific project—­aimed at replicating extant technologies in order to challenge extant inequalities—­fails? How do groups with different worldviews, experiences, and interests interpret that failure, and what do these interpretations reveal about cul­ture and politics in sites where technologies are important objects of both aspiration and contestation? The imagined futures implicit in discussions of the VLS-1 rocket are tied to anxieties about inequality in the present: local and national inequalities for most local residents who coexist with the spaceport, and international inequalities for the space program’s partisans. Writing of a successful suborbital10 launch from Alcântara in 2007, Brazilian journalist Marcos Sá Corrêa quipped wistfully that the rocket was “that future that could be seen from earth in 1957, when the space race was just be­ ginning” (2007, 7). This sense of being locked into the technical past, and 82

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of the unjust persistence of global and local inequalities, pervades discussions of the Brazilian space program’s failures, and its successes. Space technology has always been about earthbound contests as much as about any otherworldly goals.11 And in Brazil—­involved in a game of catch-­up as a would-­be global power—­it has different political meanings than in the paradigmatic superpowers of the United States and Soviet Union, involved as they were in a binary struggle to be first at various extraterrestrial conquests. For many proponents of Brazil’s space program, launches are aimed as much at specific global inequalities as at any orbital trajectories, at a global order in which some control space—­with all the terrestrial advantages, material and symbolic, that that brings—­but most are left earthbound.

Alcântara and the Space Program The unsatisfying nature of official discourse has lent a wariness and urgency to the tone of unofficial interpretations of the explosion. But the content of those interpretations has been shaped by the worldviews and political desires of interpreting publics, mostly far removed from the material causes and consequences of the event. In previous chapters, I have provided the context necessary for understanding local reactions to the base; here, I briefly sketch the tensions that have structured interpretations of the explosion—­between the military and civilian wings of Brazil’s space program. In 1961, at the height of the space race between the United States and Soviet Union, and a year after the completion of Brazil’s modernist capital, itself built as part of an idealized vision for the transformation and modernization of the nation (Holston 1989), Brazil established by presidential decree the first Latin American space program. It was at first limited to research and personnel training, but in the mid-­1970s Brazil’s military regime, flush with cash at the height of its “economic miracle,” created much of the infrastructure for space development (Ceballos 1995, 202). During this period, the Ministry of the Air Force took responsibility for developing the Alcântara spaceport and the VLS-1 rocket. The space program’s trajectory runs parallel to that of the broader Bra­ zilian military-­industrial complex, which boomed during the 1980s, when Brazil became the world’s fifth largest exporter of arms (Conca 1997, 2; Simons 1988), with both declining after the end of the Cold War. In 1988, the Brazilian space program received some US$130 million in federal fun­d­ ing,12 but in 2002, the year before the VLS-1 explosion, its total funding had 83

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fallen to some US$15 million (Silveira 2003; see also Amaral 2009; Brazilian Chamber of Deputies 2004). After the explosion, space funding rose briefly to 1980s levels, but, despite the booming economy of the 2000s, funding again slowly declined (Amaral 2009, 20).13 Funding saw an uptick under the administrations of Dilma Rousseff (2011–­2016), which allocated approximately US$250 million to the space program for each year from 2012 to 2015 (Agência Estado 2012; K. Melo 2013), an amount, however, that remains much less than amounts spent by major space programs.14 For nationalist advocates of the space program, the reduction in funding, like the “accident” at Alcântara, is no accident. The hidden agent most often adduced to be responsible for these problems is, unsurprisingly, the United States. Clearly, US policy has been crucial in significant ways to the diminishing and reshaping of Brazil’s military-­industrial complex and, in particular, its space program. The United States has opposed the VLS program since its inception, as diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have confirmed (Passos 2011; US Secretary of State 2009). Most likely, the United States wished to prevent the emergence of a military launching power in the Western Hemisphere—­other than its own and the European Union’s launch site in French Guiana—­and to defend US commercial interests in satellite launching.15 Globally, the total annual revenues generated by commercial launches nearly doubled from 2006 to 2010, going from $1.4 billion to approximately $2.5 billion (Federal Aviation Administration 2012, 17–­18). To foster its space program, the Brazilian government rejected for nearly a decade the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), a 1987 agreement created by the G7 countries to limit the spread of missile tech­ nology beyond the existing monopoly. In retaliation, and perhaps to fos­ ter its own program, the United States successfully pushed in 1987 for a boycott of the export of dual-­use technology to Brazil, limiting Brazilian access to the technology necessary for development of the VLS (W. Q. Bowen 1996, 87; Conca 1997, 154–­55). Faced with this technological lockout and strengthened by the ascendancy of civilian over military authority in the Brazil of the 1990s, the administrations of Itamar Franco (1992–­1995) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995–­2003) broke with the military, creating under Franco in 1994 the civilian Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) and signing under Cardoso the MTCR agreement in 1995 (Escada 2005, 112–­13). The new civilian space agency did not replace the military program, so that Brazil was left with what amounts to two space programs: one civilian and one military, both nominally under the coordination of the civilian AEB.


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The Counterinvestigation: Order and Accidents, Order and Progress The idea that the explosion was the result of US sabotage remains widespread, and I still occasionally encounter it when I tell Brazilians about my work in Alcântara. I write this paragraph in December 2016, in a room rented on Airbnb in Rio de Janeiro, where I am studying changing class relations in Brazilian cities, and where I am giving this manuscript a final read before returning it to the press for publication. It turns out that my host here in Rio is a retired air force dermatologist. Our friendly conversation when I arrived momentarily turned when I told him about my research in Alcântara. His expression darkened, and he said to me, “Many people think the explosion there was the result of US sabotage. Are you a spy?” I told him that I am not, but that is what a spy would say, I suppose. As stated, I am agnostic about the causes of the explosion and do not reject entirely the possibility of sabotage: I simply do not know, though such agnosticism will win me little sympathy from those who think I am a spy. But whatever the truth of nationalist versions of the sabotage claim, many are marked by an aggrieved and paranoid style (Hofstadter 1965), are deeply suspicious of asserted scientific impartiality, and are certain that powerful, deliberate actors lurk behind important events. This suspicious tone of much discourse around science, technology, and sovereignty in the Brazilian military has been noted by many scholars, often focused on military suspicions of foreign designs on the Amazon (C. Castro 2006; Conklin 2002; Lahsen 2009; Martins Filho and Zirker 2000; S. T. Mitchell 2010; Rajão and Hayes 2009; Vainer 1990). Less, however, has been written about military nationalist discourses surrounding technomilitary development as such. In this section, I focus on a widely circulated nationalist counterinvestigation into the explosion’s causes. I argue that nationalist discourses about the explosion, both in this document and generally, reflect anger and anxiety about the marginalization of the spaceport as part of a project oriented toward mimetic convergence and, thus, a perceived abandonment of Brazil’s project to become a technomilitary power. For military nationalists, the explosion is a symptom of a treacherous betrayal of the goals of national progress in technological industry, power, and prestige—­goals undermined by foreign forces, their subaltern dupes, and their civilian technocratic coconspirators.16


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Following the release of the official investigative report in February 2004, a group of nationalists in the same year released an eighty-­four-­ page counterinvestigation coauthored by a Brazilian businessman and a retired army colonel (Schlichting and Oliveira 2004). A group of retired army officers also participated, but no information is available about them. Not only are the names of most group members undisclosed, the counter­document states that they were also preparing a secret version of the re­ port, apparently including damning classified information. The publicly available counterinvestigation focuses on three points. First, the authors argue that official accounts of the causes of the explosion are implausible. Rejecting the possibility of an untimely firing in the propulsor, they write, “Any hypothesis of a ‘natural cause’ must be rejected by these extremely experienced technicians who have worked in the three investigations [into the 1997, 1999, and 2003 VLS-1 failures]—­ especially this last one—­because these investigators, with their experience of many successful launches,17 must be aware that there had never been [caps in original] an untimely firing until now” (Schlichting and Oli­ veira 2004, 7). Second, they state that the failures of the 1997, 1999, and 2003 laun­ches were all the result of sabotage by the United States, aided by complicit Brazilians. The first two prototypes of the VLS-1 (in 1997 and 1999) also suffered accidents and failed to deliver their payloads into orbit. The third claim is that a US-­led conspiracy to undermine Brazil’s sovereignty and technomilitary development lies behind not only the sabotage of the VLS-1 but also the reduction in funding of the space program, the increased control of the space program by the civilian AEB (rather than by the air force), and the attempt to turn the spaceport into a commercial venture. Brazil, in this perspective, has been cheated of its future by an externally imposed military-­industrial dependency. This chapter’s epigraph was written by a young Franz Kafka in his evoc­ ative account of a 1909 airshow. Kafka helps set a mood of suspicion and bureaucratic secrecy, but the epigraph is also meant to be evocative in other ways. A founding indignity for the nationalists of Brazilian technomilitary convergence with the world’s great powers is precisely that the North American Wright Brothers are frequently credited with the first heavier-­than-­air flight—­only five years before Kafka’s airshow. But the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont also has a plausible claim to the achievement (Menezes 2010). “Order and accidents seem equally impossible,” Kafka laments. But the official government investigative report emphasizes the complexity and multiplicity of contributing factors that make accidents seem not 86

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only impossible but perhaps inevitable in so complex a system as the VLS-1 rocket—­a reiteration of a basic principle of the “normal accident theory” (Perrow 1999) used for accident prevention and investigation worldwide ( Johnson and de Almeida 2008). For the counterinvestigation, however, it is mere accident that seems impossible: the explosion fits a familiar pattern, in which national ambitions are stifled by world powers guarding their positions. Order and accidents: no mere accident here, but an ordered repetition of a familiar pattern. I do not know whether the counterinvestigation group’s secret document was in fact ever prepared or, if so, to whom it might have been shown. But the claim of this group to have produced both a public and a secret report parallels the government’s production of both a public accident report and a secret police investigation into foreign sabotage. Of course, it is possible that the secret counterinvestigation of the nationalists was undisclosed to protect classified information, but I find it at least as likely that the assertion of secrecy was made to project the authors’ exclusiveness and authority—­to project their status as people who possess national secrets of such importance that they would not want to divulge them (see Gluckman 1963, 309; Masco 2006, 272). And this hints at the crux of the matter for the nationalists of the counterinvestigation. Despite widespread public suspicion about the real causes of the explosion, the principal political concern underlying the counterinvestigation—­the diminished national investment in autonomous technomilitary development—­ has received limited public support, even during Brazil’s booming 2000s (Anderson 2011; see also F. de Oliveira 2006; Rocha 2007). The counterreport is filled with explicit nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964–­1985 military regime (Schlichting and Oliveira 2004, 19) and shot through with a tone of aggrieved marginalization, using capital letters often for emphasis. It reads like a plea to return to the kind of state-­led national development—­the state-­led bid for mimetic convergence—­that dominated Brazil’s politics from the 1930s to the 1980s, fueling aspirations of world-­making greatness, but also legitimating brutal inequality (Martins 2000). The frustration of military nationalists in the face of neoliberal space development may become even more profound. Global enthusiasm for private space corporations such as SpaceX (Valentine 2012) and technologies such as space tethers or elevators (Pelt 2009) may further marginalize this military-­nationalist vision. The neoliberal turn and technological developments raise the specter of obsolescence for a nationally driven space program relying on the geographical advantages of Brazil’s equatorial base. 87

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In addition to their obsession with—­and occasional success at—­un­ masking the often-­hidden hand of US influence in Brazilian policy, nationalist narratives about the spaceport and explosion generally position themselves against the quilombo movement. One air force officer told me that officers would not grant me interviews because I was associated with the quilombo movement, which officers saw as US influenced and antinational. “All these people from the countryside and all these NGOs talking about quilombos are just doing Uncle Sam’s work,” he said. This nationalism is distinctly hostile to local concerns, despite its concern for the progress and sovereignty of the abstract nation (see S. T. Mitchell 2010).18

The Civilian Program: National Utopia in an Anti-­utopian Idiom One 2005 interview with an engineer from the civilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), a government institution that conducts highly significant research, turned heated when I inquired about the land conflicts around the spaceport. Aware, perhaps, of my close association with the quilombo movement in Alcântara, the engineer said testily, “You think we should just live in huts and grow bananas around here? We want to build a modern space program that can compete internation­ ally and bring real benefits.” He had spent the previous thirty minutes talking about the lucrative market niche for Brazilian launch services from Alcântara, about the importance of allowing foreign capital and corporations into the space program, and about the futility of allowing the government and military to direct the building of rockets in the twenty-­first century. So, the abrupt switch to an idiom of developmentalist nationalism came as a surprise—­although his disdain for local lifeways did not. But I should not have been surprised. Like advocates of the military program, civilian space program partisans often articulate a vision of national progress that is optimistic about a future of Brazilian spaceflight and space-­industrial ambitions. Yet the two groups share very different assumptions about what this progress means and how it might be achieved. For military nationalists, the goal of technomilitary development is to advance national progress; for civilian space-­program partisans, the goal is the creation of a profitable and competitive enterprise that includes the use of foreign capital and technology. For military nationalists, the government must be diligent against possible foreign threats to the na88

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tion; for the civilian space-­program advocates, the Brazilian government needs to be realistic about its limited capacities and attentive to a lucrative market niche. Unlike military nationalists, civilian program partisans frequently claim that the military does not have the competencies or structure to do its job. Many civilian space-­program workers are concerned about the program’s complicated governing structure and resentful of the military’s continued autonomy, despite the military program’s official subordination to the civilian space agency. They frequently attribute the VLS-1 failure to this military autonomy. A technician for INPE who had worked for nearly two years with the air force at the spaceport put it this way to me in 2005: “We built satellites and launched satellites with China, with the United States.19 We have all the expertise for the satellites. But the VLS is a military project, and it is they who continue to mess up and who caused that accident. There is an opportunity with Ukraine20 to improve our launching technology and for Brazil to enter the market for launching satellites but [the air force] doesn’t even want the Ukrainians on the base.” Costa Filho, the author of a significant political history of Brazil’s space program (2002), expresses this civilian position sharply, providing in a published interview a neoliberal and technocratic answer to the puzzle of the unexplained explosion: Yes, there is a lack of resources, but there are other problems. The problem is one of administration: [the space program is] coordinated by the civilian Brazilian Space Agency [AEB], but even that’s not autonomous; it is subordinated to the Ministry of Science and Technology. So, it does not have direct control over the principal scientific organs: INPE (National Institute for Space Research), which is also subordinated to the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the IAE (Air and Space Institute), which belongs to the air force and is subordinated to the Ministry of Defense. Look, the role of [the civilian space agency] is to coordinate the space program. It signs the treaties for international [space] cooperation . . . but those who carry out the work are the other organs. . . . This confused structure creates many problems. In the case of . . . the program commanded by the military, for example, every two years a new commander is nominated for the sector, and the knowledge accumulated during that period is lost. . . . The [civilian space agency] should respond to the president of the republic . . . and [the other agencies] should be subordinate to [it]. We need a program that is administered in a business fashion, not a military fashion. . . . Even in China, which is one of the most closed regimes in the world, when they want to do a launch they go to the China Great Wall Corporation. Here, instead, we try to make rockets in a barracks environment.21 89

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In contrast to the explicit developmentalist nationalism of the counter­ investigation, which casts the explosion as a symptom of diminished project of national development, here it is attributed to outmoded military control in an era when complex enterprises are best run like businesses. Partisans of the civilian program rarely articulate an explicitly teleological vision, as do the military nationalists, with their conception of the powerful nation that they wish to realize. Partisans of the civilian program more often speak in terms of constraint and necessity: in terms of the possible and impossible, rather than the desirable. But, implicitly, their accounts rely on a neoliberal vision of development. In the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, much social theory and social science has singled out neoliberalism as a singular world-­ historical force. Neoliberalism, in its posture of acquiescence to economic law, is frequently presented as anti-­utopian, bleakly slogging to create “a world in which no one believes any other economic system could work” (Graeber 2012). But one could also say that it imagines a conservative utopia, as Bourdieu suggested in 1998, at the moment when (implausible as it was) many believed that neoliberalism had truly brought an end to such ideology, an end to history: “[Neoliberalism] is a new type of conservative revolution that claims connection with progress, reason and science—­economics actually—­to justify its own re-­establishment, and by the same token tries to relegate progressive thought and action to archaic status” (125). This neoliberal “new type of conservative revolution” has tried to relegate to archaic status not only progressive thought but also the conservativism of the military nationalists. This is no mimetic convergence, but there is a utopia to this neoliberalism: a utopia of profit-­driven, economistic, and supposedly apolitical progress; a utopia content with inequality as long as it promises profit; and a utopia, like that of the nationalists, that gives only passing consideration to the economically excluded, even those right outside the spaceport’s perimeter.

The Local Explosion When the VLS-1 exploded in August 2003, I was in Chicago preparing to leave for long-­term fieldwork in Alcântara at the start of 2004. As a US native aware of accusations of US sabotage, I followed the news with apprehension. On September 25, 2003, I received the following email from a retired philosophy professor with whom I had become friends during a pre90

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liminary research trip to Maranhão the year before. I translate from the Portuguese: Sean, How are you? When you were here, I told you that some people might think it strange that an American was doing research—­even anthropological research—­so close to the Alcântara base. Now things are much worse. You know very well the pressure that the American government exerted to impose a treacherous accord on the Brazilian government—­an accord that, after ample national discussion, wasn’t accepted. [See chapter 7 (and S. T. Mitchell, forthcoming) for a discussion of this accord.] We know that [George W.] Bush is insisting again. The explosion of the base is an extremely recent fact. Now the investigation is being supported by Russian technicians and there are strong indications, practical certainty, that it was sabotage provoked by a remote-­controlled electro-­magnetic impulse. The presence of Americans is being closely investigated in the hotels of São Luís in the days that preceded the explosion, just as is the presence of American ships in the area in August. The local and national sentiment isn’t remotely propitious to the presence of Americans in São Luís—­imagine in Alcântara. The local press is speaking about these matters every day. I don’t want to frighten you, but I believe that it’s my obligation to tell you what is happening and what I think. Nevertheless, you’re free to decide whatever you think is best.

The email frightened me, and I briefly reconsidered my research project. On arriving in Alcântara, however, I discovered that, locally, such suspicions had receded into the background. For those living close to the spaceport, national relations of race and inequality and local issues of land and livelihood were of much greater concern than the national and international politics of the space program. For locals, the explosion raised issues of space in a terrestrial sense. Although the Brazilian space program has yet to place a satellite into orbit, it has had many successful suborbital launches, and I began to understand some of the fraught relationships between the spaceport and local residents during the September–­October 2004 lead-­up to the first suborbital launch after the explosion of the VLS-1.22 Before I was aware of the pending launch, I noticed a new group of civilian and military workers for the space program, making the few town bars lively in the evenings. 91

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Almost exclusively middle-­class men, and mostly white, these soldiers and technicians who fill Alcântara during the lead-­up to a launch are principally from the large cities of Brazil’s southeast.23 As the town filled with men who had much more disposable income than locals, some securing liaisons with local young women, many of my friends in Alcântara during that early fieldwork—­young men like myself—­made their resentment clear to me. With an attitude of justice having been done, some attributed the explosion to the technicians’ late-­ night drinking and hangovers. Although this perspective seemed exclusive to young heterosexual men, it was a variant of the more widely held attitude that the explosion resulted from the space program’s moral failings: by harming locals it was suffering a morally appropriate fate. It would take me beyond the scope of this chapter to explore fully, but it is worth noting that this assertion by local men hinges on their sense of marginal­ ization in an unequal Brazilian sexual-­racial economy, which is foundational to the myth of Brazilian “racial democracy” (Freyre 1933; Goldstein 1999; Moutinho 2004; Twine 1996).24 Articulated sometimes in this idiom of sexual resentment shot through with class and gender, sometimes more explicitly in terms of racial difference, and sometimes with more supernatural overtones, this assertion of recompense for moral failure in a context of deeply unequal and unjust relations was the most common theme in interpretations of the explosion in Alcântara’s urban core, as well as in the surrounding rural villages. In the village of Mamuna, under persistent threat of expropriation, some residents suggested that the fierce eruption of sound and smoke on that day was a ruse to scare them from the homes they had resisted leaving—­part of what they have generally perceived as a history of underhand deceptions by those running the space program. Many interpreted the explosion as spiritual retribution for the base’s incautious invasion of enchanted spaces and for its expropriation of a seaside cemetery. “They’ll never launch anything there, the way they treated the enchanted ruins,”25 one villager predicted. Villagers active in the quilombo movement sometimes elaborated this theme of supernatural retribution by noting that the Festa de São Benedíto had taken place just prior to the explosion. The annual celebration of Saint Benedíto, locally considered the saint of enslaved Africans and their descendants, marks three days of Tambor de Crioula,26 a style of drumming, singing, and dancing associated with blackness and Africa (S. F. Ferretti 2002; R. Lima 2002), creating a peninsula-­wide reverence of the saint and valorization of Alcântara’s African traditions. In Alcântara, threats to land and social reproduction are materially present, while claims about the national importance of the space program are 92

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abstract and less meaningful. For constituencies beyond Alcântara, however, the base has little direct impact on their lives and forms part of a broad national—­and extraterrestrial—­spatial imaginary. Moreover, resi­ dents in Alcântara are distrustful of claims made by representatives of the space program; since 1980, they have promised a never-­fulfilled utopia of local development tied to extraterrestrial conquest. Allied to a wide network of NGOs, lawyers, and anthropologists in Brazil and abroad, Alcântara’s residents have formed locally powerful social movements that have prevented expansion of the spaceport—­ even though residents still have not received constitutionally mandated quilombola land title. But despite the success of Alcântara’s social movements, their demands are generally for modest rights of citizenship that other participants in debates about the spaceport already enjoy. One social-­movement leader, an intellectual woman, Marcela, from a village that was expropriated by the air force in 1986, brought together many of these themes in a 2005 interview with me, providing a moral reading of the explosion and her desire for a very modest citizenship and a redistributive state: “I don’t understand what they do on that base or why they keep failing. But I’m not surprised that things haven’t gone right for them with all the misery they’ve created here in Alcântara. What we are demanding is to keep our land. . . . We want electric light, decent roads, schools so we can have some future for our children . . . respect for the rights we are supposed to have as citizens.”

Competing Futures, Ordered Accidents Valentine’s ethnographic work on the NewSpace industry27 has shown that contemporary profit-­oriented space projects are often motivated not simply by profit but by a utopian ambition of a human future in the stars (2012). In response, perhaps, to the post–­Cold War abandonment of such extraterrestrial utopianism by governments (Graeber 2012), private corporations, principally in the United States, have adopted a habit of dreaming and speaking on behalf of the entire human future—­a kind of utopian—­and imperial (Redfield 2002, 796)—­grandeur that could make Neil Armstrong’s “small step for a [white, American] man” metonymic of a “giant leap for mankind.” It is notable, by contrast, how infrequently the participants in Brazil’s discussions of the VLS-1 and the Brazilian space program speak on be­half of all humankind. The debate in Brazil is local and national, and very much about the character of the state and national development. Publicly 93

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fantasizing about the “future of mankind” seems to be the privilege of imperial powers and their privatized descendants.28 The Brazilian space program’s character as a fraught project of national catch-­up became particularly clear during the debate over Brazil’s first astronaut, Marcos Cesar Pontes. Pontes was launched to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-­8. The Brazilian government paid the Russian government US$10 million for this voyage of ten days, earning wide criticism in Brazil for squandering the space program’s resources on what was widely perceived as a publicity stunt (see, e.g., A. Nunes 2009). As Neil Armstrong was able to present himself as metonymic of humanity in its progress, Pontes became metonymic, in many Brazilian media accounts, of failed convergence with the spacefaring powers. The nationalist and the neoliberal accounts of the explosion provide two different visions of the nation-­state and two different conservative futures. The nationalist vision imagines a return to authoritarian state-­led progress, a future of sovereignty, national advance, and mimetic convergence supposedly undermined by quilombola subalterns, antinational neoliberals, and pervasive foreign interests. The neoliberal vision, although couched in an idiom of technical necessity, imagines a future of profit-­driven progress, a future that gives the “appearance of a message of freedom and liberation to a conservative ideology which thinks itself opposed to all ideology” (Bourdieu 1998, 126). This neoliberal utopia of anti-­utopianism sees itself as undermined by an outdated military-­space program, by subalterns who insist on an interventive role for the state, and by the nationalists and populists of the Left and Right who block the path of technocratic and neoliberal progress. Local interpretations of the explosion provide a third vision. Expressed in an idiom of grievance, like the nationalist and neoliberal accounts, villagers articulate the desire to find state-­supported redress from the indignities and inequalities imposed both by the spaceport and by a long history of slavery, exclusion, and exploitation. Demands for state protection and modest redistribution have achieved some tenuous success. It would have seemed absurd to observers of the spaceport’s construction in the 1980s that Alcântara’s descendants of enslaved Africans and indigenous people—­long politically marginalized, and from one of Brazil’s poorest re­ gions—­might mount a viable defense of their land in terms of a recently forged ethnoracial claim on the state. Yet, despite its many uncertainties, this is so far what has happened. In this chapter I have explored the ways in which interpretations of the VLS-1 explosion have been shaped by conflicting national and local imaginaries in contemporary Brazil. I have also argued that because of its 94

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orientation to the future, importance to political and economic power, unequal global distribution, enormous expenditure of resources, and capacity for enormous risks—­and because of its opacity,29 which makes it so flexible a signifier—­technoscience is an ideal ethnographic site for exam­ ining conflicts, anxieties, and imaginaries about governance and inequal­ ity. How these conflicts, anxieties, and imaginaries surrounding Brazil’s fraught space program might have an impact on the future for Alcântara’s residents, the program itself, Brazil’s global technomilitary hierarchies—­ and perhaps even some extraterrestrial human destiny—­remains to be seen.



Expertise and Inequality A navigator in this city wishes to gauge his position by the sun. He is not in the port, where his ship is anchored, but with his feet on dry land. With tranquility and confidence, he takes his astrolabe in hand. And what happens? Something monstrous! One day he finds that Maranhão is at one degree, another day at half a degree, another day at two degrees, and another day at none at all. This is why navigators who are inexperienced on this coast get trapped in the sand, and why so many ships have been lost here. Even the sun—­the trustworthy and inflexible measure of time, place and height all over the world—­becomes a liar when it arrives in Maranhão. What truth could be spoken by those whose hearts and minds are influenced by that sun? Those who live in Maranhão suffer the same effects as do the navigators, and nobody here knows where they are or where they belong. . . . One day you are at one level, and the next at another, because the lips [lábios] are like the astrolabes [astrolábios]. Look and you shall find this an inescapable truth: there is no truth in Maranhão.  A n t ó n i o

Vieira, Obras escolhidas

Expertise and Hierarchy The preceding chapter explored tense disputes about the goals of Brazil’s space program, disputes that, in part, hinged on interpretations of highly technical information about the VLS-1 explosion. In this chapter, I examine the social role of technical expertise more closely, analyzing the privileged position of technical knowledge, and how and why it has become important in this conflict. In the chapter that follows this one, chapter 5, I examine disputes around the ex­ pert knowledge of the anthropologists, lawyers, and activists who speak for the region’s quilombo communities. The social role of various forms of knowledge and expertise is crucial in understanding Alcântara’s conflicts. 96

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Max Weber identified three ways in which domination could be legit­ imated: through traditional, rational, and charismatic means ([1922]1978, 212–­54). In highly complex and heterogeneous social situations, such as that in Alcântara, expert knowledge is another modality through which domination and inequality may be legitimated—­but also contested. There are no reasonable grounds to assert the legitimacy of the impossible, so the authority to delimit the technically possible easily becomes a key basis of legitimation (Haugaard 2000, 74). In this chapter, I make the following three arguments: (1) participants in Alcântara’s conflicts, as in many others, sometimes frame their arguments by moving boundaries around technical, natural, and social domains; (2) such framing legitimates and privileges the power of experts; (3) examining deployments of expertise is particularly important for understanding domination (a) in situations in which specialized, technical knowledge is in some way crucial and (b) when group-­specific rights are involved, especially when the terms of groupness that delimit access to those rights is in some way ambiguous, as is the case for Alcântara’s quilombos. At least since David Hume’s identification of the “is-­ought problem” ([1739] 1978), much Western political philosophy has sought to demarcate the analytical divide between is and ought. Yet political claims (and, indeed, all social life) generally include a tangle of is and ought aspects—­of ontological and normative claims. Any assertion of a divide between is and ought, between the ontological and the normative, the technical and the social, the immutable and the mutable, is a cultural and sometimes a political assertion—­whether that assertion is true or false. Such divides are often objects of dispute and make for important anthropological objects of analysis.

The Placement of the Base On a scorching Thursday morning in June 2005, accompanied by a number of people from Alcântara’s quilombo movement and some lawyers and activists from elsewhere in Brazil, I climbed into one of the few rickety Kombi vans that circulate as rental transport on the dirt roads of Alcântara’s interior. We made the hour-­and-­a-­half drive to the village of Mamuna for what was billed as a very important meeting called by the GEI, the federal government group then charged with settling Alcântara’s seemingly intractable land disputes. Toward the end of the meeting, a clearly frustrated Brazilian air force lieutenant colonel was caught in what must have been for him an 97

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12.  A meeting in Mamuna

Residents of Mamuna look on during a meeting with government representatives.

unexpected dispute with Machado, one of the leaders of Alcântara’s quil­ ombo movement. “Look!” the lieutenant colonel exclaimed: The air force got called to do this job because we know how to fly. Airplanes, you name it, we know how to fly it. So together with the [then] Ministry of Development and of Technology, and various other ministries, we were one of many agencies involved in what was an activity of the entire government. Just like Franz [the head of the GEI] put it, the government tried to prepare the country for an activity that few countries in the world have developed. But Franz said that this is the best place in the world, and, well, it just isn’t: because it’s not on the equator. Back then, though, there was lots of interference from the Maranhão state government to bring Brazil’s main launching base here. But [the state of] Amapá would be a much better place for it. The equator runs right through Amapá. But there was [political] interference [from the government], and we did our job.

The airman and military bureaucrat was claiming that, from a technical standpoint, Alcântara was not the best site for the base, a very surprising claim to be admitted publicly. The official line, repeated in press releases by the Brazilian government and by all official sources, is that Al98

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cântara is the best launching location in Brazil, and the Alcântara Launch Center the best-­located launching base in the world. The advantages usually mentioned for the positioning of the base are its 2.18° distance from the equator (which gives geostationary launches a great boost and fuel-­ efficiency advantage compared to other launching sites);1 its peninsular location (which facilitates a variety of launch trajectories); a nearby deepwater port and medium-­sized city; low population density; and relatively stable yearly weather patterns (which make more or less predictable year-­ round launching possible). Yet for Lieutenant Colonel Anselmo, it was the “interference” of Maranhão-­state politicians that had brought the base here. From a purely technical standpoint, the base would be better located in the state of Amapá, where Brazil’s Atlantic coast meets the equator.2 Anselmo’s claim contained a threat and was widely interpreted as such by people at the meeting: if Alcântara’s locals did not relent, the government would depart for Amapá, taking the promised development aid with them. Without the space program, Anselmo blustered, “Alcântara is just another municipality like thousands of others in Brazil, with all the same problems.” Notice that Lieutenant Colonel Anselmo’s argument hinges on the dividing line between the technical and the social—­the first presumed unquestionable and stable, while the second is considered prone to the whims of desire and politics. Here, Anselmo was asserting that a pre­ sumed technical issue, the location of the base, was in fact social and thus subject to political interference in an otherwise transparently technical project. At other times, he defensively made a converse claim: that new civilian-­controlled launching installations could not be placed in­side the existing base for technical rather than political reasons and for those same technical reasons had to be placed on villager land. In both cases, however, he was asserting special technical and institutional knowledge or expertise. Additionally, in trying to undermine the villagers’ leverage by declaring the base’s placement political rather than technical, Anselmo was opening a debate that had never, as far as I know, been publicly considered in the struggles over Alcântara. Later that evening, I discussed the day’s events with some of the activists who had been at the meeting. Nothing else that government representatives had said at the meeting was taken very seriously by the activists, but Anselmo’s implicit threat was a matter of real concern. “Is this true? Are there other places where they could put the base?” one community leader, Claudia, asked me, perhaps supposing that as an anthropologist from a foreign university I might have some relevant expertise, although I did not. Her face showed what I read as a mix of happy anticipation—­since 99

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the base was the source of much local social strife—­and fear—­since the base was also supposed to be the source of many promised benefits. None of us could answer the question.3 We had no expert or insider knowledge to match the lieutenant colonel’s. In so heterogeneous and technologically complex a conflict, access to relevant expertise is necessarily limited yet also crucial in structuring political outcomes. Expert arguments about technical necessity leave nonexperts with limited options: such arguments can be ignored or greeted with suspicion, but they cannot easily be addressed or contested on their own terms by nonexperts. Fortunately for the villagers, they too had a se­ ries of experts and arguments about technical necessity, as we will see.

Specialized Knowledge: Competing Black Boxes The technical complexity and specificity of satellite launching makes it an exclusive domain of highly trained experts. Scientific facts and technological objects—­true and efficacious though they may be—­are developed through the contingent activities of scientists and engineers (Latour and Woolgar 1979). When these painstakingly developed facts and objects move into broader political conversations or become objects of contestation, however, they privilege the perspectives of those who can claim relevant technical expertise. That no one on the quilombola side of Alcântara’s conflicts has sufficient technical knowledge to contest space-­program representatives about satellite launching only increases the incentive for these representatives to frame arguments in technical terms, much as a rigid teacher might dismiss the argument of a contesting student. The superiority of Alcântara as a launching site had long been taken for granted by participants in these debates over Alcântara, and the air force usually asserted that presumed superiority forcefully to make the placement of the base look like a fait accompli. In stating that the base’s placement in Alcântara was partially the result of social interference, rather than seemingly unquestionable technical reasons, Anselmo—­to borrow the language of actor-­network theory—­was opening a black box, an assemblage of heterogeneous elements put together so as to be stable and solid, with its internal complexity unconsidered (Callon and Latour 1981, 285).4 In elucidating the concept of “black box,” Callon and Latour draw on Hobbes ([1651] 1998) who, in an inaugural move for social theory, tried to show how macroactors—­to rely on Callon and Latour’s rather than Hobbes’s terminology—­are built by “translating” the wills of mi100

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croactors into the single will of the Leviathan. For Callon and Latour, the process of translation is much broader. Actors become macroactors by “translating” not only wills but “bodies, materials, discourses, techniques, feelings, laws, [and] organizations” into a single construction, or macroactor (1981, 284). The trick to creating a durable macroactor is to make these many translations unquestionable or unnoticed, to place them into black boxes.5 The concept of black box is in some ways similar to notions of naturalization or doxa (Bourdieu 1977), frequently used in the social sciences to describe the sleight of hand whereby social (and thus presumptively mutable) matters are made to seem natural, unquestionable—­or even invisible. Naturalization and doxa are useful and powerful concepts, but they rest on a taken-­for-­granted ontological divide among social, natural, and technical orders. And the distinctions between social, natural, and technical are part of what is in question in Anselmo’s assertions about the placement of a spaceport, with all their possible social and technical ramifications. The concept of black boxing—­the creation of corporate socio-­ natural-­technical “assemblages” (Franklin 2005; Ong and Collier 2005) or “leviathans” (Callon and Latour 1981; Golub 2014; Hobbes [1651] 1998) and the concurrent obscuring of their historical character—­has the virtue of bracketing those ontological distinctions. The materials used to construct the base and its location, the Brazilian nation-­state, and quilombo identity are human, natural, material, and technical, as much as they are social. The complexity of these constructions is also part of the reason for the centrality of the deployment of expertise at the meeting in Mamuna. Experts are the magicians of black boxes, the seers who can peer into and interpret assemblages that for most of us are undifferentiated and incomprehensible in their construction, like the arrangement of technical and political matters that Anselmo pried open at that meeting. Anthropolo­ gists of politics and development have long noted a tendency of bureaucra­ cies to depoliticize political issues by rendering them as merely technical. Such “anti-­politics,” as James Ferguson puts it (1994), however, do not eliminate the play of interests but make technical experts, rather than pol­ iticians or citizens, the spokespersons for those interests. On this surprising occasion Anselmo used his insider knowledge and technical expertise to open this particular black box, so painstakingly constructed by an air force that had long positioned the base as an unquestioned and necessary cornerstone of Brazil’s national power and iden­ tity, in a surprising bluff that his expertise would trump villager desire and that villagers would balk in their resistance if threatened with the real 101

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possibility of the departure of the base and the federal government. For the most part, the villagers did not balk.

Selling the Alcântara Space Center It was not only what Lieutenant Colonel Anselmo had to say at that June 2005 meeting that surprised me; I was surprised that he spoke at all. Although silent representatives of the military sometimes attended the many public meetings held to discuss Alcântara’s problems, this was one of the few occasions when I heard a military figure speak in public about the conflicts then raging in Alcântara. Yet, while I was surprised by these few particulars, in most respects the events of that meeting and that day were typical of those I observed throughout my nearly three years of ethnographic fieldwork. It is because of that day’s typical and exemplary character that I chose to describe the event here, drawing, at the suggestion of Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, loose inspiration from a famous article by Max Gluckman (1940). Gluckman describes the ceremonial opening of the first bridge built in (then) Zululand, taking it as a token of a typical pattern of social interaction in colonial South Africa. Through his description of this event Gluckman “abstracts the social structure, relationships [and] institutions” of a colonial society that he understood to be structured by “inter-­dependent relations between and within colour-­groups as colour-­groups” (2). This chapter, too, analyzes the basic structure of interaction, interdependence, and hierarchy among extremely unequal social groups. But, far from find­ ing any of the functional interdependence of social actors that Gluckman and his colleagues believed they had discovered in the Africa of the first half of the twentieth century, the instabilities in actors’ identities renders such precise interdependence in Alcântara nearly unthinkable. While for Gluckman the coherence of group actors could be more or less taken for granted, in Alcântara the construction of group actors that people will find convincing (quilombolas, the nation, the state) is fluid, is much of what is at stake, and requires the work of a variety of types of socially sanctioned expertise.

The Reality of Expertise My arguments about the importance of expertise in social conflict are not antirealist; all claims about reality are not equivalently true. A char102

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acter in George Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma famously quips that professions are “conspiracies against the laity” (1911, 32). The idea that professional expertise and institutions exist to delude everyone else has a populist appeal and, undoubtedly, some truth. But professional expertise is not merely a performative form of power. It is self-­evident that all societies depend in different ways on the specialized knowledge of practitioners, who in many cases provide “the laity” with help that wouldn’t otherwise be available. But the opacity of this can be a patient’s dilemma. At the dentist’s recently to get a cavity filled, I certainly hoped, as the dentist stood above me with an arcane assortment of numbing drugs and whirring drills, that her expertise was not merely marshaled in the service of a conspiracy to win money from me and my dental insurer. But I will never know, since I was also reliant on the dentist’s machine-­mediated analysis of my teeth that identified a dangerous cavity in what had until then seemed my perfectly functional and comfortable mouth. Expertise functions as a mastery of black boxes, specialized knowledge of assemblages of human and nonhuman actors (teeth, X-­rays, bac­ teria, germs, dental assistants, medical education, advertising, insurance bureaucracies, etc.). It also must be performed to be made socially real for other experts and nonexperts alike. My dentist’s white coat, her self-­ assured demeanor, the clean professional office, the diplomas on the wall, and her title of doctor were part of a semiotics of expertise that conspired to put me at (relative) ease as she drilled holes in parts of my body that I would have much preferred to keep intact. Expertise is not merely a conspiracy against the laity because the elements placed in black boxes are not merely contingent and arbitrary whims of power; they, like my teeth, have noncontingent properties. But expertise can also sometimes function in a conspiratorial and adversarial way. And experts can only exist qua experts when there also exist nonexperts who do not possess the means to open the experts’ black boxes (Carr 2010, 22; Jasanoff 2012; T. Mitchell 2002). I should add that paying attention to performances within genres of expertise is not simply the interpretive whim of an anthropologist who has to write about the conflict in Alcântara in multiple articles and books—­although this is my own professional requirement as a presumptive expert on the conflict, and I am duly doing my best to perform that expertise in this chapter. Most matters of crucial global concern (over the reality and character of global climate change, say, or HIV, or global wealth disparities) are domains where experts assemble mutually contradictory black boxes for wide-­ranging constituencies, a problem that 103

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has become central to science and technology studies (H. M. Collins and Evans 2002; Wynne 1996). Most of us do not have the technical expertise to see very far into the black boxes of climate scientists about the nature and causes of global climate change, for example. Consequently, those opposed to efforts that might prevent climate change can raise doubts by funding their own black boxes and disseminating them widely (see, e.g., Oreskes and Conway 2011). Which climate scientists are nonexperts to believe? Which of the seemingly irreconcilable evocations of Science as a final arbiter of truth are we to accept? That many already have an answer to this question reflects the outcome of performances of expertise by and within different “epistemic cultures” (Knorr-­Cetina 1999), or “credibility economy[ies]” (Shapin 2007, 181), as much as it does the understanding of the complexities of human-­climate interaction among “the laity.” I do not mean to imply that all climate-­science black boxes are equal. In my assessment, the available evidence suggests extremely strongly that human activity is generating significant climate change; but serious interpreters of that evidence, whatever their positions, must sort through the contradictory claims of experts. Powerful interests are at play here, just as powerful interests are at play in Alcântara. The stakes of debates over such topics as climate change are, obviously, very high. So, understanding how black-­ boxed versions of reality are made, unmade, and understood begs for ethno­graphic attention to the ways in which expertise is performed and for whom.

Group-­Specific Rights in an Ambiguous Context A dynamic similar to that favoring expertise and fact-­based assertions by space-­program representatives holds for the anthropologists and lawyers representing the quilombos. Such expertise is obviously important where highly technical knowledge is important, in domains such as satellite launching. It is self-­evident that societies dependent on specialized technologies require specialized experts for their governance and maintenance. But I also argue that there is something special about contemporary forms of governance in Brazil, which, as scholars of neoliberal gov­ ernance the world over have observed, privilege the self-­sufficiency (Ansell 2014; Muehlebach 2012; Wolford 2005) and group-­ specific status of groups understood in terms of ethnoracial difference ( J. L. Comaroff and Comaroff 2009; Hale 2002; Žižek 1997).


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The rights that are claimed by Alcântara’s social movements are not universal rights but what Kymlicka has called “group-­differentiated rights” (1995). The rights of Alcântara’s villagers, grounded in the Brazilian constitution’s Quilombo Clause, are contingent on the objective nature of their race/ethnicity and history. Yet that ethnoracial identity is highly fluid and that history highly contested. So, arguments about rights in Alcântara are frequently framed as expert claims about ethnic and racial identity, farming, the history of slavery, and the nature of the law; these arguments slide from arguments about rights to arguments about facts, from arguments about ought to arguments about is. The experts deployed and authorized by state agencies to validate villagers’ claims include (1) experts of locality—­the villagers themselves, as well as quilombo-­movement representatives—­who are frequently required to provide evidence of rural authenticity to legitimate claims to ethnic distinctiveness and consequent legal rights; (2) experts of the law—­a team of lawyers from a number of NGOs based in the cities of southern Brazil who advocate quilombo legal claims both to villagers and to outside actors; and (3) experts of difference or, as Peter Fry (himself a participant in these disputes, Vogt and Fry 1996) has called them, “cartographers of social difference” (Fry 2005), namely, anthropologists.

Anthropologists and Quilombos Anthropologists, in particular Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida, have been an important part of the conflicts in Alcântara since they began in the early 1980s. In Alcântara, they are cartographers, too, in the most literal sense. A map of Alcântara was affixed to the cracked plaster wall at the back of the room on the day of the June 2005 meeting, in which contested areas were marked “ethnic territory”—­a provocative rejoinder to the air force “security zone” that surrounds the base and that covers more or less the same area. This map was developed by the peripatetic Almeida and his research team6 as part of his laudo antropológico (anthropological assessment). For a brief time, I was part of Almeida’s research team, and I was primary author of a document on Alcântara produced by the team (Mitchell et al. 2008). Until it was superseded by a 2003 presidential decree, which made “self-­identification” the principal legal criterion for the identification of quilombo communities, raising the stakes for “experts of locality,” the previous 2001 decree regulating the titling of quilombo land required


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that an extensive study (laudo antropológico) be carried out in order to determine the veracity of claims to quilombola identity and delimit the boundaries of quilombo communities. The job of identifying anthropologists to carry out this task was largely taken over by ABA (Associação Brasileira de Antropologia, Brazilian Anthropological Association). Even after the 2003 decree, although self-­identification is the key legal criterion for the identification of quilombo communities in Brazil, anthropological studies are required for delimiting the boundaries of such communities. Anthropologists have long provided such state-­sanctioned expertise in Brazil. In 1988, under the presidency of Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, ABA signed an agreement with the federal government, agreeing to appoint anthropologists knowledgeable about particular areas or indigenous groups to work on land disputes. Even before this, there was a long-­ standing tradition of Brazilian (and foreign) anthropologists defending indigenous land rights, and they continued to do so independently after the establishment of this formal government role (M. C. da Cunha, personal communication). ABA’s partnership with the government agencies responsible for quilombo communities—­the FCP (the Palmares Cultural Foundation, a unit of the Ministry of Culture) and INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform, a unit of the Ministry of Agrarian Development, or MDA)—­has followed from this long-­standing anthropological role ( J. P. de Oliveira 2005, 227–­29).7 Out of his own pocket, Almeida spent far more than the government awarded to produce the extensively documented two-­volume study (2006a, 2006b), which is both a primary data object and a source of secondary data for my work on Alcântara. His principal argument in the laudo is that Alcântara forms a single interdependent “ethnic territory,” which would lose its identity and social coherence if it were segmented into titled and untitled segments: an argument about the technical necessity and necessary interdependence of quilombola land and identity throughout the peninsula, a black box like that of Lieutenant Colonel Anselmo—­ though I will add my own anthropological expertise to this black box’s solidity to say that I also believe Almeida’s claim is true. In addition to his written work, at many public hearings and seminars in Alcântara, Almeida has presented an analysis of Alcântara’s history and character as a single ethnic territory to Alcântara’s residents. For example, at a public hearing in 2004 that featured many residents of Alcântara and representatives of the federal government, Almeida powerfully made the case:


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These data are given . . . they allow us to think of these groups as a single people! The quilombolas of Alcântara constitute a people with a specific ethnic character. There is even a settlement with the name, with the self-­definition, Fora Cativeiro [Out of Captivity!]8 The word captivity in Brazil means the refusal of slavery . . . This self-­naming is part of a process of territorialization, which is what we are living here. . . . Territorialization means the construction of an identity. . . . People’s sense of belonging here, as people explained in Mamuna yesterday, is very strong: it is a kind of dwelling in which people share and utilize natural resources. It is very different from the agrovilas, where patterns of common use have been broken. And when we say that Alcântara, in this process of territorialization, forms an ethnic territory, we are referring to this process of self-­naming combined with the particularity in the relationship between the different settlements, and with natural resources. Although communities here were constructed in historically different ways, over time they have come to develop an integrated way of life. . . . A village in the south makes tipitis that are used by a village in the north, which makes fishing tools for the village in the south, which provides farinha to fishermen, which provides fish for farmers. These communities have a specific territoriality. This is the substance of the ethnic territory, which assures the process of identity formation that has been won through struggle.

Almeida’s arguments are based on an intimate knowledge of life in Alcântara and, as far as I have been able to tell, people who live in Alcântara find them accurate—­as do I. Although Almeida’s claims about Alcântara’s character as a single ethnic territory have been accepted as the final word by at least some important institutions of the federal government, others have opposed them, and, consequently, as of this publication, no quilombola land titles have been awarded in Alcântara. Despite these problems, villagers asserting rights to the land on the basis of this evidence conferred by anthropological science have brandished photocopies of Almeida’s voluminous study as though it were the very land title itself. One of the anthropologists involved in providing support for Alcântara’s villagers frequently declares authoritatively at meetings of villagers and bureaucrats, “The communities aren’t reversible; the base is,” arguing that, because of the villagers’ unique history and an unassailable legal claim to the land, the government is powerless to remove them—­ although it could remove the spaceport. Like Anselmo’s, this claim marshals the social authority of science, law, and insider knowledge to delineate the boundaries between technical and social domains—­with the former taken to be immutable, or at least unquestionable, and the latter, mutable and contestable.


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Structural Heterogeneity / Ontological Continuity Reflecting a highly influential recent tendency in anthropology, often referred to as the “ontological turn,” some anthropologists have sought to explore how human groups actually inhabit “multiple ontologies,” literally live in different worlds (see, e.g., Henare, Holbraad, and Wastell 2007; Viveiros de Castro 2012). Although in this chapter I try to show how conflicts such as the one in Alcântara are often waged through the making of ontological claims, I want to push against the tendency to read social difference in terms of multiple ontologies. In chapter 3, I critiqued some scholarship in science, technology, and society for a set of axioms (about symmetry and alternative modernities) that make an appealing populist gesture, but fail to address—­or, worse, reify—­the links between technology and inequality. The work of anthropologists such as Viveiros de Castro—­one of the multiple worlds anthropology’s most influential exponents—­ is among the richest and most insightful contemporary ethnographic work I have read (e.g., 1992). However, the appeal of an ontological framework to many anthropologists attempting to understand human difference draws from a similar populist impulse, as does the “alternative modernities” conceptualization of technological difference. And it has similar shortcomings. To regard all worldviews as equally true—­all worldviews as worlds—­leaves us with weakened tools to address questions about the truth of claims about reality and about the power that fosters some truth claims over others. And those questions about truth and power—­as, for example, in the claims about climate change I have discussed above—­are deeply important. Moreover, to regard human worlds as ontologically distinct is to imagine human groups consigned to irreconcilable fortresses. But processes of dialogue and discovery across human groups presuppose a common ontological grounding—­as do processes of deception and domination across those groups (see Graeber 2015). This is true generally for human beings, and it is particularly so in Alcântara. The participants in Alcântara’s conflicts have many differences, conceptual and material, but they do not inhabit separate ontologies. There is considerable social overlap among the groups in conflict in Alcântara. Indeed, the very social and ontological continuity of their world creates an important incentive to frame arguments in ontological terms. At the beginning of the meeting described at the start of this chapter, only two members of the federal government groups involved with Alcântara had shown up: Franz, the head of the GEI, the federal govern108

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ment group responsible for Alcântara’s conflicts, and Amélia, a biologist who worked for the civilian space program. Although Franz stressed the importance of the meeting, he claimed that only he and Amélia were able to attend because the annual São João festivities soon to begin in Maranhão (a major tourist draw) had left other federal officials without seats on commercial flights into São Luís, the state capital. Since members of the federal government often flew directly to the base on air force planes, bypassing commercial flights and the capital, a number of the activists expressed skepticism about Franz’s excuse, suggesting that the real reason for such a poor showing must be that their case was not important enough to warrant protracted attention from many representatives of the federal government. As the meeting began, Franz listed a series of benefits that the new construction would bring (development aid, transport, education), and his best argument was that construction of launch facilities on villager land must proceed because of the importance of the space program to the nation. As I have shown in previous chapters, these arguments about what villagers should want largely fell flat, and I supposed I was in for one of many dull and uneventful meetings. I was wrong. Soon, curiosity built as the rare sound of a large motor approached—­then always a cause for excitement in Mamuna, located as it was at the end of a long and difficult earthen track seldom at that time braved by vehicles other than motorcycles. An air force truck eventually drove into the center of the village, and Anselmo stepped out into the morning sun. I have mentioned how rare it was that a representative of the air force was both present and vocal at a meeting in Alcântara. The director of the spaceport while I lived in Alcântara had a reputation as a hard-­liner. Members of the air force were prohibited from granting me interviews (although I managed to have many conversations with air force members off base, as well as interviews at the Ministry of Defense in Brasília); the base also had turned away National Geographic (R. Ribeiro 2004), the BBC (Kingstone 2004), and even ESPN-­Brasil.9 When Anselmo arrived at the scene just after nine thirty, he did not enter the site of the meeting but instead sat outside one of the glassless windows in camouflage fatigues and dark sunglasses, smoking cigarettes and snarling at the proceedings. His stance seemed to invoke both a disdain for the process and a populist solidarity with the crowds around the windows. Yet when we broke for lunch and, as was typical at these meetings, the participants segregated between those of us who would pay for a meal (from villagers who had prepared food for the occasion) and the 109

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Mamuna residents eating in their homes, the lieutenant colonel retreated to his truck to be thronged by young village men eager to get a peek at the truck and its martial technology and to learn about opportunities in the air force. Although military service is nominally mandatory for men in Brazil, in places with few economic opportunities such as Alcântara many more young men apply for positions as soldiers than there are positions available. When, each year, the air force held tests for new recruits, it was hard to find a young man in Alcântara not trying to get in. Winning such a position would mean up to four years of relative wealth and prestige, as well as technical training. Mamuna, for all its hostility toward the base, had four young men working as soldiers on the base during the period that I lived there. All bought motorcycles on which they returned to the village on weekends, to the envy and admiration of many. More significant here was how easy and friendly the interaction between the lieutenant colonel and those young men was. I wandered over to the group several times, hoping to participate in the conversation, but Anselmo made it clear that he did not want me around.10 Because of this, I did not hear much of the conversation. But I could see that Anselmo and the young men were laughing and exchanging loud hand slaps for almost the entire lunch hour. Indeed, despite the structural opposition of the air force and Alcântara’s villagers, officers and villagers often engaged in very warm forms of exchange. On weekends, officers would often come to Mamuna’s beach to drink beer, play soccer, and fish with Mamuna residents, paying them to prepare and cook the fish. Scholars have long noted how vast gulfs of inequality in Brazil are often accompanied by an easy intimacy that belies those gulfs (Freyre 1933; Goldstein 2003; Buarque de Holanda [1936] 1979), an intimacy that facilitates the complementary hierarchy that I have argued has long been an important structure of legitimation in Alcântara. For example, Roberto DaMatta contrasts a US form of racism based an ideology of “separate but equal” to a Brazilian form of racism based on an ideology of “together but unequal” (1997)—­a clear articulation of complementary hierarchy. Similarly, James Holston has argued that the historical model of citizenship in Brazil is “inclusive in membership and massively inegalitarian in distribution,” in contrast to historical forms of citizenship in France and the United States that historically restricted membership (2008, 7). A common theme of this literature is that Brazilian history has forged models of interaction among the weak and strong, poor and rich, black and white, that do not presume any rigid social separation among


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those groups. Such analysis is somewhat oversimplified for so large and varied a nation as Brazil (Mitchell, Blanchette, and Silva, n.d.), but it is the case that, despite political enmity and vast inequality, when they were together, Alcântara’s residents and air force representatives often got along very well and shared many common cultural reference points. The participants in Alcântara’s conflicts do not inhabit separate ontological worlds. Yet the groups involved in the conflict (bureaucrats, urban activists, academics, lawyers, quilombola villagers, military officers, engineers, etc.) are so structurally heterogeneous, and their interests so at odds, that agreement about what ought to be seems impossible. This structural divergence makes claims about what is a more plausible ground of contestation. The participants in the conflicts over Alcântara are Portuguese-­ speaking Brazilians,11 inheritors of a society formed out of slavery that has long privileged an ideology of cordiality, intimacy, and mixture across deep divides of social inequality. The participants in this conflict are certainly Others to one another, but they are intimate Others, inhabiting a cultural world with broad continuity, despite its massive inequalities. These groups cannot be convinced to desire the same things, given their structural heterogeneity, but they might be convinced to believe the same things, given this ontological continuity.

Expertise and Power Arguments about the reality and inevitability of quilombo land rights made by the lawyers and anthropologists allied to Alcântara’s quilom­ bolas have largely been adapted by the quilombo movement. For example, during another meeting in the agrovila Marudá, called by MABE and MOMTRA (Movimento das Mulheres Trabalhadoras Rurais de Alcântara, Movement of  Woman Rural Workers of Alcântara), Dalma, an activist from the agrovila Só Assim, spoke at length: We are quilombolas in our community, and we have our culture and our practice of working, so I have to self-­identify myself as quilombola, and quilombolas won’t leave here because it has been determined in the decree that the land is ours, and it can’t be divided. . . . We know that the government can’t take the land from us. . . . [Anthropologist] Alfredo [Wagner Berno de Almeida] and Machado [an important quilombo-­ movement activist in Alcântara] are always telling me that I have to read a lot, and I know that the land has to be collective. . . . So this question of collective land is very serious, and I believe that we in the movement, we have to orient people to this a lot


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more, do more consciousness raising. . . . Or people won’t understand that the land is all ours. . . . I might understand but others won’t understand.

Note that Dalma articulates a vision of the inevitability and solidity of quilombola communal land rights, rooted in history, a relation to the land, and the law. She does not need to convince others to hold one ethical or political position among others, just to teach them what is true. The anthropologists, social-­movement lawyers, and villagers who at­ten­ded the meeting at which Dalma spoke insist on the technical inevitability of quilombola identity and quilombola possession of their land, deploying law, biology, shared agricultural techniques, local experience, historical precedent, and feelings of sympathy to make quilombo identity as durable and unquestionable as possible. Likewise, the representatives of the base deployed national sentiment, law, rocketry, and gravitational science in an attempt to make the base seem not only inevitable but an essential aspect of Brazilian nationhood. The social deployment of such expertise has partially structured the conflict in Alcântara. Villagers would likely not have retained their land up to now had they and their advocates not made such persuasive public arguments about the legal inevitability of their ethnoracial claim to land possession. Similarly, space-­ program advocates’ arguments about the equatorial advantages of the base keep much of the Brazilian press sympathetic to the air force and civilian space program. Nonetheless, I do not want to overstate the importance of the deployment of expertise, which is only part of the story of Alcântara’s impasse. The conflict has also been structured by power. Villagers in the 1980s were forcibly removed from their homes and made to accept insufficient land—­against the protestations of some state-­sanctioned experts who warned that the land plots were insufficient to support families (see Andrade 2006, 17). The air force was also forced to accept civilian launch installations inside the air force base, against the protestations of its own experts. Experts may give us black-­boxed versions of reality, but those black boxes can also be broken or pushed aside by force.

A Note on Technology and Alcântara’s History I excerpted this chapter’s epigraph from a famous sermon by the Jesuit priest António Vieira. This “emperor of the Portuguese language,” as poet Fernando Pessoa called him, is today often celebrated in Brazil for his


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advocacy of indigenous Brazilians and for his accomplishments as author and orator. He departed from Bahia—­then the heart of the Portuguese slave-­driven sugar-­export economy—­in 1653, the year before he gave this sermon, to arrive in a Maranhão mostly unexplored by the Portuguese. In seventeenth-­century northern Brazil, Jesuits competed with colonists for control of the Portuguese Crown’s new land and subjects (Schwartz and Langfur 2005, 85–­86), and Vieira dedicated his efforts to moralizing the colonists, missionizing the indigenous people, and extending the Crown’s territorial reach. In 1655, Vieira won concessions from the Crown, bringing indigenous people under Jesuit (rather than colonist) authority and placing limitations on indigenous slavery. Vieira’s concessions from the Crown had a tremendous impact on Alcântara, then largely populated by Tupinambá. After 1655, the Jesuits (and later other Catholic orders) formed mission villages (aldeias) in the interior, forcibly grouping many of those Tupinambá into “indigenous peasantry,” as Schwartz has put it (1978, 50). When indigenous Brazilians were declared formally free a century later in 1755 and the Jesuits expelled from Brazil in 1759 (Fausto 1999, 46), the former mission villages in Alcântara’s northeast formed havens for Afro-­Brazilians who escaped and otherwise left the region’s plantations, contributing to the development of the mixed-­race free peasantry that spread throughout the municipality of Alcântara as the region’s cotton economy declined in the 1820s and after. Today this history forms the basis of the claim that Alcântara forms an “ethnic territory” that must be protected under the Brazilian constitution’s Quilombo Clause, all of which has become central to mobilization around the spaceport. In the “Sermon of the Fifth Sunday of Lent,” from which the epigraph is taken, orating to the provincial elite in a nascent settler colonial society, Vieira posited a technological, human, and moral order to parallel the natural and celestial order. Adding a technological emphasis to the broader colonial anxiety about the breakdown of European order in the tropics ( J. Comaroff and Comaroff 1991, 108; Silverblatt 2004), the priest suggested that Maranhão’s proximity to the equator made elsewhere-­trustworthy astrolabes unreliable, leading ships astray and society into deception and disarray. In Maranhão “even the sun and the sky tell lies,” Vieira proclaimed, describing a treachery of machines and humans made inevitable by the perfidy of the skies.12 In choosing this epigraph for a chapter that discusses both threads of deception and a Brazilian space program that is frequently criticized as a failure (Amaral 2009), I do not mean to add my voice to Vieira’s pessimism


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about Maranhão. Instead, I include the famous sermon because Vieira’s words suggestively invoke some of this chapter’s principal themes: the central—­yet transforming—­place of hierarchy in Alcântara’s and Brazil’s social relations; the social power of deception and confusion; and how assertions about relations between natural and technical domains are used to make arguments about social relations.



Racialization and Race-­Based Law Collective representations—­ways in which we are collectively represented to ourselves, and in which “permissible” parameters and forms of individual identity are defined and symbolized for us—­are simultaneously descriptive and moral. Typically they present particular moral orders as description.  P h i l i p

R i c h a r d C o rr i ­

g a n a n d D e r e k S ay e r , T h e G r e at A r c h : E n g l i s h Stat e F o r m at i o n a s  C u l ­t u r a l Revolution

Regularizing Quilombos In April 2005, a seminar was held in São Luís, the island cap­ ital of Maranhão state, titled “Regularização de terra de quilombos e o trabalho do antropólogo,” which I translate as “Regularization of Quilombo Land and the Work of Anthropologists.” In Brazil’s agrarian politics, the verb regularizar refers to the transformation of informal and contested landholdings into legally held land with formal title. But, as used by different participants in the seminar, regularizar seemed to have valences ranging from “to organize around shared rights and identity” to something more like “to regulate.” While quilombo identity has become crucial to the ethno­ racial consciousness and political mobilization of communi­ ties throughout Brazil, this task of “regularization” has been much more difficult, particularly in the face of Brazil’s high-­ stakes and often violent agrarian politics. In Brazil, as in much of Latin America, the ownership of much land is highly unequal and ambiguous, and the poor often do not possess le­gal title (Alcântara Filho and Fontes 2009; Hoffmann and 115

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Ney 2010; De Soto 2003). Groups mobilizing as quilombolas are currently involved in land conflicts with the military not only in Maranhão but in other areas in Brazil as well;1 they are also combating land problems with such large-­scale capital-­intensive projects as: dam and tourist-­resort construction, oil exploration and development ventures, and various agribusiness enterprises, including major cellulose plantations (Almeida 2010, 12). Because of these conflicts, and because agribusiness formed a major part of the governing coalition during the PT era (Boito and Berringer 2014), as it still does in the post-­PT era, despite the constitutional man­ date to title quilombo communities, only 193 titles were awarded between 1988 and 2013 (F. C. O. Santos and Dal Ri Júnior 2013, 108). Of these, only 139 were granted by the federal government, while the rest were conferred by different state governments (Portal Brasil 2013). Nonetheless, identification as quilombolas links poor communities to broad national support networks and to numerous national and international NGO and government sources of aid. There are Quilombo-­focused NGOs and government agencies operating throughout Brazil, and many Brazilian and foreign scholars have been studying quilombos, thereby helping to publicize their struggles. Although quilombo identification does not guarantee constitutionally mandated land title, it does provide a strong means of connecting communities to powerful allies in Brazil and beyond. The São Luís seminar was jointly sponsored by the Brazilian Anthropological Association (ABA) and the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), the government agency currently in charge of titling and delim­ iting quilombo communities. It brought together many of the most prominent anthropologists, bureaucrats, lawyers, and activists involved with the contemporary politics of quilombos in Brazil for three days of discussions, workshops, and visits to some of the disputed villages across the bay, in Alcântara. The event’s scope was national, and Maranhão was a symbolically important state for it. Although urban black movements are larger and better organized than rural ones in most of Brazil, the opposite is true in Mara­ nhão. In this heavily rural state, the principally—­though not exclusively—­ rural-­focused quilombo movement is larger and better organized than urban-­focused black movements (M. L. Bowen 2010). Both the nascent quilombo movement and its anthropological study, moreover, got their start in Maranhão in the 1980s,2 closely linked projects then as now. Maranhão is also the state with the greatest number of quilombo communities. A May 2005 study by the University of Brasília’s Center for Geogra-


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phy and Applied Cartography ( J. H. French 2006, 342; Navarro 2005), for example, found that Maranhão had 642 quilombo communities, the greatest number, followed by the northeastern state of Bahia, with 396, and the Amazonian state of  Pará, with 294 (Navarro 2005). This study iden­ tified 2,228 quilombo communities in Brazil, a figure that corresponds to those of sympathetic government sources I interviewed who believe there to be between two and three thousand communities. Quilombo-­ movement sources, however, more often estimate five thousand, while opponents of the quilombo movement (Barreto 2007; Rosenfield 2007a, 2007b) believe that the designation should cover only a few historical com­ munities, if any at all. Very few people at the seminar were opponents of the quilombo move­ ment; most seemed earnestly concerned with helping quilombo commu­ nities win land title. Yet I was struck by the level of disagreement among the event’s participants—­experts in quilombo identity and legal claims—­ about what quilombola meant to members of communities now officially categorized this way. One anecdote from the meeting in São Luís conveys some of the com­ plexity surrounding the identification of Brazilian quilombolas, including the role of socially sanctioned expertise of different kinds in making this identification, as well as the conflicts and confusion among these experts about the forms of ethnoracial and political consciousness that are—­and are not—­tied to this emerging category of citizen. During the first day of the seminar, Janaína, a nationally important qui­lombo-­movement activist from the state of Maranhão, who has vigorously promoted black identity and quilombo land rights in Alcântara, spoke to the crowd of some two hundred participants about the needs and aspirations of contemporary quilombolas. Challenging many of the state-­sanctioned quilombo experts present, and expressing the position of most of the quilombomovement leadership, Janaína forcefully declared: “The quilombolas know that they’re quilombolas and see themselves as quilombolas; they don’t need anybody to tell them that they’re quilombolas.” The face of the Brazilian anthropologist to my right turned sour. Strongly allied with rural social movements, she had worked for decades in many of the same communities as Janaína, in Alcântara and elsewhere in Maranhão and, like Janaína, she is concerned with the protection and recognition of quilombo land rights. Yet to Janaína’s affirmation that contemporary quilombolas recognize themselves as such, she muttered indignantly and to the assent of a few of the other Brazilian anthropologists seated around us: “No they don’t; they just don’t know they’re quilombolas.”


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In conversations later that evening with the anthropologist and some of her colleagues, it became clear that the anthropologist saw quilombo mobilization and consciousness as arising in clear response to the Qui­ lombo Clause in the 1988 constitution. Although she has worked hard to help keep Maranhão’s communities on their land, her perspective on quilombo identity is, in this respect, similar to a perspective I often encountered among military officers at the spaceport who opposed Alcântara’s social movements. When opponents do not characterize quilombo identity as fraud, they tend to see quilombo discourse and identity as an instrumental response to the law. Another anthropologist, also an ally of quilombolas, said as much in conversation that evening: “these people are being racialized by the state,” he put it succinctly. How is it possible that the anthropologist and the activist, two people who know the quilombo communities of the interior of Maranhão, and have broadly congruent political goals, could disagree so fundamentally about the ethnopolitical self-­conception of the region’s rural residents and about their relationship to the new category of Brazilian citizen, qui­ lombola? They appear to have made two flatly contradictory statements of fact. Either people already understand themselves to be qui­lombolas, or they do not.

Considering the Racialization Thesis The dispute between activists and anthropologists at this meeting tracks closely with broader debates in Brazil at the time. After the 1988 constitution included clauses advanced by Afro-­Brazilian and indigenous-­rights groups, each decade has witnessed new policies designed to redress Brazil’s racial inequalities, such as the passage of a Federal Statute of Racial Equality law in 2010 and the creation of large-­scale race-­and class-­based affirmative-­action programs beginning in 2001, and continuing in subsequent years (see S. Costa 2010; Htun 2004; T. D. Silva 2012; Telles and Paixão 2013). This explicit racialization of the law is a stunning departure in a nation where, since the 1930s, the dominant strain of nationalism has emphasized harmonious and cordial racial mixture (see Freyre 1933; Andrews 1996; J. F. Collins 2015; Guimarães 2001). Critics and some defenders of these new policies to redress racial inequality view them as racializing not only law but also people and the nation itself. In its simplest version, which I call the racialization thesis, commentators hold that these legal innovations are causing changes to racial consciousness


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and identification: Brazil is becoming a nation not of mestiçagem (ethnoracial mixture) but of separable and enduring races. This turn to race-­based law, such as the Quilombo Clause, which Jan Hoffman French refers to as “implicitly race-­based” (2009, 5), has gen­ erated a voluminous, vigorous, and almost instantaneous scholarly and journal­istic literature. Despite the risible, though widely circulated, claims of Kamel (2006) that Brazil is not marred by racism, defenders of race-­ based law correctly point to the barriers to social ascension and equality for Brazilians marked with African and indigenous features and the ineffec­tiveness of universalist remedies to these problems. Many critics of the remedial policies, however, argue that they create perilous ethnic and racial divisions where they had not previously existed in Brazilian society. One senator, for example, blustered that former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva’s titling of quilombo land, tepid though I have already shown that it was, was fomenting an “imminent racial war” (Dutra 2007).3 Yet defenders of race-­based law have generally been strikingly silent about the trenchant claim that race-­based law is producing a more racialized Bra­zil. Consequently, there is an urgent need for ethnographically nuanced accounts of contemporary identity formation and transformation in Brazil. As Peter Fry, widely and rightly recognized as a major scholar of race and sexuality in Brazil, and one of race-­based law’s key opponents, put it (referring at first to the early twentieth-­century institutionalization of an ideology of racial mixture under authoritarian president Getúlio Vargas): “What president Getúlio Vargas joined together during the Estado Novo4 from 1937 to 1945 with fire and the sword (Seyferth 1996), the anthropologists and social movements are tearing asunder with the promise of recognition, land and specifically targeted social services” (Fry 2009, 187–­88). Yet what effects do these shifts in policy and representation actually have on popular forms of racial and political consciousness in Brazil? The subjective transformations that are supposed to accompany these changes in representation and legislation have actually received little ethnographic research. Some multigenerational studies ( J. F. Collins 2015; Kottak 1992; Sansone 2003) have shown that young Brazilians tend to self-­describe with color terms that are more likely to be dual than the more multiple terms used by their parents. My own ethnographic research confirms this tendency toward duality. For example, in Mamuna and the agrovilas Perú and Marudá in 2005, I conducted seven lengthy interviews with people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-­six. All but one of


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them described themselves as negro (black), and all of them described me as branco (white). Older people were generally less sure how to answer questions about race and color and used a variety of terms. But my work, nonetheless, also suggests that political consciousness and solidarities are not changing in the straightforward ways that the racialization thesis suggests. The stakes of debates over the relation between law and racial consciousness are high for quilombolas, such as those in Alcântara. A late 2003 presidential decree made self-­identification the principal criterion for the legal recognition of quilombolas, putting questions of consciousness at the center of many disputes about quilombola identity and land (Mattos 2006; M. E. G. T. Rocha 2005). In this chapter I analyze why anthropologists and activists often disagree about people’s identification as quilombolas, and I make the following arguments: (1) A significant institutional divide separates anthropologists and activists in Brazil’s quilombo politics, and this partially explains the disagreement. (2) Enormous ambiguity and contextual variability characterize the forms of ethnoracial identification extant in contemporary Alcântara, so that the mediators and experts best positioned to understand racial identification in these communities often disagree in good faith about the nature of that racial identification. (3) The law in Brazil has been racialized by social mobilization at least as much as people’s identities have been racialized by law, but much contemporary thought about race fetishizes the power of law as an autonomous social actor, rather than looking at the more diffuse factors that cause people to mobilize around law in particular ways.5 (4) Transformations in Brazilian racial politics have not caused racialization as much as they have opened up the possibilities for kinds of reracialization—­or the transformation of the meanings of already racialized (and racist) orders. (5) Finally, episte­mic and moral commitments of actors in this conflict have generated sig­ nificant disagreements about the nature of quilombo identification.

Institutionalization of a Floating Signifier Before I return to the racialization thesis, let me revisit the dispute between the activist and anthropologist at the meeting in São Luís, using them to illustrate some common differences between quilombo activists and anthropologists: why did they understand quilombo identification so differently? There is one obvious (and only partially true) answer to this puzzle. In light of their institutional locations, both the anthropologist 120

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and activist were expressing unsurprising positions. ABA has tended to favor the requirement of technical studies (laudos antropológicos) for the recognition, delimiting, and titling of quilombo land—­a requirement priv­ ileging anthropological expertise and authority. On the other hand, qui­ lombo advocacy organizations have mostly favored self-­identification as the main legal requirement for the identification of quilombolas and their land—­privileging, instead, the expertise and authority of com­munity­based leadership. So, when Janaína said that the quilombolas simply know that they are quilombolas and the anthropologist disagreed, they were, to some degree, acting out parts in a preestablished turf war (Montero 2012, 85–­86). Anthropologists’ interest in their institutional role as mediators be­ tween quilombo communities and the Brazilian state is not merely self­interested or instrumental but also seriously concerned with the inte­r­ ests of quilombo communities. In our conversations that evening, the anthropologist was clear about this: “If the government walks into these communities, people won’t know how to talk about quilombo identity. They won’t say they’re quilombolas. We can’t just have self-­identification; quilombo communities need mediators.” In an interview, Janaína was equally clear in her assertion of quilombo independence from anthropological expertise: “We are allied with many anthropologists, but we don’t need them to explain or justify our identity.” But this institutional divide is just part of the answer. Although accusations of fraud, bad faith, and false consciousness do proliferate in contemporary discussions of race and ethnicity in Brazil, I am certain that both the activist and anthropologist were expressing honest differences of opinion; I too was still confused about the relationship that the people with whom I had been living for nearly two years had to the modern political identity, quilombola. I should pause here briefly, however, to consider this issue of fraud. Although none of the participants in this debate was making a claim of dishonesty, such accusations do pervade the politics of quilombos in Brazil (see Price 1999) and of the spaceport. In particular, for those in the military, quilombo identity is an imperial imposition of US racial categories (see chapter 7 and S. T. Mitchell, forthcoming). This accusation tracks closely with a significant debate about “racial cheaters” (burladores raciais) in affirmative-­action admissions to Brazil’s federal universities (M. Lima 2005; Maio and Santos 2005). In 2001, some universities in Brazil’s state system began to use racial quotas for admissions, adopting one or an­ other version of self-­identification as well as socioeconomic criteria to de­ termine eligibility. By 2004, the first school in Brazil’s prestigious federal 121

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university system—­the UnB (University of Brasília), the most important university in the nation’s capital—­followed suit. Yet, at the UnB, the principle of self-­identification was not used, and prospective quota students were photographed in order to verify their racial identity (the State University of Mato Grosso do Sul adopted a similar screening mechanism). Judged by a panel made up of an anthropologist, a sociologist, a student from the University of Brasília, and three representatives of the black move­ ment (Maio and Santos 2005, 194), the photos were intended to weed out would-­be “racial cheaters.” The system gained national notoriety when in 2007 one man was accepted to the university as an Afro-­descendant quota student, while his identical twin was found ineligible for the quota. In Alcântara’s villages these considerations of race politics and iden­ tification in urban universities seem very distant. “Quilombo” today is part of everyday conversation, especially among the young, but its mean­ ing and application are seldom clear or stable. It is, as Stuart Hall has argued about racial categories, a floating signifier (1996, 473), a signifier with a vague and flexible signified or meaning (Chandler 2007, 78). But the law requires something more solid and stable, and the contradiction between the solidity required by the law and the instability of the meaning of quilombo was a key reason for the disagreements at the meeting. People in Alcântara have a complex and multivalent relation to the category of quilombola, a result of the contradictions among Brazil’s contextually variable forms of ethnoracial identification, its rigid racism and racial inequality, and the need of contemporary governance and political action for more sharply and permanently delineated social identities than tend to exist in practice (Schwarcz 1999a, 331). Many of the most tortured discussions and disagreements during those three days of the seminar hinged on two kinds of social knowledge: on the one hand, the yes-­or-­no literalism required by Brazilian bureaucracy in recognizing social subjects as a particular kind of citizen, in this case, remanescentes das comunidades dos quilombos, and, on the other, the more complex forms of ethnic identification and historical consciousness that exist in quilombo communities.

Styles of Identification This complexity of identification is another reason for the disagreement between many anthropologists and quilombo-­movement activists as seen at the meeting in São Luís. A number of authors (Fry 2005; Sansone 2003;


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Telles 2006, 81) have distinguished at least three styles of ethnoracial identification that coexist in contemporary Brazil: (1) the census style, in which Brazilians are divided into five categories of color/race by institutions of governance,6 and, more immediately relevant to this discussion, the two other styles often in conflict; (2) the binary (negro or branco) style favored by many social movements and their allies in Brazil and abroad and increasingly used by institutions of governance; and (3) the multiple style, in which race and color categorization is situationally variable and dependent on appearance, status, social clues, and context (Fry 2005, 195). Despite the clear contrasts among these styles of identification, Peter Fry cautions that although “in practice the three styles coexist throughout Brazilian society . . . depending on the sit­uation, one or another person can appear in a ‘purifying style’ [as blacks or whites, for example] or everyone can appear ‘mixed’ ” (2005, 196).7 As Oracy Nogueira famously argued (1985), racial terms in Brazil tend to refer to appearance rather than, as in the United States, to ancestry, so that both phenotype and social position are often used in making racial distinctions. Context is also important, so that the same person can be classified differently depending on circumstances. This variability complicates any portrayal of Alcântara’s ethnoracial order, but the following provides some basic color-­ identification categories used in Alcântara and by institutions of governance: Pardo, a census category rarely heard in everyday speech, means brown or mixed, and in the census it is used to group descendants of mixed European and African and Amerindian ancestors. Preto is also a rarely used census race/color designation generally reserved for people with markedly African physical features. Negro, a variable and more ambiguous term, was historically associated with slavery and subservience, so until the abolition of indigenous slavery in 1755, enslaved indigenous people were often called negros da terra—­roughly, blacks/slaves of the region (M. C. da Cunha 1985, 86; J. M. Monteiro 1994). More recently, though, the word negro has been reappropriated by intellectuals and activists as a term that can be divorced from preto’s phenotypic connotations of “black” to encompass “nonwhites” more broadly, so that the young and politicized elders in Alcântara frequently use negro. Afrodescendente (Afro-­descendant) and Afrobrasileiro (Afro-­Brazilian) are also terms favored by many activists and intellectuals to encompass the phenotypically black and brown. Branco, literally “white,” can carry both phenotypic connotations and, often, a presumption of elevated social status. By far the most common


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term in Alcântara is the extremely ambiguous moreno, a term that literally means “brown” but can be used to refer to almost anyone, except for the lightest-­skinned and dark-­skinned individuals. The ethnographic work of Jan Hoffman French (2006; 2009, 341) and José Mauricio Arruti (1997, 2003, 2006) has also shown that multiple orders of identification coexist among state-­recognized quilombolas and Índios in the northeastern state of Sergipe. Both have written extensively of communities near each other there, full of kin and with porous boundaries, and with a particularly complex and revealing history of ethnoracial identification. Through mobilization around different bodies of law, first in the 1970s and then in the 1990s, some of the communities became identified as indigenous and others as quilombo. But this state-­linked binary identification has not prevented contextual and fluid identification from being the rule. As French puts it, “Assuming a black identity in rural Brazil does not preclude multiple identifications drawing on local, national and international discourses” ( J. H. French 2006, 341). In Alcântara, too, I found people to be very tolerant of multiple and, at times, seemingly contradictory forms and discourses of identification. And I found that people’s relationships to the category quilombola oper­ ate similarly to their relationships to the categories branco and negro (or preto), by turns informed by several factors. The first style of classification, the one generally required by the state and by activists in the quilombo movement, is binary. One either is or is not quilombola. Even those villagers who were only vaguely familiar with (or explicitly opposed to) the legal category quilombola often drew on in-­group/out-­group boundaries, which relied on shared slave history in ways very sim­ilar to those most strongly allied with the quilombo movement. The second style is multiple. People approximate or distance themselves (and others) from the category quilombola—­and the set of often-­ stigmatized political solidarities and narratives about race, ethnicity, and slave history implicit in the category—­as they emphasize (often depending on context) different kinds of historical, ethnic, and class markers in demarcating social and political identities. It is not, then, surprising that people who have worked extensively in the same communities can—­in good faith—­strongly disagree about the ways in which the people form social and political identities there. Most residents in Alcântara’s villages (and I suspect many other villages officially identified as remanescentes das comunidades dos quilombos) do tend to see themselves (in different moments and contexts) both as and as not quilombolas. Much depends on context and who is talking to whom.


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Lemos and Variable Identification The real variability of ethnoracial identification that I have described here does not mean that anything goes. As I have argued elsewhere, institu­ tional incentives in Alcântara and in much of Brazil have historically favored an everyday whitening of people’s racial identification (S. T. Mitch­ ell 2017a, 2017b). I argue against the racialization thesis in this chapter, as well as in the following one: the transformations in racial identity in Alcântara stem from many more causes than law. But race-­based and im­ plicitly race-­based laws have undoubtedly created institutional incentives to identify as black and quilombola, where those institutional incentives previously favored whitening. Changes to the law have certainly helped shift how people draw upon these shifting and multiple forms of identification, although they have not produced a whole-­cloth racialization. Consider the case of Lemos. In his sixties, Lemos is one of the principal organizers of the Rural Workers’ Union in Alcântara. He is also one of the principal opponents of the expansion of the spaceport and one of the main allies in Alcântara of Brazil’s black movements. Lemos, unlike many of the principal leaders of Alcântara’s social movements, is a dedicated farmer who maintains very strong ties to rural communities, despite living in Alcântara’s urban center. Even though Lemos, like other members of these movements, strongly advocates the use of the term negro/a for all people of at least partial African descent, I have on occasion heard Lemos refer to himself as moreno, a color term of wide appli­ cation that I have even heard applied to me on occasion in Alcântara (in both the United States and Brazil, I am identified as white). When I asked in an interview about his color, and about his use of both moreno and negro, the soft-­spoken Lemos answered: “I always considered myself negro. But I didn’t know that the constitution guaranteed the rights that I have today. I mean that negros always used to feel inferior to brancos.” So, al­ though at times he has referred to himself as moreno, Lemos says that he has also always considered himself negro. What has changed is not his conception of race in an essential sense but his awareness of the institu­ tional consequences of calling himself negro in a given social context; for the first time, Lemos is conscious of institutional advantages attached to a color designation that was previously marginalized by Brazilian racism and associated with lowered social status. The law has not produced some completely new racialization for Lemos, but it has helped shift the meanings or consequences of using


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existing ethnoracial terms. Before the moment when Lemos became conscious of his rights as negro, he was aware that his color was one of the elements that located him institutionally in Brazilian society, yet this color brought him mostly disadvantage. Like many in Alcântara, Lemos might describe himself as moreno when trying to get employment or in an everyday social situation; negro in a festive or religious context; and pardo when the census taker came around. Now, like many in Alcântara, he will also call himself negro when in earshot of certain government of­ ficials or of the US anthropologist obviously sympathetic to the quilombo movement. It is not that Lemos has suddenly become racialized, adopting the reified racial identity that critics of the racialization of legislation in Brazil fear. Rather, the new sociopolitical (and, yes, legal) situation has increased the value of Lemos identifying himself as negro in certain situations, in a cultural context in which color identification was already variable, in which negro was already one of the options available, and in which, until recently, only whitening forms of identification conferred significant advantages with institutions of governance. Yet while the overlap of binary and multiple styles of identification shows how the activist and the anthropologist can each be partially, or sometimes, right, this insight alone doesn’t specify the logic of relation between these different styles of social identification or entirely explain the divergence between the perception of the anthropologist and the activist, a point I will return to later in this chapter.

Mestiçagem versus Bicolor Brazil: A Brief History At the level of official representation, the transformation to a bicolor Brazil (which critics of the racialization thesis fear and many in Brazil’s black movements desire) has already occurred to some extent. Read through a selection of the journalistic, legal, and academic writing covering Brazilian society over the last two decades, and you will likely notice that, in most of its official renderings, the Brazilian population has become divisible into two: brancos and negros. It is a stunning turnaround. Many of the Brazilian and foreign institutions now churning out prose comparing Brasil Branco to Brasil Negro spent much of the twentieth century con­ solidating a narrative about the hybridity and harmonious mixture supposedly at the root of Brazilian society (on this transformation among Af­ rican American intellectuals, see Hellwig 1992). Here is an example from my period of fieldwork. A 2005 Estado de São Paulo report on a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study 126

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of Brazil’s racial inequality lays bare the severity of Brazilian racism and inequality and, although less obviously, illustrates the transformation in the way Brazilians are categorized by Brazilian and transnational governance institutions: “If there were only white people living in Brazil, the country would be in 44th place [in the UNDP’s human development index]. If there were only black people, it would in 104th place—­a considerable distance of 60 positions” (Westin and Pereira 2005). This use of the bicolor model of Brazil has been slowly gaining strength since the 1960s, and by the 1990s it began to supplant the competing model of mestiçagem (racial mixture) that had been institutionally dom­ inant in Brazil since the 1930s. Today the bicolor model is part of the offi­cial—­if not always informal—­consensus. I will not elaborate a detailed history of thinking about race and the nation in Brazil—­a well-­known history that has been recounted frequently and ably elsewhere (Hanchard 1994; Schwarcz 1999b; Skidmore 1993b; Andrews 2004). But I will outline a few key points crucial to this discussion. Elite anxieties about the nation’s future as the institution of slavery underwent its precipitous decline in the 1870s turned on fears that the nation’s mixed character doomed it to backwardness and degeneration. Pessimistic theories imagined a threat of national decline in medicalized and (frequently) racialized terms (D. E. Borges 1993, 206). Around the turn of the twentieth century, elite intellectuals began to support ideologies of national whitening—­to be carried out through immigration and mixture. But by the 1930s, scientific racism was challenged by Boasian cultural perspectives in Brazil. And after World War Two, scientific racism was in disrepute, and ideologies of explicit whitening were giving way to the valorization of mixture as the heart of Brazilian nation­alism, particularly under the influence of Gilberto Freyre’s Boasian inter­pretation of Brazil’s racial mixture (1933). During the 1960s, University of São Paulo sociologist Florestan Fernandes challenged the conceptualization of Brazil as a “racial democracy,” grouping “nonwhite” Brazilians together under the category “negro” in his very influential works, most notably his A integração do negro na sociedade de classes (1965).8 Fernandes was, at least partially, sympathetic to the concerns of the burgeoning black movement in Brazil—­ which, then as now, tended to see the fostering of unified black consciousness for nonwhite Brazilians as a central point of struggle. During the 1970s, Carlos Hasenbalg (1979) and Nelson do Valle Silva (1980) used quantitative techniques to show that “mulatos” were subject to the same forms of discrimination as “blacks” in Brazilian society, undermining Fernandes’s Marxian claim that racial inequality would wither away 127

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under capitalism and providing additional intellectual support to a binary classification. By 1996, one of Florestan Fernandes’s former students at the University of São Paulo, sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso, then president of Brazil, created the National Human Rights Program, the plan for which included a chapter dedicated to the “black population.” The chapter announced the intention to “develop compensatory politics that promote the black population socially and economically” and recommended that information about “color” be included in all official documents; that different ethnic groups be incorporated into institutional advertising contracted by the government; and that the government support “actions by private industry that implement positive discrimination.” In addition, it recommended the development of “affirmative action for the access of negros to professionalizing courses, to universities, and to areas of state-­ of-­the-­art technology.” Most relevant for our discussion, the document also proposed that IBGE (the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics)9 “consider mulatos, pardos, and pretos, as members of the black pop­ ulation” (cited in Maggie and Fry 2004; see also Lessa 2006; Presidência da República: Governo Fernando Henrique Cardoso 1996). While IBGE continues to collect data on pretos, pardos, and brancos, rather than simply on negros and brancos as the human rights program had suggested, the bipolar model of racial classification recommended by the National Human Rights Program has become very common in Brazil, especially in institutions of governance. The governments of Luís Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff continued and expanded on these trends.

The Quilombo Clause: Racialization of, Not Just by, the Law The mediation of anthropologists and community activists has been cru­ cial to making the quilombo movement nationally important. I have em­ phasized some differences between anthropologists and community-­ based activists that I have encountered locally, but I also do not want to make too much of that. Anthropologists have been highly divided about these matters, and among community-­based activists there is also signifi­ cant disagreement, as I discuss in the next chapter. Moreover, anthropol­ ogists and community activists have both taken an active role in shaping the contemporary Quilombo Clause, along with many lawyers and Brazilian and non-­Brazilian institutions. Rather than seeing the Quilombo Clause as racializing social movements, it would be more accurate to look 128

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at social movements as having used the clause in a way that racialized it—­even though that clause was not inherently ethnoracial. The Quilombo Clause, which grounds the rights that Lemos referred to, was written into the constitution as a result of pressures brought by a black movement invigorated by Brazil’s centennial of the abolition of slavery in 1888 (the last nation in the western hemisphere to do so) and by the political opening made possible by the demise of Brazil’s military regime in 1985. Yet the article was slipped into the constitution at the very end of the constitutional deliberations and with little discussion of its significance (Arruti 2006; O’Dwyer 2002). Significantly, the article is written not in ethnoracial but in historical terms. The official English translation of the article reads, “Final ownership shall be recognized for the remaining members of the ancient runaway slave communities who are occupying their lands and the State shall grant them the respective title deeds.” During the 1990s, the Quilombo Clause increasingly became an organizing principle throughout Brazil for those mobilizing for the land rights of rural people identified as black, but the dominant juridical interpretation remained a historical not an ethnic one, oriented toward the preservation of relics of a bygone era. At the beginning of the 1990s, a researcher from the Palmares Cultural Foundation—­a branch of the Ministry of Culture founded by the constitution of 1988 to address the concerns of Afro-­Brazilians—­announced to the press the juridical defi­ nition of quilombo that would serve for application of the Quilombo Clause: “Quilombos are the sites historically occupied by blacks that have archaeological residues of their presence, including the areas still occupied by their descendants, with ethnographic and cultural content” (cited in Arruti 2003, 14; the historical account below also relies on Arruti 2002, 2006). It was not until September 2001, thirteen years after the promulgation of the constitution, that the federal government finally created a single regulatory norm for the titling of quilombo communities. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso decreed that property over land would be recognized in areas that were “occupied by quilombos in 1888” (when abolition was declared) and were “occupied by remanescentes das comunidades dos quilombos on October 5, 1988.” The decree also required a technical report delimiting the community and proving that it was a genuine historical quilombo, a task assigned to the Brazilian Anthropological Association. Brazil’s black movements had spent the better part of a decade consolidating quilombola as a social identity and advocating that its implementation be ethnically, not historically, oriented. Yet the juridical 129

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13.  Caixeiras in Alcântara

The Caixeiras play drums and sing at many important festive events in Alcântara, particularly the Festa do Divíno Espírito Santo. This is a tradition unique to Alcântara and the surrounding region (see Eduardo 1948). For the women, the work is strongly associated with black identity, although they generally do not have a politicized discourse about blackness. Like Lemos, they tend to associate blackness with religious and festive contexts.

definition remained squarely historical until President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva issued a decree in November 2003 (number 4,887). The decree provided norms for the recognition of quilombos more in line with the Barthian ethnic conception of the Quilombo Clause, emphasizing self-­ identification, and advocated by the quilombo movement (see chap­ ter 2) and already institutionalized by Brazilian and international NGOs. It identifies quilombo communities as: “Ethnoracial groups, according to criteria of self-­ascription, with their own historical trajectories, endowed with specific territorial relations, with the supposition of black ancestry related to the resistance to historical oppression suffered.” Although they were written into the constitution as remainders of a bygone history, contemporary quilombolas have become members of a “federal ethnicity,” to use Arruti’s (2002) phrase, to which people who self-­identify as quilombolas and as black may gain admittance. What is important here is that the law itself is not what made mobilization around the article ethnoracial; it was, instead, the great upsurge 130

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of ethnoracial organization and sentiment in turn of the century Brazil10 that turned a minor clause oriented toward historical patrimony into a key ethnically based organizing principle for thousands of Brazilians. “Law in practice,” the Comaroffs argue, “is a social product, not a prime mover in constructing social worlds” (2000, 239). And while law clearly has social effects, the fetishization of law as a prime mover in debates over racialization in Brazil has obscured the way in which law has been made part of much broader social struggles and transformations.

Quilombolas and Potential Quilombolas So far in this chapter I have tried to clarify the relationship between ethnoracial identity, political mobilization, and the state in Brazil and in Alcântara and to offer a critique of some common ways in which Brazilian ethnoracial identities are understood in the scholarly literature. I want to return to the paper’s ethnographic puzzle: how did the anthropologist and the activist disagree so strongly about how quilombolas understand their own identity? Do the quilombolas know that they are quilombolas or do they not? Like many of the leaders of the quilombo movement, the activist I discuss in the early sections of this chapter, Janaína, has a story of her own politicization and racialization. I quote here from a 2005 interview with her. Like Lemos, she stresses that “negro” was always part of her self-­conception, but black identification was stigmatized: In my family, we knew that we were negros, but we were embarrassed to be negros. . . . It was strange because in our neighborhood [in Bacabal, in the interior of Maranhão], which we knew was a quilombo, we were all negros, but we tried to distance ourselves from this. . . . As though it was something shameful, something in the past. . . . I always understood that if I wanted to be modern, if I wanted to be somebody, I had to be morena. . . . It’s when I left the Catholic Church and started going to the CCN in São Luis, started studying Candomblé from Bahia, meeting people who valued cultura negra [black culture], going to the reggae, which was always prohibited, that I could know and feel comfortable with myself, and I saw that I could always be negro and be a quilombola, that this didn’t have to be a hindrance for me.

While Janaína is a special figure, very much an intellectual and activ­ ist, in many ways her story is shared by much of the quilombo-­movement leadership whom I interviewed. The first thing to notice is that negro and 131

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quilombola existed as elements of her family’s understanding of itself, but embarrassed by this and, associating it with social exclusion and a marginalized past, they identified as moreno. Not quite an embrace of am­ biguity, however, “moreno” was associated with the possibility of social mobility in a racist context, and with a possible future of socioeconomic inclusion. For Janaína, as for many other people whom I interviewed, distancing oneself from negro was a way to move toward a possibly better future and toward upward social mobility.11 When Janaína started attending the CCN, however, her conception of herself and of the institutional context for color identification changed. Whereas “negro” had been linked to socioeconomic exclusion and to the past, now signs of negritude—­“Candomblé from Bahia,”12 reggae—­could be linked to possible socioeconomic advance (if not convergence) and to a translocal and sophisticated community. Janaína now had reasons (not only products of the law, as much recent literature has suggested) to valorize blackness. With the simultaneous faltering of Brazil’s promise of developmentalist economic convergence and the rise of a transnationally linked politics of black identity in places like Mara­ nhão, Janaína (and others like her) have found a powerful source of social and political identification, an identification around which they can build powerful alliances and mobilize. Indeed, it has been through this process that activists have helped transform the significance of the Quilombo Clause. I am not suggesting that “negro” forms an essential and true sub­stra­ tum—­from which Janaína’s family’s distancing was a deception and toward which Janaína’s approach is an embrace of reality. Neither “negra” nor “morena” reflects reality more accurately here. Rather, each of these is a possibility—­a potential identification—­offered to people faced with changing constraints, values, and incentives, who deploy these possibilities for themselves and others in ways that differ depending on context and desire. In Alcântara and the surrounding region, socially speaking, people do not usually “have a race.” There is generally no single and intersubjective racial and color category that can be applied in all situations to a given individual. This means that, for any given individual, there is a certain range of identifications that is possible for them in a given context—­even if people with dark skin, African-­looking features, and cultural and eco­ nomic status associated with blackness, can call on a relatively limited field of potential identifications. To say that racial identification is socially contextual is not to say that any identification is possible. Similarly, for


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some­one with light skin, blond hair, and other iconically European features, the field of racial identifications is relatively limited. A particular color identification, however, is never simply given for an actor but is at least in part selected (to identify oneself or another) from a field of possibilities that shifts depending on context. Minimally, on the table for Janaína and her family were moreno and negro, but the census categories of pardo, and preto, as well as other designations, such as mulato, or perhaps even branco, would have been available in different contexts. This selection of a particular color category from a field of possibilities is always made in relation to other actors, each of whom is also acting within a field of possible classifications. For Janaína’s family, morena signaled part of their aspirations for her future (conceived of as a desire for socioeconomic and racial mimetic convergence) and an attempt to distance themselves from the marginalized status they associated with the negra past. It is these associations and valences that have changed so sharply. A final anecdote helps clarify this puzzle and the disagreement between the anthropologist and the activist. At a quilombo community party I attended in September 2004 with a few friends, including Janaína, at Frechal, a state-­recognized quilombo near Alcântara, a late-­night power outage cut the lights and the reggae, and the revelry spiraled into a fist and broken-­bottle fight among a group of young men. Janaína was distraught when I talked to her the next day. For her, the fight was a symptom of a spiritual malaise affecting the village: people suffered and lashed out because they did not tend to their Afro-­Brazilian spiritual obligations. In Janaína’s understanding, it was not that they did not know they had those obligations. For her, they knew but did not “assume,” or take on, those obligations—­principally because of the long-­standing racist stigma attaching to Afro-­Brazilian religious practices. This view, I realized (and confirmed in subsequent interviews), strongly parallels Janaína’s perspective on quilombola consciousness and knowledge and opens a new vantage on her disagreement with anthropologists allied to with the quilombo movement. For the anthropologist and her colleagues at the meeting, people are quilombolas either when they are characterized by a particular history, whether they are aware of that history or not, or when they explicitly self-­identify as quilombolas. For Janaína and her colleagues “quilombola” exists as one in a field of potential identifications, even if that potential is not realized—­even if, to draw the cognate directly out of Janaína’s Portuguese, villagers do not “assume” that identity. On this account, the contrast between the


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14.  Reggae in Frechal

At a reggae party in Frechal, a quilombo community in the Baixada Maranhense, near Alcântara, the wall of speakers, locally referred to as a radiola, is crucial to the festive atmo­ sphere. There are only a few owners of radiolas in the region. For major events, village res­ idents will raise money and contract one of the radiola owners to play reggae, often for two to four days without pause.

anthropologist and the activist is less a contrast between perceptions than between epistemic and moral commitments—­or different utopias, as I will argue in the following chapter:13 on the one hand, a commitment to describing social subjects as they describe themselves and, on the other, a commitment to valuing stigmatized histories and identities. It is not that the anthropologist was unaware that social identities shift and are partially determined by context—­she would be an extremely poor anthropologist were she unaware of this, and she is not. She does excellent work empirically, theoretically, and in practice. It is that Janaína’s commitment to quilombola identity is more than a descriptive one; it is also part of a particular ethical and political project—­one that is capable of marshaling significant support in contemporary Alcântara and Brazil, however much controversy these efforts generate. Whether Janaína’s project to enduringly revalue black and quilombola identity in an Alcântara riven by land conflict and high-­stakes negotia134

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tions will be successful, however, remains an open question. The answer to this question will depend partially on the shifting meaning of the law, in this case the Quilombo Clause. But it will depend just as decisively on the contingencies of a cultural and political struggle more encompassing than any law or legal regime.



The Making of Race and Class The outstanding fact of the period between 1790 and 1830 is the formation of “the working class.” This is revealed, first, in the growth of class consciousness: the consciousness of an identity of interests as between all these diverse groups of working people and as against the interests of other classes. And, second, in the growth of corresponding forms of political and industrial organizations.  E .

P. T h o m p s o n ,

The Making of the English Working Class

The Making of Quilombolas and Rural Workers In early 2004, when I began long-­term fieldwork in Alcântara, the first place I slept was in the office of MABE, with whose leadership I had become friendly during earlier visits to the peninsula. I would later rent a house in town, but for these first weeks in Alcântara, I hung my hammock in the movement’s one-­room office. The office was on the ground floor of a decaying but elegant two-­story house, probably built during the town’s brief period of slave-­labor-­fueled opulence, which reached its peak from roughly 1776 to 1819. The cotton produced in Alcântara by those enslaved people helped fuel the rise of cotton-­ based British industrial capitalism at the same time that Bri­ tain’s industrial working class was emerging as a coherent social entity, as E. P. Thompson has shown (Thompson 1963; Assunção 2010; Beckert 2014; Bethell 1984, 321–­22; Furtado 1959; Viveiros 1954). When I slept in MABE’s office in 2004, it was borrowed space from the movement’s uneasy local ally, the STTR (Ru136

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ral Workers’ Union), which owned the house and had its headquarters upstairs. By day, descendants of those who once toiled in Alcântara’s cot­ ton plantations talked political strategy and sought solutions to villager problems on the two floors of the house, as if in two parallel worlds of po­ litical identity and mobilization. Those at the union, on the second floor, were rural workers invited to imagine an “identity of interests” (Thompson 1963, 194) with poor people and small farmers throughout Brazil and against landowning and expropriating classes; those at MABE, on the ground floor, were quilombolas invited to imagine solidarities with people of African descent and against a system of racial subordination. To simplify, for those upstairs at the STTR, “class consciousness” marked out the boundaries of an imagined community and the means and ends of political mobilization; for those downstairs at MABE, “race consciousness” did the same. Despite their ideological differences, the people working in the two offices were sometimes each other’s kin and often from the same villages. And, although those upstairs at the Workers’ Union were generally older than those downstairs, there was nothing materially or ethnically distinct about the two groups. Moreover, the two institutions were and are allies, if frequently bickering ones; their structural differences do not stem from an absolute opposition of interest. Yet the two organizations draw on different sources of funding and institutional support; foster distinct ways of imagining relationships of inequality and difference; and seek, to some degree, different political goals. The relationship between these organizations and the different forms of political consciousness that they seek to mobilize suggest how the development of political consciousness is not an automatic process—­a process of acquiring consciousness that is simply commensurate with seemingly objective circumstances. One cannot, as E. P. Thompson put it, “mathematically” (Thompson 1963, 10) derive the forms of consciousness that political movements and subjugated groups ought to develop. Rather, there are in many cases multiple—­overlapping but not identical—­ possible forms of consciousness and solidarity that can accurately (though incompletely) apprehend and act on conditions of inequality and conflict. I take a cue in this chapter from E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class. His concern in that work was the development of class and class consciousness. Here I aim to extend Thompsons’s insights to a broader set of solidarities (in particular, race and class, crucial to this book’s ethnographic case). In considering these both as forms of political consciousness, I am not suggesting that race and class are, ontologically, the same kind of object; they are not. Nor am I suggesting that 137

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characterizing them as forms of political consciousness exhausts the ways in which they may be socially meaningful; it does not. But class con­ sciousness is only one of the ways in which social inequalities and con­ flicts are rendered intelligible and actionable, albeit an especially power­ ful one. In this chapter, I make an intervention into some of the scholarship on race and class in Brazil and the United States, I offer some explanations for the importance of quilombo politics in contemporary Alcântara, and I also make four theoretically based arguments: (1) political consciousness and the forms of mobilization that produce it are variable—­even given similar material circumstances, as we can see by comparing a variety of literatures on and circumstances in Brazil and the United States; (2) scholarly assumptions about the kinds of political consciousness that groups ought to have are also highly variable, determined as much by the theoretical and ideological predilections of the scholar as by the lived conditions of those studied, as can be seen comparing some literatures on Brazil and the United States; (3) E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class, as well as some critiques of the work, suggest how we might better do politically engaged ethnography of the formation of political consciousness; and (4) forms of political consciousness develop out of not just solidarities, antagonisms, and structures of mobilization—­as Thompson’s epigraph to the chapter suggests—­but also utopias, conceptions of how the world ought to be. Scholars of political consciousness should pay attention to these utopias.

Dilemmas of Race and Class Consciousness in Brazil and the United States Many US and some Brazilian scholars argue—­often in implicit or explicit comparison to the United States—­that racial politics in Brazil are conspicuously inadequate: black and brown Brazilians do not consistently identify with a common ethnoracial and political identity of the sort that the one-­drop rule has helped produce in the United States, preventing the widespread formation of possibly liberatory political solidarities and social movements. The best-­known and most rigorous version of this argument appears in Hanchard’s Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, 1945–­1988 (1994). Hanchard argues that Brazilian society is characterized by a “process of racial hegemony” that reproduces racial in-


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equalities while simultaneously denying their existence (6), blocking the formation of politicized “collective racial consciousness” for nonwhite Bra­ zilians (19). Comparing twentieth-­century Brazilian social movements to those in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa and finding those in Brazil wanting, Hanchard asks why Brazil never developed a widespread movement comparable to the US civil rights movement. He answers: “A process of racial hegemony has effectively neutralized racial identification among nonwhites to a large degree, making it an improbable point of mass mobilization among Afro-­Brazilians. . . . [T]he specific consequences for blacks, I will argue, are the overall inability of Afro-­Brazilian activists to mobilize people on the basis of racial identity, due in large part to the general inability of Brazilians to identify patterns of violence and discrimination that are racially specific” (6; see also Gilliam 1992; C. Hasenbalg and Silva 1993; Htun 2004; A. W. Marx 1998; Telles 2006). Hanchard’s argument was famously critiqued by Bourdieu and Wacquant as an instance of US “cultural imperialism” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1999). Bourdieu and Wacquant argued that Hanchard universalized the United States’ “one-­drop rule” (45) in a terrain with a very different social reality and made the “particular history of the US Civil Rights Movement into the universal standard for the struggle of all groups oppressed on grounds of colour (or caste)” (44). The critique set off a major scholarly debate that has never quite ebbed (Caldwell 2007; J. F. Collins 2011; J. D. French 2003; Fry 2005; Hanchard 2003; Healey 2003; Pinho 2010). I am not interested in entering this debate, but I will note that Hanchard’s claim echoes the views of many leaders of the quilombo movement with whom I have worked. Machado, for example, an important leader of  MABE, echoed many other quilombo-movement leaders when he decried in 2006 that “the problem with making anything happen in Alcântara is that everyone wants to be white, so they can’t see how racism affects them and won’t assume negro or quilombo identity.” Recall here, too, Janaína’s lament from the previous chapter that residents of Frechal did not “assume” their Afro-­Brazilian spiritual obligations and quilombola identification. This tension is reflected in Janaína’s own life history. In a long 2005 interview that I have already referenced in chapter 5, she told me about her struggles to define herself as negra, to adopt the Afro-­Brazilian religion, Candomblé, and to recognize and fight against racism. All these things were rejected and scorned by her family and the people in the town she grew up in. As she put it, “Everyone thought I was crazy, and they rejected everything about being black. They rejected themselves.”


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Hanchard’s critique of race consciousness in Brazil is shared by many US intellectuals—­and opposed by some well-­known Brazilian scholars (see, e.g., Kamel 2006; Maggie 2005; Risério 2007)—­but its consistency with the concerns of so many Afro-­Brazilian political leaders makes it hard to sustain Bourdieu and Wacquant’s claim of mere ethnocentric cultural imperialism. The difficulty of producing broad race-­based political solidarities in Alcântara and Brazil is a real problem for Machado, Janaína, and other organizers of the quilombo movement, beyond these still-­contentious scholarly disputes. Rather than directly engage this debate, I want to consider it from a different point of view. The literature on Brazil’s “racial hegemony” has structural similarities to the also voluminous literature that critiques the weakness of cross-­race and class-­based solidarities in the United States. While the literature on Brazil (and on much of Latin America) often notes the weakness of a race consciousness that ought to be there but is not quite, the parallel literature on the United States similarly notes the lack of class consciousness that ought to be there but is not quite. The latter judgment was famously made by W. E. B. Du Bois, who, in 1935, wrote: There probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest. It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. (700; see also Cox 1948; hooks 2012, 117; Roediger 2007, 9)

In Hanchard’s assessment of weak Brazilian race consciousness, “racial hegemony” prevents nonwhite Brazilians from recognizing and mobilizing around their common racial interests. In Du Bois’s appraisal of weak US class consciousness, white supremacy and the “psychological wages” paid even to poor whites prevent poor white Americans and poor black Americans from recognizing and mobilizing around their common economic interests. If, in Brazil, racialized aspects of inequality are frequently rendered invisible, as Hanchard charges, in the United States “straightforward talk about class inequality is all but impossible, indeed taboo,” as Barbara and Karen Fields put it (2012, 12). Each of these massively unequal societies has historically specific ways in which aspects of inequality are rendered visible, invisible, and political. But putting these 140

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two critiques side-­by-­side raises questions: To what extent would the civil rights movement have been possible if cross-­race and class-­based forms of consciousness had been stronger, as Du Bois hoped—­if solidarities between poor whites and poor blacks had been as strong in the United States as they sometimes were in Brazil, where the lines between “black” and “white” were not so sharply drawn? Or, to return to the eth­ nographic situation I discuss above, to what extent can the Rural Workers’ Union and the quilombo movement both succeed at fostering the differ­ ent kinds of political consciousness they seek to foster for the mass of Al­ cântara’s population? Such questions are, of course, unanswerable. But I raise them, and the parallel critiques of political consciousness made by Hanchard and Du Bois, to argue that solidary forms of political consciousness inevitably involve some forms of exclusion and, as E. P. Thompson’s epigraph to this chapter suggests, antagonism. No form of political consciousness is completely commensurate with a given exploitative situation, and no form of political consciousness is universal. I am not only making the obvious (though important) point that any form of political consciousness is dependent on a rooted perspective and on determinate sociohistorical experiences. I am also arguing that it is dependent on an interpretation of those experiences, an interpretation that is never the only one possible (Sahlins 1995, 251). The real problems of race consciousness that Hanchard (as well as Machado and Janaína) identified in twentieth-­century Brazil and the real problems of class consciousness that Du Bois (as well as the Fields­es and many others) identified in the twentieth-­century United States both point to the partial nature of any politicized form of mobilization and consciousness, even those clearly just, necessary, and responsive to unjust circumstances. To push this point a bit further, consider the anecdote with which Hanchard begins Orpheus and Power (1994). An African American graduate student conducting field research in Rio de Janeiro in 1988, Hanchard had his first “real introduction to the politics of racial difference in Brazil” in a supermarket in the middle-­class Catete neighborhood. After paying at the register and heading for the exit, he was stopped by a clerk who asked if he had purchased the items in his shopping bags, as he watched white customers walk by unimpeded. The incident led Hanchard to conclude “that Brazilian society could not be immune to the forms of prejudice, dis­crimination, and exploitation on racial grounds present in similarly constituted societies” (4) and helped him formulate a research project that would investigate why Afro-­Brazilians had not developed “racially specific, Afro-­Brazilian modes of consciousness and mobilization” (5). 141

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This is a powerful anecdote that lays bare some of the forms of racial prejudice and subjugation common to many of the former slave societies of the Western Hemisphere. But this same anecdote could be taken, instead, as a problem of class inequality, with quite different consequences for scholarship and political consciousness. In 1988, Brazil was among the world’s most unequal countries and suffering from high unemployment, hyperinflation, and an economically suffocating conflict with international lending institutions (Riding 1988). Most Brazilians at that time—­Afro-­Brazilians especially but not exclusively—­were simply not able to walk out of a middle-­class supermarket with bags full of goods; they could not afford to. Should, then, lines of solidarity and imagined community extend out to those unable to purchase anything at the store for reasons of economic class? Or should they extend to those with money to pay but stopped at the exit, for reasons of racism? The answer to this question hinges partially on the kind of just world, the kind of utopia that its answerer imagines and strives for, as much as it does on any objective conditions from which political consciousness derives. And both social movements and scholarly interpretations help produce the forms of utopia, consciousness, and imagination that make such lines of solidarity real for masses of people. To make clearer still the point that both circumstances and utopias matter in producing and understanding forms of political consciousness, consider a discussion in George Reid Andrews’s wide-­ranging history, Afro-­ Latin America, 1800–­2000 (2004). Andrews asks: “how were workers in Latin America able to come together to create the cross-­racial alliances that proved so hard to construct in the United States and elsewhere?” (147). Whether intentionally or not, this question inverts the critique of weak Brazilian race consciousness. Instead of asking why race-­based solidarities have been historically weaker in much of Latin America than in the United States, Andrews asks why cross-­race, class-­based solidarities have been historically stronger. Assuming, as part of a liberatory project, class consciousness rather than race consciousness, Andrews ends up asking very different questions than Hanchard: a different utopia leads to different research questions, leading to different historical interpretations. I have previously summarized Andrews’s arguments: He gives three basic answers [to why workers in Latin America developed stronger “cross-­racial alliances” than workers in the United States]: 1) the “laws and ideologies of racial egalitarianism” forged during the independence period favored class-­based rather than race-­based forms of exclusion, and led to a consequent rejection of “racial prefer-


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ences of any kind” among the working classes; 2) the presence of non-­white majorities (or large minorities) in much of Latin America would have made it suicide for labor unions to become reserves of white privilege (as often happened in the United States); and 3) a long history of labor organization among Afro-­Latin Americans facilitated multiracial working-­class alliances. (S. T. Mitchell 2006, 516; see Andrews 2004, 147)

I am not arguing that class-­based forms of social mobilization are inherently better or more universal than race-­based ones or vice versa. Social movements, whether they draw on experiences rooted in class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, region—­or any of the other social branches along which the fruits and thorns of inequality are historically distributed—­can and should aspire to greater forms of universality, even as their specificity may foreclose certain possibilities of solidarity and mobilization. Particular class formations, as Barbara Fields has argued powerfully about race, do not have a “transhistorical, almost metaphysical, status,” although like race they are sometimes treated as such (1982, 144). In a critique of “Neo­Enlightenment Left” authors (Gitlin 1996; Tomasky 1996) who regard class politics as inherently more universal than “identity politics,” Robin Kelley (1997) makes a related point: “There is no universal class identity, just as there is no universal racial or gender or sexual identity. The idea that race, gender, and sexuality are particular whereas class is universal not only pre­ sumes that class struggle is some sort of race and gender-­neutral terrain but takes for granted that movements focused on race, gender, or sexuality nec­ essarily undermine class unity and, by definition, cannot be emancipatory for the whole” (see also Frase 2014). Kelley’s criticism of the position that only class can be universal fits nicely with my analysis of the partial character of both race and class politics for interpreting inequality and exclusion in Alcântara and Brazil generally, and also in the United States. However, no form of political consciousness can be “emancipatory for the whole,” despite Kelley’s subsequent suggestion. Structured as they are by antagonisms, by relations of conflict within a “field-­of-­force,” to use Thompson’s metaphor (1978, 151),1 any form of political consciousness is inevitably partial. Political judgments about what social movements and political consciousness should strive and hope for (what I call utopias) can usually be found as unstated premises to objectivizing arguments about how forms of consciousness should derive from sociomaterial conditions—­ignoring the uneven but real distance between ought and is. Instead, it would be helpful if politically committed scholars and those interested in understanding political consciousness were explicit about the utopian imaginaries they


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(and we) bring to our political evaluations of consciousness, and examine in historical and ethnographic detail how important forms of political consciousness develop out of the dialectic between historically specific forms of experience and forms of social mobilization, grounded in structures of legitimation and utopias of redress.

American Dreams of Brazilian Racial Democracy Brazilian and US scholars have often grounded their conceptualizations of race and racism in their own country by comparing race and racism in Brazil and the United States. Let me contribute briefly to this comparison.2 For many US scholars, the Brazilian ideology most often cast as obscuring and denying the existence of racism and racialized subordination is usually glossed as the “myth of racial democracy.” In Hanchard’s analysis, racial democracy is an aspect of the nation’s “racial hegemony” because it blurs the edges of Brazilian society’s racial inequality and violence and represses the formation of race consciousness.3 Similarly, the ideology of “the American dream,” in its promise that anyone can ascend the class structure, blurs the edges of US society’s class inequality and violence and represses the formation of class consciousness. “Racial Democracy” and “The American Dream” are parallel ideologies, linked to historical forms of political consciousness dominant in the two countries. With this section’s heading, “American Dreams of Brazilian Racial Democracy,” I also want to gesture toward the US scholarly predilection for frequently debunking the myth of Brazilian racial democracy, each time as if it were the first—­long after its sound debunking by Brazilian scholars (F. Fernandes 1965; C. A. Hasenbalg 1979; N. do V. Silva 1980). Scholars’ own political consciousness and imagined utopias shape the questions they ask and the answers they give. This is one reason I argue scholars should more explicitly flesh out those utopias, rather than write as though scholarly political prescriptions were simply normatively derivative of objective conditions. Much of the comparative literature on race and class in Brazil and the United States assumes—­often implicitly—­that popular forms of culture and political consciousness render class inequality more visible in Brazil and race inequality more visible in the United States. Elsewhere, with colleagues, I have critiqued the overly simple contrasts that run through the vast comparative literature on race and inequality in Brazil and the United States; those contrasts often ignore regional and historical differences within the two countries and the many similarities in the forms of 144

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domination present in both countries (Mitchell, Blanchette, and Silva, n.d.). But there is undoubtedly some truth to this broad generalization about a reality that may be changing. When I was in Alcântara most recently, in July 2014, the decade that had passed since my first nights sleeping on a hammock in MABE’s office had brought many changes to the politics of inequality in Alcântara and Brazil. Years of economic growth and moderately redistributive governance by Brazil’s Workers’ Party (P. Anderson 2011; Ansell 2014; Boito and Berringer 2014; Weisbrot, Johnston, and Lefebvre 2014) have made life materially better for many of Brazil’s poor, with—­according to government statistics at least—­more than half of Brazil’s population in 2012 located in that highly ambiguous category, middle class (Neri 2012).4 Villages of wattle-­ and-­daub houses that had neither electricity nor running water when I first lived in Alcântara now have (some) brick houses, flat-­screen televisions, and washing machines. But, although Brazil’s and Alcântara’s class relations are clearly undergoing changes that I have only begun to understand, race consciousness is becoming ever more important to Alcântara’s local politics. In Alcântara, young adults most often refer to themselves as negros and as quilombolas, while their parents usually refer to themselves with the highly ambiguous and depoliticized term morenos. As if a metonym of these changes, MABE now occupies the upper floor of that house, while the STTR occupies the ground floor. The quilombo movement represented by MABE not only is perched above the class-­focused STTR but has increased its mobilizing energy and has garnered far more prestige and far-­flung support from diverse social movements (and anthropologists) over the last decade. While the STTR office is today air conditioned and well-­staffed, much of its everyday work is quietly administering the pensions of retired rural workers. While in this book I show how race politics have become increasingly central to Alcântara’s conflicts, on a less rigorous basis I have perceived some movement toward class politics among my US students. Over the last few years, I have noticed a change in the perceptions of my ethnically diverse students at a large public university in the urban northeastern United States, many from working-­class backgrounds. I taught a large class titled “The Anthropology of Inequality” in spring 2011, and economic inequality was the principal concern of only a few students. However, since the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in September 2011, my students have been much more concerned with matters of economic inequality, even as the movement itself has disappeared from the headlines. The language of the “99 percent and the 1 percent” is 145

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now part of many students’ lexicon, and class consciousness is generative of many political and scholarly concerns. The surprising success in the US Democratic presidential primaries of 2016 of democratic-­socialist Bernie Sanders—­who, in polls during the presidential contest between historically unpopular candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, was the United States’ most popular politician (Blake 2016)—­also signals this possible change in political perception. “The 99 percent” was apparently a coinage of the anthropologist David Graeber (Runciman 2013), and the events that led up to Occupy Wall Street were partially contingent and idiosyncratic. These shifts in political perception and concern were not an inevitable outgrowth of determinate conditions. Still, as in Alcântara, such shifts are partially shaped by material conditions. The power of Occupy Wall Street as a social movement drew on frustrations and privations caused by decades of deepening inequality in the United States and in much of the Global North (Piketty 2014). Graeber’s coinage of “the 99 percent” drew on his reading of Stiglitz’s (2003) use of eco­ nomic data compiled by Piketty (Graeber 2013). There are several lessons in these examples. First, the political ideas of intellectuals who act historically are not simply free floating or limitless. Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist horizontalism (Graeber 2013; Hammond 2015) and slogans such as “We are the 99 percent” were propagated and partially designed by intellectuals such as Graeber, but only in a dialectical relationship with changing forms of sociomaterial existence and political consciousness. Although I have so far presented utopias as though they were contingent factors in the production of political consciousness, they are only partially so, and are themselves products of historical processes. Second, those utopias and ways of conceptualizing unequal sociomaterial conditions become real to people in the process of social struggle. And those struggles are also tied to real material circumstances, such as inequalities related to wealth and resource access, gender, race, disability, and age. Many scholars continue to treat political consciousness as though it were the result of a mathematical formula, but there is no formula, even as people are dealing with very real circumstances. Although the development of forms of political consciousness is rooted in historical experience, it involves surprises and contingencies. Since I first observed what I understand to be changes in my students’ political perception toward a kind of class consciousness, partially reflecting the impact of Occupy Wall Street, the Black Lives Matter movement has emerged in the United States, providing a partially overlapping—­but far from identical—­frame for interpreting and acting politically on inequality, violence, and marginalization. 146

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The Possibility of Quilombos Why then has MABE gained the upper hand over the STTR in Alcântara? Why has race consciousness become so central to the framing of projects aimed at challenging inequalities in Alcântara? Each of the arguments I make here has already been introduced in this book, but in this chapter I want to bring them all together. There were many contingent factors in this transformation, notably the political work of various individuals—­including politically involved intellectuals such as me. But I argue that three interrelated factors help structure the nature of political struggle in Alcântara, creating the conditions of possibility for the rise of today’s quilombo consciousness there: (1) the decline of “whitening” and mestiçagem as models of mobility for nonwhite Brazilians—­a decline in what I have called mimetic convergence; (2) the decline of relations of patronage and postures of deference between poor rural Brazilians and the locally wealthy and powerful—­a decline in complementary hierarchy; and (3) the increased national and international juridical and symbolic power associated with quilombo-­identified political movements. I will elaborate this interrelated set of factors briefly. In a comparison of histories of race and racism in Brazil and the United States that (deservedly) won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1972, Carl N. Degler coined the phrase “mulatto escape hatch” ([1971] 1986). He meant it to signify the avenue of individual and familial social ascension that Brazilian society made possible for nonwhites through social and biological whitening—­a whitening that Degler, like Hanchard, argued suppressed the consolidation of black racial consciousness in Brazil. I have discussed the history of whitening and its lingering social effects in chap­ ters 1 and 5, but here I want to note that this phrase, “mulatto escape hatch,” in my experience, receives only dismissals and uncomfortable giggles among university students and other smart university-­age people in Brazil and the United States in the twenty-­first century’s second decade. Whitening and mixture clearly persist as individual strategies of social ascension in Brazil (S. T. Mitchell 2017b), but, unlike in the one hundred or so years after 1870, neither whitening nor mestiçagem has large-­scale institutional backing in Brazil’s twenty-­first century. And, as young people’s dismissals and uncomfortable giggles suggest, whitening and mestiçagem have fallen out of fashion. The emergence of new avenues of social ascension for nonwhite Brazilians, the rise of affirmative action and race-­based law, and the work of intellectuals, social movements, and policy makers have all contributed to dethroning the “mulatto 147

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escape hatch” as a nationally dominant imaginary for the redress of racial inequality, opening a space for new ways of politicizing racialized identities. I note again that the decline of whitening as a utopia of redress for inequality can be seen as consistent with the decline in mimetic convergence at multiple scales that I have discussed throughout this book. Young Afro-­Brazilians in Alcântara are much less inclined to imagine that becoming more like white people is their best hope for ascension than are their parents. Additionally, I argued in chapter 1 that the social mobilization of Al­cântara’s residents, together with the social ascension made possible for poor people by the redistributive politics of Brazil’s early twenty-­first century, have liberated poor people in Alcântara from some of their existing dependence on local elites. This transformation, which is consistent with trends found throughout Brazil, has most often been framed by scholars as reducing patterns of clientelism, or vertical reciprocity be­ tween local elites and nonelites (Ansell 2014; A. Borges 2010; Holston 2008; Sugiyama and Hunter 2013). When expressing their relation to lo­cal elites, older people in Alcântara sometimes refer to themselves as small folk ( gente pequena) and to elites as big folk ( gente grande). This is a discourse that frames a relation to elites through lack, and it is perfectly commensurate with a relation of vertical reciprocity, or complementary hierarchy, in which gente pequena might hope to win favors from gente grande. But over more than a decade of interviews and conversations with people there, I have never heard such phrasing used by anyone under thirty years old in Alcântara. Such a discourse of lack fits poorly with a conjuncture in which the poor, allied to more distant elites, can make adversarial claims against local elites. A discourse that affirms a unique and inviolable identity is much better suited to such adversarial claims than a discourse of lack. I should note that, undoubtedly, the relations between Alcântara’s residents and these more distant elites are producing new structures of patronage. But, as Ansell has argued based on research carried out during the same period in the nearby state of Piauí, these newer, more distant elites—­PT officials, lawyers, anthropologists, and social-­movement leaders—­have attempted “to resocialize community leaders toward a black (negro) identity and instill in them a more indignant attitude toward figures of authority” (2014, 17). Concurrently, long-­standing patterns of deference—­through which relations of difference and inequality at a local scale were principally understood as relations of lack and dependency—­have been breaking down in Alcântara.


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In this vein, the quilombola politics of MABE, not the class politics of the STTR, are what win powerful alliances in Alcântara’s twenty-­first century, as I have shown in the preceding chapters. Journalists, NGOs, anthropologists, and tourists come to Alcântara looking for quilombolas. So, it is not surprising that we find them. Many scholars have noted that with the end of the Cold War, and concurrent rise of neoliberal capitalism worldwide, class-­based politics were marginalized around the world in favor or identity-­based politics, “the supersession of the Age of Ideology by the Age of ID-­ology,” as the Comaroffs put it (2006, x; see also J. Comaroff and Comaroff 2000; Fraser 2000; Gilroy 2006; Leve 2011; Michaels 2006; Reed 2001). Part of the reason for the wide influence of quilombola politics is that, with the receding of socialist politics on the world stage after 1989, class politics simply could not win the funding and wide support that identity politics could. I should note that there are, perhaps, deeper links between twenty-­ first-­century identarian politics and neoliberal capitalism. Writing of this global turn to identity politics over class politics after the Cold War, Leve draws on MacPherson’s concept of “possessive individualism” (1962) to make an important case for such links. Possessive individualism, she writes, “transforms the logic of the labor market into a theory of self” (Leve 2011, 520) and, concurrently, into a theory of groups that are held to possess a kind of property rights to their history and identity (525). She writes of a “global ‘identity machine’—­an apparatus that establishes not only the categories of identity recognized and claimed in democratic states but also, indeed, their very ontological foundations in liberal conceptions of self, citizenship, and social relations” (2011, 513; see also J. L. Comaroff and Comaroff 2009). Leve is on to something. The global dominance of post–­Cold War neoliberal capitalism does seem to transform many relations, including collective identities, into relations of property. This does not mean, however, that the logic of quilombo identity is completely encompassed by the logic of neoliberal capitalism; it is not. The quilombo and black identities that are ascendant in Alcântara function as forms of solidarity more significantly than as forms of property. Through these forms of solidarity, the quilombo movement has been able to make radical claims for rights and equality, and many people in Alcântara have come to understand that they have interests in common that derive from their common experiences as Afro-­Brazilians. But I suppose, at least to some extent, I am part of Leve’s identity machine as it has functioned in Alcântara, as are the intellectuals, lawyers,


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and NGO representatives who arrive in Alcântara to study and help the quilombos, whatever our intentions. We arrive in Alcântara with resources and prestige to study and help quilombolas, rather than study and help rural workers or gente pequena. So, it should not be a surprise that quilombolas are what we find. Correspondingly, during the period I have been conducting research in Alcântara, identity-­based claims have been a much better avenue for the creation of powerful political alliances between Alcântara’s residents and outsiders than have class-­based claims—­ although, as my US observations suggest, this dynamic may be shifting. The stage in twenty-­first-­century Alcântara is set for the emergence of identity-­based politics. If the 1988 Brazilian constitution had not offered the Quilombo Clause, I suspect that someone would have invented something more or less like it. I have described here a set of macroscale factors that explain the rise of quilombo politics in Alcântara, but quilombo politics would also not have taken hold in Alcântara the way it has if it did not make sense of people’s everyday experience. Utopias and wide-­scale structural conditions matter. But they take shape in a dialectical relation with people’s sociomaterial experience. I do not argue, however, that the rise of quilombo politics in its current form was inevitable in Alcântara. Rather, for a variety of reasons that I have elucidated, older structures of legitimation and utopias of redress were breaking down by the start of the twenty-­first century, which opened a space to be filled by something that made sense to people, in light of the conditions in which they found themselves. In 1992, a group of women in Alcântara formed MOMTRA (Movimento das Mulheres Trabalhadoras Rurais de Alcântara, Movement of Woman Rural Workers of Alcântara), which successfully pressured the Rural Workers’ Union (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores Rurais, STR) to shed the generic masculine “Trabalhadores,” add the explicitly feminine “Trabalhadoras,” and change its acronym to STTR. MOMTRA continues to organize in Alcântara, but, for the moment, at least, it is MABE that has won the strongest allies. And it is race politics, not gender politics, that has been ascendant in Alcântara’s conflicts.

Political Consciousness and Solidarity I want to make a brief ethnographic note on the ways quilombola and black identity function to foster solidarity in Alcântara—­partially, to mitigate any impression from my evocation of a neoliberal “identity machine” that a neoliberal logic is totalizing in its transformation of political con150

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sciousness. Many of the activists who work in Alcântara actively attempt to foster racialized conceptions of solidarity, inequality, antagonism, and political action. Machado is exemplary. During a 2004 community meeting I attended with him in Castelo—­just outside the area in Alcântara claimed by the spaceport—­Machado, in his booming voice, made the case for such racialized solidarity as he spoke to the people present.5 We’re here because our ancestors struggled so we could be here. We have a history in Africa. Our ancestors were brought here against our will. Can you imagine five months in the bottom of a ship? Shitting inside? Pissing inside? And today, we are a black community [comunidade negra], a quilombo community. Quilombos were groups of blacks [pretos]6 that escaped, and we made our communities far away from the white man [bem longe do homen branco]. Do you have shame [têm vergonha] to be quilombolas? We have to raise our heads, and protect what we have, and fight for our rights together. You are still here and fighting. And we are here because we are strong, because we resisted. But we need to stay strong, because the oppressors are still here too.

The crowd in Castelo, young and old, yelled “no” to Machado’s question about shame, and they were enthusiastic throughout his speech. The speech clearly made an impact. Machado’s speech connected a history of racialized exploitation and resistance to the need for politicized solidarity against oppressors in the present. As I have argued, this racialized vision of solidarity, struggle, and antagonism has grown significantly in Alcântara. It has taken hold most forcefully among the young and best educated of Alcântara’s residents. But not exclusively. Consider one more ethnographic vignette. One day in 2006, I was out fishing on Mamuna’s beach with Rosendinho, a fifty-­two-­year-­old resident of Mamuna with whom I frequently fished. I was (and still am) incompetent at throwing the tarrafa—­a circular, weighted net that, Frisbee-­style, is thrown into schools of tainha (mullet fish) along the shore. If one throws the tarrafa just right, the weights close in on and capture the fish, offering a nicely sealed bag of squirming tainha to retrieve in the waves. Rosendinho was patient with me: with my poor perception of the flitting creatures beneath the waves, with my poor tarrafa throwing, and with the many questions I always had ready for him. Rosendinho has had limited education and is not very politicized. But he is a good talker, so I always learned a lot on our fishing trips. On that day, I asked him what color he considered himself. Mamuna is in a region of Alcântara where many people have some indigenous ancestry, in addition to their African and some European ancestry,7 and Rosendinho is relatively light-­skinned. He replied to me reluctantly, “I’m black 151

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[negro]. Isn’t that right? We’re all black in Mamuna. In Samucangaua8 people are very dark, but nobody is better than anyone else. And the air force [a Aeronáutica] wouldn’t take what we have if we weren’t black. I didn’t always think of myself as black. But now I think that in Mamuna we are all black, just like people in Samucangaua.” Rosendinho was, perhaps, trying to please me with his answer, as indicated by his questioning of me—­“isn’t that right?” Regardless, his evocation of the frequently stigmatized color identification “negro” was explicitly offered as a stance of solidarity—­of common condition, among Alcântara’s residents. He used the term to articulate a common condition among those with lighter skin (such as he) and those with darker skin (such as most of the residents of Samucangaua). Under the pigmentocratic logic of Brazilian racism, he might have felt inclined to look down on the people in Samucangaua. However, racialized solidarity provided Rosendinho a frame to assert that “nobody is better than anybody else.” He also evoked “negro” as an explanatory frame for understanding contemporary inequality and exploitation. And, as Rosendinho noted, he had not always held this racialized conception of solidarity. To sum up, then, a series of arguments from this and the preceding chapters: The racialization of consciousness in Alcântara cannot be re­ duced to the effects of the Quilombo Clause, to Bourdieu and Wacquant’s “cultural imperialism,” or even to the incentives of the “identity ma­ chine”—­although all of these things undoubtedly play some role. In a context of intense inequality, prolonged social conflict, and rapidly changing political conditions, political consciousness as negros and quilombolas helps people in Alcântara makes sense of their experience and form an emerging type of political solidarity. And it provides a powerful language for thinking about transforming that experience.

Against Mathematical Approaches to Consciousness E. P. Thompson’s work provides an excellent guide to researching how different forms of political consciousness form in the partially contingent process through which individuals and groups face their determinate historical circumstances (Kalb 2015, 4). Thinking about the problems of different forms of political consciousness present in the literatures I have discussed above, as well as questions raised by my ethnography and my everyday observations, has often led me to think about E. P. Thompson’s work on class consciousness and his own struggle with some Marxist accounts of the consciousness that the working class ought to have, given 152

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its apparently objective conditions: why does the proletariat not know that it is the proletariat? Or why, to return to Machado’s lament, do many in Alcântara still not embrace quilombo identity? E. P. Thompson’s insight that class is a “cultural as much as an economic formation” (1963, 13)—­“a relationship and not a thing” (11)—­and that political consciousness is the partially contingent result of historically and culturally specific struggles, as much as of social or economic conditions, helps in thinking through some of the complicated ways in which conditions of privation, exploitation, and struggle may result in politicized forms of consciousness. But the tension between race consciousness and class consciousness in scholarship on the United States and Brazil, and in the ethnographic situation I have described here, should also point us to the fact that politicized forms of consciousness are not straightforwardly derivative of material conditions. For any given set of conditions there are multiple (though not limitless) possible ways of translating them into solidary and politicizing forms of consciousness. The preface of E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class sets his project against normative and mechanical accounts of class consciousness that Thompson saw in the Marxist writing of the time: There is today an ever-­present temptation to suppose that class is a thing. This was not Marx’s meaning, in his own historical writing, yet the error vitiates much latter-­day “Marxist” writing. “It,” the working class, is assumed to have a real existence, which can be defined almost mathematically—­so many men who stand in a certain relation to the means of production. Once this is assumed it becomes possible to deduce the class-­consciousness which “it” ought to have (but seldom does have) if “it” was properly aware of its own position and real interests. There is a cultural superstructure, through which this recognition dawns in inefficient ways. These cultural “lags” and distortions are a nuisance, so that it is easy to pass from this to some theory of substitution: the party, sect, or theorist, who disclose class-­consciousness, not as it is, but as it ought to be. (1963, 10; see also 1978, 79)

After Thompson’s brief theoretical introduction, the long body of the text fleshes out this account of the relationships between productive relations and class consciousness. Productive relations are generative of forms of class consciousness in dialectical relation with historically spe­ cific and culturally shaped forms of experience and social mobilization. This commitment to the specificity of experience as a crucial mediating factor between material conditions and political consciousness makes Thompson’s work a model for my own. However, as William Sewell argues, this reliance on experience doesn’t quite save Thompson from the base-­superstructure determinism that he 153

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eschews in the preface. As Sewell puts it, “If workers’ experiences pro­ duce class-­consciousness, rather than some other sort of consciousness, this is because their experiences are class experiences” (1990, 56). Thomp­ son’s account of class consciousness and his identification of it as commensurate with highly varied processes of work, subjugation, and mobilization that make up working-­class experience still rely implicitly on some analytic (and ethical) conceptualization of what makes an experience a class experience and what makes a form of political consciousness commensurate with material conditions of existence. The interpreters’ categories and utopias matter, as I have argued throughout this book. Renato Rosaldo makes a similar point: Thompson “often glosses over the problem of whether central concepts belong to the author or to the agents of historical change” (1990, 104). To know what counts as class consciousness and what does not, Thompson needs more of a theoretical (or ethical) commitment than he makes explicit. Joan Scott provides a related critique of Thompson’s derivation of class consciousness from “experience,” focusing less on Thompson’s the­ orization of how forms of consciousness are embedded in forms of experience than on Thompson’s discursive choices to interpret particular aspects of experience—­and how these choices obscure other aspects of experience and other possible interpretations: “The unifying aspect of experience excludes whole realms of human activity by simply not counting them as experience, at least not with any consequences for social organization or politics. When class becomes an overriding identity, other subject-­positions are subsumed by it, those of gender, for example (or, in other instances of this kind, of history, race, ethnicity, and sexuality)” (1991, 785). Rather than search, as does Sewell, for the analytic link that can make sense of all this, connecting political consciousness to experience and to material conditions in a way that makes the author’s interpretive power disappear, Scott’s critique helps point us to how the ethical and political commitments we make as authors are inevitably wrapped up in our historical and ethnographic analyses of political consciousness. She continues: “Thompson’s own role in determining the salience of certain things and not others is never addressed. Although his author’s voice intervenes powerfully with moral and ethical judgments about the situations he is recounting, the presentation of the experiences themselves is meant to secure their objective status” (1991, 785). Although The Making of the English Working Class is, in my opinion, a model of what history and ethnography of political consciousness ought to be, these critiques highlight the considerable difficulties of thinking 154

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about and researching the links between kinds of political consciousness and kinds of experience, particularly in a context of competing claims of political solidarity, as with those of race and class that I have discussed. The links between consciousness and experience are not transparent, and our understanding of them relies on the interpretations and commitments of varied actors, including scholars. The connections among political consciousness, experience, and material conditions are partially contingent, mediated by culture, discursive practice, and the political and ethical commitments of participants in social movements and of those who study them. That does not mean anything goes, partly because some interpretations better represent people’s sociomaterial experience than others. But different interpretations of experience also have different consequences and draw on different utopias, or visions of what the world should be like. So, any analysis and evaluation of political consciousness forces us to evaluate conceptions of utopia and of the good held by both those who analyze social reality and those who are being analyzed.9

Consciousness and Experience I have argued in this chapter that forms of political consciousness do not definitively derive from experience. Certain experiences of emergency or extreme oppression—­slavery, genocide, imprisonment—­undoubtedly make some solidarities more likely than others. But the solidarities implicit in most forms of political consciousness can extend in multiple directions. My ethnographic work in Alcântara demonstrates how similar circumstances can, alternately, be generative of race consciousness or class consciousness—­with similar fidelity to experience but different consequences for politics. I have also argued that scholars’ interpretations are linked to their own political utopias, which partially shape how they understand the kinds of political consciousness they believe should emerge from historical experiences. I have also tied together in this chapter several threads that run throughout this book to show how multiple factors have intertwined to help produce the strength of quilombo identity and organization in contemporary Alcântara. Finally, I have argued that E. P. Thompson’s account of the formation of working-­class consciousness in early industrial England is a superb (if incomplete) model for polit­ ical ethnographers exploring the development of political consciousness. No formula for understanding the relation between sociomaterial experience and consciousness is likely to be forthcoming from social 155

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theory; there is no substitute for careful empirical research on how this relation manifests historically. Nor is there a substitute for political commitment in evaluating its consequences. Scholars of political consciousness must investigate empirically what Thompson called “the dialectic between social being and social consciousness” that produces history (2001, 493). As I have also suggested, that dialectic keeps moving in Alcântara, in Brazil, in the United States, and, of course, elsewhere, awaiting ethnography that might carefully trace the new forms of “identity of interests [and] . . . corresponding forms of . . . political . . . organizations” (1963, 194) that might help us understand what is to come.



Space at the Edge of the Amazon Unless [the Amazon’s] incorporation and protection is a firm and permanent objective [of the Brazilian government], that Amazon where today natural selection flourishes, and before which Humboldt was captivated by the vision of a dazzling stage, and where eventually the world’s civilization will be concentrated—­ that Amazon, sooner or later, will detach from Brazil, naturally and irresistibly, as a planet becomes detached from a nebula—­by the centrifugal expansion of its own movement.  E u c l i d e s

da Cunha, Contrastes e confrontos

Takeover of the Amazon Many in the Brazilian military are convinced of an international conspiracy to organize quilombos and indigenous peoples to seize Amazonian resources, so that protecting the Amazonian territory adds another dimension to their opposition to the quilombo movement. At the same time, the quilombo movement and its supporters have sometimes allied with the military, albeit with different goals, against threats to Brazil’s sovereignty. Some Brazilian nationalists, particularly in the military, regard the attempt to foster a politicized quilombola ethnoracial consciousness in Alcântara as far more deliberate—­ and sinister—­than any touched on in previous chapters. For these nationalists, the quilombo movement is part of a foreign-­led military attempt to undermine Brazil’s territorial sovereignty in the Amazon. I frequently encountered vague suggestions of such threats to sovereignty when I talked to officials in the military wing 157

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of the space program. But, perhaps because of their suspicions about me, an anthropologist from the United States working with—­and publicly allied to—­the quilombolas, I never managed to get a good interview on the subject. One advisor to the chief of staff of the presidency of the republic, whom I interviewed at the office of the Ministério da Casa Civil (Ministry of the Chief of Staff ) in Brasília, said as much: “The military thinks that foreigners want to preserve the quilombolas and preserve the Amazon to take over the Amazon. They will never talk to you.” But my access to the military did not matter too much in this case because the idea of such threats to Brazilian sovereignty had been (and continues to be) well publicized. At the start of 2007, for example, the GTAM (Grupo de Trabalho da Amazônia, Amazônia Work Group), a group composed of representatives of ABIN (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência, Brazilian Intelligence Agency) and of the intelligence services of Brazil’s armed forces and federal police, released a widely publicized report alleging that an alliance of indigenous and subaltern Brazilians, for­­ eign human-­rights and environmental NGOs, and governments of the Global North were actively threatening Brazil’s sovereignty in the Amazon. The report argues that foreigners are fomenting subnational and antinational social organization and sentiment in and around the Amazon to make a grab for the region’s riches of mineral wealth, biodiversity, and fresh water. Although the report identifies both European and US NGOs, it clearly notes that the United States is the principal threat to Brazilian sovereignty in the region (A. Nunes 2007). The front page of the Jornal do Brasil,1 one of the two papers to which the report was sent, quoted it verbatim, although the translation from the Portuguese is mine: “The indigenous question has reached a level of seriousness capable of putting national security at risk. . . . Non-­governmental organizations (NGOs), some controlled by foreign governments, have acquired enormous influence, most of the time used for the benefit of their nations of origin, to the detriment of the Brazilian state. In practice, they act as substitutes for the national government in indigenous areas” (cited in Faria 2007b). The report identifies Alcântara as a major point of threat (Faria 2007b) and warns—­in an eerie authoritarian nationalist echo of condemnations of South African apartheid that sometimes appear in liberal Brazilian critiques of race-­based law (see, e.g., Fry and Maggie 2006; Goldemberg and Durham 2006): “Some indigenous territories are turning into Bantustans, others into Kurdistans—­when the territories are contiguous with areas of the same ethnicity on the other side of the border. . . . NGOs of British and North American origin tend to create conditions for the 158

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future independence of the indigenous ‘nations,’ while other NGOs, including those supported by Germany and those of a religious orientation, tend to push for a differentiated autonomy, in the style of Chiapas, in southern Mexico” (cited in Faria 2007a). A great deal of ethnographic and historical scholarship has shown how such fears of a foreign invasion of the Amazon have also fostered military opposition to quilombo and indigenous movements throughout the Amazon region (Conklin 2001, 255; 2002; M. C. da Cunha 2009; S. B. Hecht 2011; Garfield 2013; S. T. Mitchell 2010). What is surprising, however, is that these military-­invasion anxieties are sometimes shared by people on the Brazilian left—­including those helping the quilombo­las in Alcântara, factions otherwise on opposite sides in the region’s con­flicts. Although nationalists in the military frequently identify indigenous people (and sometimes quilombolas) as subnational threats, people on the political left do not share the same animosity to these groups. Nonetheless, leftist activists and intellectuals in São Luís and elsewhere in Brazil of­ten echo the long-­standing military concerns of a potential—­indeed, likely—­ plan for the invasion of the Amazon, a plan disguised in ethnic or environmentalist terms. Additionally, the military, even as it has attacked the quilombo movement, has at times applauded and enlisted quilombo support against foreign interests. The alliances I analyze in this chapter are not straightforward. Frequently, upon learning that I have conducted research in Alcântara, people throughout Brazil, and with many different political orientations, would ask me (sometimes accusatorily) about US military installations in Alcântara or US geography textbooks that they believe depict an autonomous Amazon severed from the Brazilian nation-­state. The idea that the United States plans a military invasion, moreover, is widespread in Brazil, and like the suspicion of US sabotage of the VLS-1 rocket discussed in chapter 3, I am agnostic about this claim in its broadest outlines. However, the idea that US geography textbooks show an Amazon severed from those nations with Amazonian territory (Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia), and the notion that this is part of a widespread international strategy against La­tin American sovereignty, is false. Yet these and other related claims that originate among right-­wing military groups circulate widely in Brazil and have been taken up by many on the political left, as well.2 Although the beliefs that US geography textbooks misrepresent the Amazon and that US military installations occupy Alcântara are false, they derive from concerns about US power that are quite valid even when, in their specific formulations, they are inaccurate (see Lutz 2006; 159

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S. T. Mitchell 2010, forthcoming). As Grandin has shown, the imperial projection of US power beyond the territorial expanse of the landmass that became the United States (the building of which was itself an imperial project) got its start in Latin America (2006) and, most frequently, operates secretly. The United States, as chapter 3 showed, has worked to actively stifle the spaceport and Brazil’s satellite launch program, and it has frequently operated unilaterally, covertly, and brutally in Latin Amer­ ica and other parts of the world. While I debunk some specific claims about US power in this chapter, concerns about the projection of US power in Latin America are well justified. Foreign—­particularly US—­power is a specter throughout this chapter and this book. The pervasiveness of US power in the struggles over the spaceport—­and all around the world—­give its evocation a strange character. The United States is often evoked in the conspiratorial narratives that I discuss here: that the quilombolas are pawns in a foreign plot, and that the United States wants control of the spaceport to undermine Brazilian sovereignty in the Amazon. Like any conspiracy theories, these ideas cannot be evaluated as true or false a priori. They may be either true or false and need to be examined. Yet the encompassing and often hidden nature of US power in the twenty-­first century frequently produces a dialectic: one of wild conspiracy theories on the one hand, coun­ t­ered by blanket denial on the other. This dialectic of conspiracy theory and denial functions to hide the more complex relations of power that usually lie beneath such conspiracy theories and the situations they purport to explain (for an elaboration of this argument, see S. T. Mitchell, forthcoming). I engage in some debunking in this chapter, participating reluctantly in this dialectic of conspiracy theory and denial. However, my principal intention is not to engage in this dialectic but to examine it, and to understand the social situation that the local, national, and global politics of the Amazon have made possible in Alcântara.

Power at the Edge of the Amazon This chapter examines the spaceport’s relationship to the global and lo­cal politics of the Amazon. The flexibility and importance of “the Amazon” as a signifier to different constituencies (environmentalists, nationalists, rural residents of the Amazon region, and their urban advocates) has contributed to the surprising and shifting alliances that have defined strug­ gles over the spaceport. I also show how Brazil’s political Left and Right have at times found common cause in denouncing foreign projects at 160

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the spaceport, as these foreign projects are cast as sacrificing Brazilian sovereignty to imperial forces. Before continuing, I should specify Alcântara’s relation to the Amazon. Alcântara is part of a border region between Brazil’s northeast and the Amazon, bearing characteristics of both regions. Although the state of Maranhão is today grouped by the federal government with the states of Brazil’s northeast (famous in Brazil and worldwide for its Afro-­Brazilian culture and hardscrabble dry backlands or sertão), rather than with the states of the north (which is more or less coterminous with the Brazilian Amazon), Alcântara is also part of the administrative region known as the Legal Amazon (Amazônia Legal), created in 1966 as part of the (1964–­ 1985) military regime’s Amazon-­development strategy. Encompassing 59 percent of Brazil’s land mass and some 12.36 percent of its population (IBGE 2007), the Legal Amazon comprises the states of Acre, Amapá, Ama­ zonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, Tocantins, and the western portions of Maranhão. Alcântara marks the eastern perimeter of the Legal Amazon and is considered a strategic entryway to the Amazon by military strategists. Importantly, a key focus of Brazil’s space program is the monitoring of the Amazon (Monteiro, Seixas, and Vieira 2014; M. Monteiro 2015; Lahsen 2009; Rajão and Hayes 2009). The politics of the Amazon as they have impacted the struggles in Alcântara are shaped by many foreign forces and by Brazilian national­ isms. Nationalist discourses surrounding Alcântara’s spaceport cluster into two broad categories (see Foresta 1992). The first we might term devel­ opmentalist nationalism, discussed especially in chapter 3. Developmentalist nationalism imagines a state-­driven sponsorship of industrial and military power. Because this developmentalist nationalism is closely linked to the left-­leaning developmentalism that became dominant in much of Latin America in the 1930s during the global Great Depression (Sikkink 1991, xii–­xiii), one might expect developmentalist nationalism to be supported on the left. However, today developmentalist nationalism in Brazil is concentrated in the military, frequently on the political right. Peixoto describes developmentalist “radical nationalism” in Brazil as emerging from the union of, frequently right-­wing “military sectors with the radical left” (1999, 7; 2003). As Miller (2006, 205) has argued, scholars (viz. Hobsbawm 1995) have frequently underestimated the importance of right-­wing nationalisms in Latin America. The second, which I call territorial nationalism, emphasizes the defense of national sovereignty, especially in the Amazon. Developmentalist nationalism today has a limited constituency on the political left, while territorial nationalism has gained wide popular support in multiple sectors of Brazilian 161

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society (Lourenção 2007).3 The decline of complementary hierarchy and mimetic convergence that I have described in previous chapters makes alliances around developmentalist nationalism—­which was crucial to Brazil’s military coup of 1964—­unlikely. However, territorial na­­ tionalism does function to produce surprising configurations of groups in Alcântara.

National Politics in the “Aldeia dos Americanos” Many of the conspiratorial narratives about Alcântara stem from controversies surrounding an accord that proposes a US base at the spaceport.4 Such a proposal had been part of a Technology Safeguards agreement (which I refer to as “the accord,” in keeping with the common use in Alcântara of “o acordo”) between Brazil and the United States, negotiated and signed by Brazilian and US presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Bill Clinton in 2000 (Brazil/USA 2000). It was never ratified by Brazil’s congress and has never entered into effect. The most controversial aspects of the accord were that it would (1) restrict Brazilian access to US-­controlled areas on the base, as well as to US materials brought into and taken out of Alcântara; (2) prohibit using revenues from the US use of the base to develop the Brazilian space program; and (3) place strict limitations on the international partnerships Brazil could enter into to develop its space program. Nonetheless, in the final accord, the United States did not get all that it wanted. Although the version that was eventually signed by the two presidents did restrict launch income from being used to develop Brazil’s space program (thereby limiting competition), the United States failed to halt development of the VLS (Monserrat Filho 2003b; Monserrat Filho and Leister 2001), which, despite many setbacks, proceeds as this book goes to press. The new Lula administration formally rejected the accord in its entirety in May 2003. Even so, cables published by WikiLeaks reveal that, even without the accord, the United States has been able to block any use of US-­licensed components at the spaceport (US Secretary of State 2009). Still, some groups, Brazilian and foreign, have continued to advocate some kind of technology cooperation with the United States. The government of Ukraine, for example, requested a renegotiation of the accord, in order to use US technology in the now defunct Brazilian-­ Ukrainian Alcântara Cyclone Space project (US Secretary of State 2009). In 2012, a petition was also circulated by defenders of Brazil’s civilian 162

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space program that included a demand for the renewal or renegotiation of the accord (Petição Publica Brasil 2012). In 2013, moreover, the Brazilian press reported that there were secret discussions between the Brazilian and US governments about a renegotiation of the accord (Paraguassu 2013). But those negotiations, between the Dilma Rousseff and Barack Obama governments, if they did happen, did not amount to anything. In 2017 reports emerged in the Brazilian press of secret negotiations between the government of Michel Temer and the United States to renew the accord (Barrocal 2017). As this book goes to press, the accord’s status remains uncertain. Groups working to renegotiate the accord are motivated by the hope of breaking US opposition to the spaceport. Nonetheless, most Brazilians, from many sectors, opposed the accord and any renegotiation of it, an opposition that has been renewed by the reports of its renegotiation in 2017 (see Carta Capital 2017). Opposition to the accord was particularly widespread in the early years of this century. One 2002 plebiscite that reportedly reached 70 percent of Brazil’s (then) 5,561 municipalities was reported to have received 98.59 percent negative responses (Diário Vermelho 2002). The plebiscite asked: “Should the Brazilian government surrender part of our territory—­the Alcântara base—­to the military control of the United States?” The phrasing of the question was clearly loaded, which undoubtedly contributed to the overwhelming negative response. But the near unanimity is also consistent with my own observations that, throughout Brazil, the accord is reviled as representing a threat to Brazil’s sovereignty. In 2002, during a Brazilian presidential campaign in which the neoliberal policies of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration became a central issue—­and at a time of strong resentment toward US president George W. Bush’s bellicose and unilateral posture in world affairs—­op­ position to the accord became a universal campaign strategy, with all major Brazilian presidential candidates rejecting it. Military nationalists expressed two major concerns. First, the accord would hamper the development of the space program and Brazilian technological progress. Second, the accord represented a potential US incursion into Brazil’s territorial sovereignty, especially in a region perilously close to the Amazon. But in an era when the promise of military-­led mimetic convergence no longer wins the broad social support that it did during the Cold War (Martins 2000), it is the latter concern, and not the former, that has won the military some tenuous allies in Alcântara. In the debates over the Technology Safeguards accord, nationalists in the military objected strenuously to stipulations that restricted technology transfer and the 163

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prohibition against using money gained from the accord to advance Brazil’s space program. These military-­developmentalist concerns, however, never gained widespread traction. The public was primarily concerned that the United States might obtain a military foothold within Brazil. In a 2005 interview, for example, a Dutch priest who had lived in Alcântara during the period of land expropriation for the spaceport in the 1980s, and who voiced strong support of the quilombo movement there, suggested that I was a US spy and said, “If the accord was passed, who is to say that the US won’t use the base to dominate the water of the Amazon, which will be more precious than petroleum. If the US comes in ten years from now, and needs water, they will simply dominate the Amazon from Alcântara.” Responding to critics, defenders of the accord argue that the United States is interested in the equatorial base because of the urging of Brazil and because satellites can be launched from the equator with much lower fuel costs than from more distant latitudes (Monserrat Filho 2003b; Monserrat Filho and Leister 2001). Critics, however, are suspicious of this purely economic motive, believing that behind this economic rationale lies a US military effort to supplant Brazilian sovereignty in the Amazon. As João Pedro Stédile, the widely known leader of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), was reported to have put it in 2002, echoing many nationalists in the military (e.g., Schlichting and Oliveira 2004, 28) with whom he would otherwise have very little political common ground: “In practice, the government is letting the United States develop its first military base in the country. We suspect—­and we have ample reasons for this—­that the base will be used for military purposes, with the objective of strategic control of the Amazon forest” (cited in Arbex 2002). The accord was also important in Alcântara’s local politics. Although supporters of the civilian and military space programs at the base tend to disagree about goals and how the space program should be organized, they are often allied in opposition to quilombo land rights, sometimes alleging that Alcântara’s quilombo movement is fomented by foreign interests. Both a socialist president of Brazil’s space agency, Sergio Gaudenzi (L. Melo 2006), and a conservative defense minister, Nelson Jobim (Peduzzi 2009), have publicly made this suggestion of foreign interests behind the quilombo movement (for more detail, see S. T. Mitchell, forthcoming). Similarly, concerns about imperial US designs have sometimes facilitated a contingent alliance between the air force and quilombo-movement activists—­despite their enmity in other matters. For example, Ma­chado, an important quilombo-movement activist, who features prominently 164

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in this book, was openly thanked by air force officers for opposing the Technology Safeguards accord, despite the military’s opposition to the quilombo movement. Anthropologists who support the quilombo movement in Alcântara have also told me they were thanked and encouraged by air force officers for their opposition to the accord. Machado and the anthropologists were principally concerned with how expansion of the spaceport resulting from foreign use might negatively impact villagers. Officers, however, believed the accord threatened Brazilian sovereignty and technological independence. This ideology of national territorial sovereignty was tenuously—­and temporarily—­able to bridge the divide between these very different political commitments. Numerous scholars have observed how indigenous and other rural com­ munities in the Amazon have at times been seen by nationalists of the po­ litical right as a foreign-­allied threat to Amazonian sovereignty and, at other times, as a national bulwark against foreign incursion (Conklin 2002; M. C. da Cunha 2009; Ramos 2000).5 The political alliances prompted by questions of sovereignty around the accord show a similar toggling of na­ tionalist sentiments about the quilombolas. The entrance of national left-­ wing groups into this concern with the accord, however, is focused principally on the question of territorial sovereignty. With some exceptions, I have encountered limited left-­wing support for the claim that the accord might stifle Brazilian technological development.6

Two Meetings Despite the universality of the specter of a foreign threat to sovereignty, groups with divergent political interests conceptualized this specter in different ways. How they did so depended in part upon their social and geographical location within Brazil and their connection to the conflicts in Alcântara. People from Alcântara’s villages generally conceptualized those fears in local terms, tied to the loss, or possible loss, of their land. They sometimes deployed the trope of foreign invasion as a device to further their opposition to the expansion of the launch site. Activists from urban Brazil, however, were much more likely to express concerns similar to those of the military: focusing on national-­territorial claims as often as local ones. Because I was prohibited from entering the spaceport—­even as recently as 2014 when I formally requested a visit and interviews there—­I was unable to attend sessions with the United Nations special rapporteur for adequate housing, who visited Alcântara on a fact-­finding mission in June 165

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2004. The rapporteur was visiting sites of housing conflict throughout Brazil suggested by Brazil’s human rights NGOs. In Alcântara, however, it was the local antagonists of the NGOs who brought him to the area and who were his minders for almost his entire visit. He was flown directly onto the base by the air force and transported by them throughout his time on the peninsula. Perhaps because of the air force’s careful supervision, his report fell short of straightforward support of Alcântara villagers’ demands to retain their land, even as it showed broad sympathy toward local grievances.7 I was not the only one trying unsuccessfully to meet with the UN rapporteur. The arrival of an international governing authority, in the person of the rapporteur, Miloon Kothari, an Indian architect and housing-­ rights activist, was widely seen as an important event, and most of the Brazilian institutions and intellectuals involved in Alcântara’s land disputes were present. I waited with this group, following the instructions on a photocopied sheet prepared by the air force and specifying the rapporteur’s itinerary: meetings all morning with officials on the base and afternoon visits to the threatened village, Mamuna, and the agrovila, Ma­ rudá, to be accompanied by the NGOs, lawyers, and activists supporting the quilombolas. Our instructions, specified on the sheet, were to await the rapporteur and his air force escorts in the Praça da Matriz, Alcântara’s principal historical plaza, at two o’clock. We waited at the appointed time for our meeting in the plaza: anthropologists, human-­rights lawyers from Brasília, NGO representatives from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, quilombo-­movement activists and politicians from São Luís, and villagers from the interior of Alcântara, all packed and slowly roasting in three hired vans as the minutes passed. Behind us, a hatchback bearing the logo of Sarney’s Mirante television network had made the journey from São Luís. The meeting would be featured in the next day’s news. By two thirty, and still waiting, many in the group were frantic about the air force’s absence. São Paulo and Brasília cell phones were walked around the plaza in hopes of finding a signal in Alcântara’s (then) poor cellphone reception. But cell reception did not matter: calls that reached the base yielded no information about the whereabouts of the rapporteur or his handlers. The array of mostly tall, light-­skinned, and visibly affluent urban Brazilians (and me) became increasingly agitated, waiting in the just-­past-­ midday sun in the otherwise quiet streets. In front of the ruins of the Church of São Matias, we were a spectacle for the few shopkeepers reopening after the midday period between noon and two, during which most businesses in north and northeastern Brazil close their doors, ac-


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15.  Igreja de São Matias and pelourinho

The ruins of the Church of São Matias, constructed in 1622 at the start of the Portuguese colonization of Alcântara (C. de Lima 1998, 150), and the pelourinho (pillory), on which enslaved people were once whipped, are located on Alcântara’s principal plaza, the Praça da Matriz. On the occasion described in this chapter, I and about thirty academics, activists, and journalists were duped into waiting here while the air force staged a private meeting with a United Nations representative in Mamuna.

companied by the few municipal workers returning to their desks in Alcântara’s city hall, built on the site of a former jail. But because the Praça da Matriz is a key site for the small daily trickle of tourists to Alcântara, themselves mostly tall, light-­skinned, affluent, and urban Brazilians, we were largely ignored by passersby. By a quarter to three the group decided that we had been duped by the air force, so we set off toward Mamuna. An hour later, as we came close to the village, the convoy encountered one of the white Toyota pickups that air force officers often drive in Alcântara. A young woman was at the wheel, wearing the adult braces on her teeth that are common on the recently upwardly mobile in Brazil. Even during these years of economic ascent of Brazil’s poor (Neri 2012), this bodily marker of upward mobility was rarely seen in Alcântara, the few exceptions being people in politics or those who arrived in Alcântara with the military.


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16.  The UN in Mamuna on the cover of Estado do Maranhão

The cover of Sarney’s Estado do Maranhão newspaper on June 10, 2004, pictured the day’s events in Mamuna and described the air force’s evasion of the convoy of activists and reporters. The UN rapporteur is second from the top left (behind the dog). The rapporteur is flanked by an NGO worker and a civilian space program representative. I am holding a voice recorder, the seventh person from the left. Most people pictured are villagers, who had gathered all the chairs in the village for the occasion and are visibly attentive to the proceedings. Reprinted with permission.

“Where have you been?” the young soldier asked rhetorically of the driver in the front of the convoy. “Why didn’t you show up on time?” Despite her nonchalance, those around me suspected she had been placed on the road to warn her colleagues in the air force that we were on our way to the village. Sure enough—­as the convoy arrived in Mamuna, the rapporteur and his military escorts were getting into their vehicles, no doubt alerted to our approach. Anthropologist Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida coaxed the rapporteur away from the CLA’s commanding officer, convincing him to reconvene with the quilombos in a meeting not mediated by the air force. The rapporteur agreed and attended his second meeting with the villagers of Mamuna, this time without the military men,8 who retreated to their vehicles. The one representative of the civilian space program, who had been present at the rapporteur’s first meeting with the villagers, remained with us for the second meeting. So, two meetings were held in Mamuna on that day. Both meetings included the UN representative, a representative of the civilian space program, and villagers. However, one meeting also featured the press and the 168

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villagers’ national support network, the other the air force. True to pat­ tern, the air force had rigorously segregated itself from the civilian activists. During the period that I lived in Alcântara, except for the meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Anselmo described in chapter 4, and at one other hearing in São Luís, the military never spoke publicly at meetings with activists. Yet strangely those officers, now out of earshot, would likely have agreed with some of the concerns raised by the villagers and their supporters at that meeting, particularly those concerning the territorial integrity of the nation.

Zones of Concern and Ideologies of Scale Consider three quotes from people at the activist meeting with the rapporteur. The first is from Sara, a young community representative from Canelatiua, one of Alcântara’s coastal villages, like Mamuna, in imminent danger of expropriation at the time she spoke: “They like to say that we are on the base’s land. No. The base is on our land. Because it got here after us. We can’t let a launch center that hasn’t benefited Brazil at all destroy this whole region. So, it’s our intention, as a movement, as people who live in the community, to resist, struggle, and stay on the land. Be­ cause it’s from the land that we live.” Sara gave her rousing speech to the enthusiastic applause of the villagers. Her themes were those discussed throughout this book: people do not want to give up their land and will resist government attempts to displace them. But she made another key point that should be noted: Sara argued that the base had not brought any benefit at the national level—­that, in her words, the spaceport “hasn’t benefited Brazil.” Villagers sometimes made this point when assailing the presence or expansion of the base, but it was never a key point of concern. Sara’s principal point is local: the base has brought damage to people’s lives locally and its threat needs to be contained and resisted. Later, during the long afternoon of villager and activist testimony, the worldly and intellectual Machado spoke: This hearing is for us to show the side of things that the government wants to hide. The government won’t participate. Why? Because Brazil keeps plodding ahead with this project of the space base. Do you all know that the space base was rented to Ukraine? This has already been approved in the congress. . . . Now, what does this mean? When they are renting the base, it means they’re going to expand the project. . . . The first 169

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thing that they’ll do is clean [limpar] the territory and remove families from the land to build a base for Ukraine. Who will be the first to go? It’s us: the quilombos of Mamuna, Brito, Baracatatiua, Canelatiua, those here in these areas. And now I ask all of you: are we going to stay with our arms crossed, just waiting for the government to say “No, it’s okay, here’s a little money,” so that we can go hungry like in the agrovilas?

Like Sara’s speech, Machado’s focused on the possible loss of land and livelihood, the fate of the agrovilas that has struck terror in Alcântara’s remaining coastal villages. But he focused on one element that Sara, with her focus on local concerns, did not: the “renting” of the base to the Ukraine, a foreign country. Accusations of foreignness were a persistent criticism of the spaceport, one which united the air force and many quilombo-movement activ­ ists, despite their deep divergences in other matters. Yet, while Machado’s con­cerns were framed at a wider scale than Sara’s, for both the key concern was the threat to the lives of the villagers posed by the appropriation of the base. For the officers, on the other hand, the rel­evant foreign threat was not to villagers, but to Brazilian sovereignty. As one moves farther from the base, these lines between local and national anxieties cross and blur. One can imagine a geography of interest emanating from the base, in shifting zones of concern: Sara’s concerns are chiefly framed in terms of a lifeway and livelihood grounded in Alcântara’s land and sea; Machado’s concerns echo Sara’s, but he also imagines a transnational network of solidarity between quilombola, black, and human rights groups, and in his political work, he has also had to address the concerns of urban Brazilians, for whom Alcântara is a remote outpost near the Amazon tied to some well-­circulated concerns about sovereignty. It is not that the urban participants in Alcântara’s struggles are inherently more national or those in Alcântara inherently more local. São Paulo, Mamuna, Brasília, and Washington are all equivalently local. Rather, the people involved in Alcântara’s conflicts are relying on different “ideologies of scale,” to borrow Anna Tsing’s term: different commitments to and claims about “locality, regionality, and globality” (2000, 347). In Alcântara, for the most part, claims about the land and the threat to it were deeply meaningful and immediate, while those about the nation were more abstract and, by comparison, less meaningful. For political constituencies beyond Alcântara, however, the base had a less direct impact on their lives, and the spaceport formed part of a broad national—­or, indeed, extraterrestrial—­spatial imaginary. Consider another statement, from the person who best negotiated these different ideologies of scale in Alcântara’s conflicts. Domingos Dutra, at 170

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that time a state congressman9 and the lawyer for Alcântara’s Rural Workers’ Union since the 1970s, has been defending the rights of Alcântara’s residents since the inception of the base.10 He is worth focusing on here because, as both a lawyer with a long-­term commitment to Alcântara’s strug­ gle and a consummate national-­level politician, he deftly bridges the dif­ ferent kinds of constituencies with interests in, and commitments to, mul­ tiple scales in Alcântara. There is a marked difference in Dutra’s discourse depending on his audience. Visiting villages in Alcântara (and I accompanied him on several such trips), his focus, like the villagers’, was on their rights to the land. However, for a state-­level and national audience, his focus turned to the threat posed by foreign countries. Dutra’s campaign posters for his election to Congress in 2004, for example, made no mention of the people in Alcântara. Instead, they listed his struggle to defend the territory of Alcântara from being ceded to the United States and “other foreign nations.” During the UN rapporteur’s visit, with reporters and many different groups present, Dutra knew that he was speaking to multiple distinct constituencies. He successfully joined the local concerns over land expressed by Sara with national concerns over the base: “The decree that expropriated the land was supposed to install a Brazilian space base. Today the Brazilian base is turning into a rental base. They want to sell Brazil and prostitute Alcântara for thirty coins of Judas. And just like that, the whole point of the base changes. It’s not a Brazilian project, for Brazilian politics anymore; it’s just a rental base, for rich countries.” The primary idiom here is of territorial sovereignty, and suspicion of imperial treachery. The air force colonel, had he attended the meeting instead of waiting in his truck for the rapporteur, would likely have been delighted. Some of the nationalist concerns crucial to many in the military were being made manifest, yet spoken by their political enemy. While Dutra was triangulating between the concerns of Maranhão’s villagers and the varied interests of his state-­level electorate, he was not trying to appeal to the military in voicing anxieties similar to theirs. He was speaking to his broad left-­wing base.11

The Opacity of Alcântara’s Impasse Mere debunking is a limiting analytic strategy if we are to understand the circulation of complex narratives and conjunctures like those surrounding Alcântara, its spaceport, and the politics of the Amazon. On its own, 171

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debunking leaves power opaque, culture undescribed, and contingency unaccounted for. Mere debunking of “conspiracy theories” can also serve to reify the official narratives of power. The world is full of conspiracies, so some conspiracy theories are undoubtedly true. But debunking can still be important, because the world is also full of conspiracists. So, some conspiracy theories are false. The evaluation of conspiracy theories cannot be done a priori. To return to Alcântara, then, I will engage in just a bit of anthropological debunking. Consider again the GTAM report with which this chapter began. When discussing Alcântara, the report blends developmentalist and territorial modes of nationalism. As reported and cited in the Jornal do Brasil:12 The “presence and action of foreigners” in the Amazon is one of the points highlighted by the GTAM, which raises suspicions of espionage even in the Air Base of Alcântara, in Maranhão. For those who do not remember: 21 workers . . . died in the explosion of the VLS-­1’s third prototype on the CLA’s platform, in August of 2003. When they visited Alcântara in 2006, the members of the GTAM were suspicious of the excess of foreigners in that little city. “Particularly worrisome is the number of foreigners near the Alcântara launching base, in Maranhão. According to sources from the State police, there were 116 foreigners on May 15 in Alcântara, the day on which the GTAM visited. It was not possible to know what activities they engaged in, since there was no activity in the CLA. The high indices of social exclusion present in the city of Alcântara left the community that lives there exposed and susceptible to the attempts of seduction and recruitment on the part of NGOs and agents at the service of countries that have a lot to lose with the successes of launches from the Alcântara base.” (Faria 2007a)

To anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Alcântara’s social life, this passage raises some flags. The biggest draw of Alcântara’s fledgling tourist industry, the ten-­day Festa do Divíno Espírito Santo (Festival of the Divine Holy Ghost), began on May 24 in 2006. During the Festa do Divíno, as people call it, residents of Alcântara stage ornate reenactments of imperial and master-­slave relations in honor (depending on whom you ask) of the Catholic Holy Ghost, the encantados, Orixás, and Cabo­ clos of local religious pantheons (M. Ferretti 2000; S. F. Ferretti 1996). It is in many senses a performance of Alcântara’s elaborately remembered colonial history. Whichever interpretation of the Festa do Divíno you choose, there is no escaping the fact that the town draws many tourists during the period of the festival. If the GTAM’s count of foreigners in Alcântara at the time is accurate then it is more than I would expect, but not so surprising given that the lead-­up to the Festa is a period of high tourism. 172

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Had the members of the GTAM attempted to take a passenger boat to Alcântara during those days rather than flown directly to the CLA, they might have discovered that tickets were in short supply with many tourists traveling to Alcântara—­leaving flimsy and full catamarans the only option for crossing the bay to Alcântara. The GTAM’s lack of local knowledge is unsurprising. When framed in terms of national sovereignty, concerns about Alcântara and the Amazon are principally metropolitan concerns in Brazil, relying to a substantial degree on fantasies about actual social life in the region. The report was correct, however, about Alcântara’s “high indices of social exclusion.” But how the fraught fantasies, political projects, alliances, and rup­­ tures that have centered on Alcântara will transform that social exclu­ sion—­for the better or worse—­remains opaque.

Crossed Alliances, Complementary Hierarchy, and Mimetic Convergence In 1964, the Brazilian president Goulart, pursuing a left-­leaning developmentalist economic policy, was overthrown by a coup d’état operating with illicit US support (Couto 1999, 26), bringing to power a right-­wing military regime which would pursue a developmentalism of its own. The first institutional act of the “revolution” claimed to distinguish “itself from all other armed movements by the fact that it represent[ed] not the interests and will of a group, but the interests and will of a nation” (Skidmore 1988, 20). Yet embodying the “will of a nation” would not be so easy; the regime was faced with many internal and external ruptures that chipped away slowly at its hold on power and its claim to universality. Stepan, borrowing from Marx, provides a less grandiose account than did the military government of the alliances that allowed it to attain and hold power. He argues that both in 1964 and from 1969 through 1971, periods of, respectively, the establishment and the consolidation of the Brazilian military state, there were “Brumairean moments” (making possible a conjunctural alliance of classes) during which significant sectors of Brazil’s middle classes were afraid enough of disorder and communism to “abdicate, in essence, to the military their claims to rule, in return for the coercive protection they thought only the military could give them” (1988, 10–­11).13 It was under this Brumairean assemblage of interests and actors that Brazil began construction of its faltering and embattled military-­industrial complex. One of the arguments of this chapter is that the alliances revealed 173

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by the case of Alcântara are much more complex, crosscutting, and trans­ local than the Brumairean alliances on which the military regime’s power was based. It is clear that the support of much of Brazil’s middle class provided the conditions of possibility for a coup-­like impeachment of PT president Dilma Rousseff by conservative forces in 2016 (Boito Jr. 2016; Chaui 2016)—­an important similarity in the alliances of 2016 and 1964. But the configuration of forces that made 2016’s coup possible is in other ways different from that which made 1964’s coup possible.14 As I have shown in chapters 5 and 6, subalterns who are ethnically or otherwise marked—­or marketed (  J. L. Comaroff and Comaroff 2009)—­often find their best allies in transnational advocacy networks; much of the neolib­eral elite, too, make their principal allegiances abroad; voices in the military have made sharp critiques of the Temer government (Defesa­Net 2017); and, in direct contrast to 1964, in which nationalists in the military were strongly allied with the United States and the anticapitalist Left strongly allied with international socialist groups, today sometimes na­tion­ alist groups in the military and the anti-­neoliberal Left often find them­ selves on the same political side. While the technomilitary-­sabotage narratives of chapter 3 have found a limited audience beyond segments of the Brazilian military, territorial invasion is a preoccupation for many people from diverse sectors of Brazilian society. This alliance of leftists and military nationalists around political themes of sovereignty in the Amazon, however, is more fragile than the Brumairean alliances that made the 1964 coup possible and sustainable. Although this chapter has been mostly concerned with describing the shifting and tenuous alliances that Amazon-­based territorial claims have helped produce in Alcântara’s conflict, here we can see how, through these fraught alliances, two of this book’s broad theoretical claims come together. It is the quilombolas new far-­flung alliances—­along with the new sources of income and mobility made possible through PT government programs—­that have broken down a regime of complementary hierarchy that long depoliticized inequality at the local scale in Alcântara. Moreover, the inability of the military to build a broad public constituency around a project of mimetic convergence in Alcântara—­by contrast to the success of territorial sovereignty in building such a constituency—­ shows how mimetic convergence has declined as a project for the redress of international inequalities. I do not know what this conjuncture will yield, but the contours of Alcântara’s twenty-­first-­century politics of inequality can be discerned


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in these conflicts over the Amazon, and they are quite different from its twentieth-­century politics. Today, it is principally through (1) claims to quilombo rights and identity and (2) claims of territorial sovereignty that alliances are made and projects to legitimate or confront inequality are institutionalized in Alcântara.


Conclusion: Space and Utopia On the blue and white wastes of the picture of Earth from space, there are no boundary lines except those made by water and mountains. Yet in this picture of the Earth, the harsh impersonal structures of world politik disappear; there are no zones of influences, political satellites, international blocs, only people who live in lands, on land, that they cherish.  M a r g a r e t

M e a d , “ E a r t h D ay ”

When I found myself arrested, in a prison cell I first saw those pictures In which you appear complete, though not nude But covered by clouds Earth, Earth However distant the wandering navigator Who could ever forget you? C a e ta n o V e l o s o , “ T e r r a ”

The appearance of the landscape depends on your point of view, and the best way to enjoy the whip is to hold it.  M a c h a d o

de Assis, Quincas Borba

Convergence and Hierarchy Our circumstances are given to us. How we act to change those circumstances and—­less obviously—­how we understand them is not. At least not entirely. Inequality is an unevenly spread (Milanovic 2016) and deepening menace for humanity (Piketty 2014). And inequality—­or hierarchy, a word more familiar in the history of sociocultural anthropology—­is one of the enduring issues in ethnographic and anthropological theory. Even so, 176

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despite considerable anthropological scholarship on the topic, ethnographic contributions to wider debates about global inequality are limited. The categories used to think through inequality are generally the objectivized categories of economics (class, income, wealth, etc.) or the often-­reified categories of identity (race, gender, sexuality, etc.). While these familiar economic and identarian categories are fundamental to any worthwhile analysis of inequality, anthropologists have long known that the ways in which people experience and understand hierarchy vary vastly in different times and places. While it has been slow to do so, ethnography is uniquely positioned to explore how inequality is lived and understood and how it shapes people’s political imagination and action. In this book, I have tried to illuminate how inequalities at different scales are imagined, constructed, and acted upon in one complex situation of conflict in Brazil, and to explore how that analysis might expand broader theoretical understanding. In the early 1970s, anthropologist Lloyd Fallers observed that the then-­ dominant stratigraphic metaphor representing inequality as a series of stacked layers was a historically specific model. It was difficult for him, he wrote, to translate the word class into the African languages he was conducting ethnographic research in—­despite a “rich vocabulary for speaking about dyadic interpersonal relations of superiority and inferiority—­ words of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’ type” (1973, 4). Fallers contrasted this “stratigraphic conception of society,” which still informs much scholarship on inequality, with one he called “organic” (1973, 9) and argued that this “stratigraphic image, which looms so large in contemporary Western thinking about inequality, both ideological and social scientific, appears to have developed out of a particular experience: a moment in Western history when increased ease of communication allowed the inequalities involved in local and diverse hierarchies of estates or orders and the routine tensions and conflicts indigenous to them to be generalized into a contest between ‘aristocracy’ and ‘democracy’—­between the claim to hereditary status and power and the egalitarian revolt against that claim” (1973, 27–­28). During the same Cold War period when Fallers was positing this break, feminist (Beauvoir [1949] 2012, 758) and postcolonial (Fanon 1967) scholars were modeling relations of inequality under modern capitalist conditions also structured by dyadic relations of domination not easily assimilable to a stratigraphic metaphor. Moreover, relations of hierarchy in noncapitalist societies can, through careful ethnography, fruitfully be analyzed with models derived from capitalist societies (e.g., Turner 1979). But one need not assume a stark historical break to recognize some 177

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important insights in Fallers’s suggestion. His argument points us to the fact that inequality is not just a material fact. The models that historical actors and scholars use to conceptualize inequality change. And those changes have consequences. This book has attempted to provide this sort of nuanced understanding of inequality and the ways it is conceptualized and lived through ethnographic analysis of the conflicts in Alcântara—­a small-­scale examination of one small part of the world through which I hope to illuminate wider-­scale phenomena. As Michel-­Rolph Trouillot has argued, such small-­ scale perspectives on particular situations can help illuminate the effects of global phenomena, and through an analysis of those effects, can help us understand the structure of global phenomena (2001). Inequalities at multiple scales have been crucial to the conflicts in Alcântara that began with the arrival of the air force in 1982. The inequalities of race central to Brazil’s history of slavery and colonization, and its recurrent manifestations of racism and “pigmentocracy” (Telles 2014); the inequalities of access to money, resources, technology, and prestige that are shot through the encounter of a high-­technology national project with the residents of one of Brazil’s poorest regions; and the inequalities of national power and access to space that have always been central to Brazil’s attempt to utilize spacefaring technologies monopolized by global powers. But different actors have responded to those inequalities in different ways. At one important level, inequalities are material facts about the human world—­properly interpreted with stratigraphic models or through economic and identarian categories that are portable across time and space. But, at another important level, inequalities are interpreted by social actors, as they fuel historically changing conceptions of how the world is structured and how it might be transformed. Brazil is an ideal site to study changing conceptions of inequality. The vast nation is one of the most socially and economically unequal places on earth and is frequently used to think about inequality elsewhere. Ever since Douglas Coupland used the term Brazilification in his 1991 novel Generation X to mean “the widening gulf between the rich and the poor and the accompanying disappearance of the middle classes” (1991, 11), Brazilification has been an often-­used shorthand, showing up this way in the works of such intellectuals as Sherry Ortner (2005), Michael Lind (1996), and Ulrich Beck (2000). In globally circulating representations, this emphasis on Brazil’s hellish inequality has at times changed places with a perspective that extols the nation as a model for inequality’s amelioration. For the early part of the twentieth century, Brazil’s race relations were regarded by many progressive and African American intellectuals 178

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as a site of harmonious racial integration that might be emulated—­a model that began to be replaced by an emphasis on Brazilian racism in the mid-­1960s (Hellwig 1992; Mitchell, Blanchette, and Silva, n.d.; Sansone 2003). And for a brief period at the start of the twenty-­first century’s second decade, Brazil was often held up as an example for its successful policies to reduce domestic inequalities (e.g., Altman 2012; on this see Mitchell, Blanchette, and Silva, n.d.). And it was frequently lauded as one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa)—­surging so­called emerging economies, auguring a reshuffling of inequalities on a global scale (see, e.g., Unger 2013). Since 2013, globally dominant narratives of Brazilian inequality have again predictably taken a dystopic turn, emphasizing endemic poverty, violence, disease, and corruption. But the utopian-­dystopian seesaw that characterizes globally circulating takes on Brazilian inequality should point us to the need for more ethnographically careful analyses of how inequality is lived in Brazil—­and elsewhere. Economic indicators and preestablished categories will not illuminate how people experience, reproduce, and contest inequality. My ethnography in Alcântara demonstrates that inequalities generate structures of legitimation and utopias of redress and that these culturally specific forms help organize how inequality is lived. I have shown that, at multiple scales, the structure of legitimation I have termed complemen­ tary hierarchy, and the utopia of redress I have termed mimetic  con­vergence, have declined in recent years in their power to shape people’s con­cep­ tions of inequality in Alcântara. Complementary hierarchy is a structure of legitimation that facilitates the maintenance of inequality through relations of deference and reciprocity between elites and nonelites. In the years since the recent conflicts in Alcântara began, residents of the peninsula have become much less convinced than they once were of the value of such deference and reciprocity. The breakdown of complementary hierarchy has been facilitated by alliances with newer far-­flung elites (intellectuals, lawyers, NGOs); it has not meant the end of inequality. But these newer elites have mostly attempted to undermine local relations of complementary hierarchy, and to foster the more adversarial politics in Alcântara that have taken root. As complementary hierarchy has been challenged, so has mimetic convergence. Mimetic convergence is a utopia of redress that imagines that a weaker party might reduce inequality by becoming more like a stronger party. This ideology was central to the idea that Alcântara’s rural residents must give up their existing way of life to win some measure of equality and civic participation. The idea helped legitimate the 179

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installation of agrovilas, but it is today rejected by many in Alcântara. Similarly, the ideology of “whitening”—­as both an obliterative (Ferreira da Silva 2010) model of national development and as a personal strategy for social mobility among the descendants of African and indigenous Brazilians—­has declined with the rise of an assertive black politics. And, on a national scale, mimetic convergence includes the conception of the space program as a project to flatten global technomilitary hierarchies, a nationalist vision now challenged by profit-­seeking models of space development less concerned with Brazil’s technomilitary convergence than with exploiting its equatorial niche for gain. Like all social change, the transformations I describe here are not final; as long as humans are alive, the end of history will be delayed in its arrival. Complementary hierarchy and mimetic convergence may regain strength, and new ways of politicizing inequality may emerge. And I do not know how Alcântara’s fragile impasse might end. Despite the federal government’s publicized intention to begin titling Alcântara’s “ethnic territory” in 2008 (INCRA 2008a), no action has been taken to award title to Alcântara’s villagers as I write this in December 2016, and prospects look even bleaker under the conservative government that took the presidency earlier in 2016. Meanwhile, proponents of the civilian space program, as well as foreign governments, are eager to begin construction in the forest surrounding the villages of Mamuna and Baracatatiua, while the villagers continue to use these forests and, assisted by their allies, plan strategies of resistance. This book holds no firm predictions about what the future might hold when Alcântara’s “equilibrium of antagonisms” does break. But the future of Alcântara will likely be shaped by relations and conceptions of inequality that are markedly different from those that were dominant when the air force’s space cavalry began its work.

After Complementary Hierarchy The nearly thirteen years of PT rule that span most of the period of research for this book came to a shocking end on August 31, 2016. Prompted by dubious claims of corruption (Carazzai 2016), president Dilma Rousseff was deposed by the conservative politicians with whom the PT had allied to maintain its coalition. Many of the political figures who acted to depose Dilma Rousseff promptly tried to stymie the corruption investigations in which they themselves were ensnared (Mendonça 2016). Soon after, the new government began to enact a brutal austerity program, 180

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modifying the constitution to prohibit increases in social spending for twenty years (Carta Capital 2016). This move locks economic inequality into Brazil’s constitution, preventing voters over the next two decades from enacting government policies that might challenge that inequality. The PT governments’ conciliation of classes I discuss in chapter 1 was made possible by a quickly growing economy, which allowed many parties to get what they wanted. The end of Brazil’s commodity boom has forced something to give. And the new government is doing all it can to assure that poor people will suffer the brunt of the consequences. After years of unsteady gains under the PT, many of the activists I have worked with in Brazil and spoken to recently are asking some version of the question that anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro asked when in exile during Brazil’s military regime: “Why, once again, was the dominating class defeating us?” (2000, xiv). But the sentiments of these activists are not shared by all. The year 2016 has marked a distinctly conservative turn in Brazilian politics, evident not only in President Rousseff’s impeachment but also in conservative gains in municipal and legislative elections throughout Brazil (Colon 2016). Several elements present in Brazil’s contemporary politics are fundamental to understanding this conservative turn: a fierce economic downturn; the often-­cynical use of anticorruption discourses; a middle class resentful of its loss of relative position under the PT; the rise of conservative evangelical politics; Brazil’s ever-­present fear of crime; and a backlash against pro-­Afro-­Brazilian, indigenous, feminist, and LGBT policy. Because these elements have not been major factors in the conflicts I have studied in Alcântara, they play a minor part in this book; they are, however, a focus of my current research on changing class relations in Brazilian cities. Before the impeachment and conservative political lurch, I had already been surprised by the class polarization in Brazilian politics. In the 2014 presidential elections, for example, the second and decisive round of voting pitted the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, the president since 2011, against Aécio Neves, the economically conservative candidate of the Social Democratic Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSDB). Dilma, as she is known, political heir to the then still wildly popular Lula, was besieged at the time by an economic downturn, emerging corruption scandals, a deeply hostile mass media, and large-­scale national protests. Nonetheless, Dilma won a narrow election and received her most decisive win in Belágua, the poorest municipality in the country (according to the 2010 census). A municipality in Maranhão, less than eighty-­two miles from Alcântara, Belágua awarded Dilma 93.93 percent of the vote, 181

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followed closely by Alcântara, which gave her 89.56 percent of the vote (Nery 2014). In 2010, Belágua’s average monthly household income was R$146.70 (about US$70) (  Jornal Pequeno 2011). In contrast, Aécio, as he is known, won his highest margin among the vastly wealthier Brazilians in the US city of Miami, where he commanded almost 91.79 percent of the vote (the US cities of Houston and Atlanta came in second and third for Aécio) (Nery 2014).1 This close alignment of Brazilian electoral preferences with material inequalities is something new. When he first successfully ran for president in 2002,2 Lula, despite a long-­standing political program of uplifting the poor, won only 44.3 percent of the vote in Brazil’s poorest region, the northeast (of which Maranhão is a part) but won Brazil’s prosperous south with 51.7 per­cent of the vote. By his reelection in 2006, however, the situation had changed: While Lula suffered only a modest decline in the affluent south, with 46.5 percent of the vote, he won a decisive 77.1 per­ cent in the northeast, a complete reversal (P. Anderson 2011), voting that reflected changes in inequality politics. By the time of the 2014 election, Maranhão, by many measures Brazil’s poorest state, voted in greater per­ cen­tage for Dilma than any other Brazilian state. This rise in class-linked voting patterns in Maranhão is in some ways surprising. Since at least the last half of the twentieth century, poor peo­ple in Maranhão have mostly not voted for class (or even straightforwardly political) reasons—­to the long dismay of social activists and scholarly critics in the state, who have attributed this lack of solidarity to clientelism (see, e.g., W. C. da Costa 2002), a claim supported by my own ethnographic material: state-­level politics in Mara­nhão were, until recently, dominated by the Sarney group (see chapter 3), a group that seldom tried to appeal to people’s collective or political interests but rather to more individualized patron-­client interest. Thus, Lela, the matriarch of a family in Alcântara, had told me that she had made sure that her household distributed their votes evenly among the candidates before the 2004 municipal elections, so that the family could claim friendship with and receive favors from any candidate elected. By 2014, however, she changed and insisted that they all vote only for PT-­allied candidates. This ideological change was widespread and the 2014 election saw the defeat of all the Sarney-­supported state-­level candidates. These data signal the emergence of a politics of collective interest that did not clearly exist during Alcântara and Maranhão’s twentieth century. It is the breakdown of poor people’s dependence on local networks of client relations—­ a breakdown in the structure of legitimation patron-­ that I have termed complementary hierarchy—­that has made possible this 182

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emerging collective interest. If I am correct in interpreting these electoral results, this breakdown of complementary hierarchy has also contributed to a political realignment along lines of inequality that seems to extend far beyond Alcântara. But political consciousness is a two-­way street. And the conservative turn in Brazilian politics since 2014—­the reemergence of middle-­class resentment and upper-­class politics on the national polit­ical stage—­signal a reworking of inequality politics in Brazil that I have only begun to understand.

After Mimetic Convergence The decline of complementary hierarchy has made possible new forms of collective interest and political solidarity, but the forms these solidarities have taken are also structured by the decline of the utopia of redress that I have termed mimetic convergence. In this book, I have shown how the project of the Brazilian launching center and the social struggle in Alcântara have changed over the last three and a half decades in related ways, revealing significant shifts in the politics of inequality in Brazil. In the 1980s (when the base was built), both the base and the local strug­ gle were inscribed in narratives of teleological and unilinear progress: the launching center in Alcântara would help propel Brazil into the ranks of major powers as it helped transform Alcântara’s residents into modern Brazilian citizens (an imaginary of progress that has often been implicitly or explicitly racist). The ideas of inequality resolved through mimetic convergence (between Brazil and the First World and between Brazil’s subordinate and dominant citizens) that sustained these narratives have lost their plausibility, desirability, and, one might say, institutionability for many in Alcântara and Brazil. In the early twenty-­first century, the possible futures that inspire (and win support for) political action draw less from ideas of convergence than from ideas of history, profit, sovereignty, and identity. In chapter 2 I argued that the contrast between mimetic convergence and the identity-­, profit-­, history-­, and sovereignty-­based conceptions that have come to compete with it is a contrast between ways of conceptualizing time, space, and difference, or what Bakhtin called chronotopes (1981). Through a series of empirical cases surrounding Alcântara’s spaceport, I have shown that what we might call convergent utopias have tended to give way to primordialist ones. Convergent utopias posit complete transformation—­an imaginary of equalization through convergence toward some singular teleological goal. Primordialist utopias, on the other hand, 183

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draw on actors and their properties seen as already existing, or ready to be recovered—­spatializing rather than temporalizing inequality and its redress. During the period that I lived and studied in Alcântara, primordialist utopias and the political projects informed by them had much greater access to resources, prestige, and allies (national and international) than convergent ones. Although imagined in terms of the ostensibly inevitable or archaic (Brazil’s equatorial niche, Alcântara’s ethnoracial character and history), primordialisms craft the presumed archaic out of the materials available in the present—­and they remain utopian. As Fernando Coronil has argued, and as this book contends, early twenty-­first-­century Latin America has been the site of diverse mobilizations around possible utopian futures and also of a “pervasive uncertainty with respect to the specific form of ideal future” (2011, 234). Many ambitious projects of social transforma­ tion have been under way in recent decades in Alcântara, although the future they might win remains unclear: the project of ethnoracial solidarity of the quilombo movement; the developmentalist project of the base’s planners; the neoliberal project to transform the area into a commercial launch site and; finally, the ongoing struggle of cash-­poor but resource-­rich villagers to protect the land that they have held, in some cases for centuries, and to win rights of well-­being in a Brazil of brutal inequality and ever-­spreading urban sprawl. Each of these projects entails conceptions of the good and the possible that I attempt to reveal in this book. Alcântara’s impasse has been marked by some political gains by Alcântara’s subaltern residents, especially as they have learned to avail themselves of a political and legal conjuncture that offers a network of allies— ­however tenuous—­to subalterns who can make ethnoracially based claims. There is great political possibility in these alliances, as the victories of Alcântara’s residents show, but there is also peril. As Janaína, a quilombo-­ movement leader frequently mentioned in this book, put it to me in a reflective moment after a meeting, “to be visible the quilombolas can’t just be poor, we also have to be pobres exóticos [the exotic poor]. But we’re always in danger of losing this, of ending up just some other poor people in a favela [a poor and unplanned urban neighborhood].”3 Although this politics of the primordial has won Alcântara’s residents some allies, gains, and recognition as quilombolas from the federal government, these efforts have yet to win anybody in Alcântara actual land title, and these politics are, as Janaína hinted here, tenuous and fraught with peril. Alcântara’s residents stand always in danger of sliding from pobres exóticos to unmarked pobres, ending up displaced among the ur184

s pa c e a n d u to p i a

ban poor of nearby São Luís or—­stripped of the conditions necessary for their rural social reproduction—­as part of Alcântara’s new semiurban sprawl of its own.

Unequal Space This chapter’s first epigraph, from Margaret Mead’s reflection on the sig­ nificance of Earth Day, captures beautifully the utopianism engendered by the famous Blue Marble photograph of Earth taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972. It is a vision of Earth made possible by space travel, an abstracted vision from far above, in which lines of conflict and domination fade into meaninglessness. Mead’s essay was written as a Cold War–­era plea that the perspective of space might inspire humankind to care more fully for the Earth and its peoples unbounded by any political boundaries—­as worthwhile a utopia as any humans have imagined. But as chapter 3 demonstrates, a similar utopian perspective is hard to find in Brazil’s own space program. To see the Earth from above, from no terrestrial vantage point but from that of an imagined universal humanity, is easy to do from the perspective of imperial space programs—­during the Cold War, by those in the United States or Soviet Union. But such a universalizing perspective fits poorly with the fraught task of catch-­up that the Brazilian space program set for itself at its inception. The second epigraph, from the song “Terra” (Earth) by the great Bra­ zilian songwriter Caetano Veloso, is also a utopian reflection on an early photo of the earth from space. But unlike Mead, Veloso roots his utopian musings about the Earth precisely in his own perspective on Mead’s “harsh impersonal structures of world politik.” He begins the song by noting that he saw the image of the Earth while in the Brazilian military regime’s prison.4 Even at its most abstract and universal, the utopia of space depends on terrestrial location. As Brazil’s brilliant nineteenth-­ century novelist Machado de Assis notes in the final epigraph, “the appearance of the landscape depends on your point of view,” and power—­or who holds “the whip,” as Assis puts it—­helps shape this point of view. Power, sociomaterial perspective, and utopia all work together to shape people’s horizons and hopes for the future. I argue in chapter 6 that scholars should be explicit about their own utopias. My own point of view is, of course, partial, but I should be explicit about mine for Alcântara: this book does not tell a simple story of good and evil. Both the project of the Brazilian space program and the projects of Alcântara’s residents and their allies are worthwhile, and 185

c o n c l u s io n

I wish them both success. Moreover, while in chapter 1 I critiqued the Lula government’s attempt to win a conciliation of classes and interests in Brazil and Alcântara, there is still hope that these projects in Alcântara can be harmonized, at least to some degree. The existing 8,713 hectares of land cleared for the spaceport contains enough room for both a nationally focused launchpad and up to two additional launchpads for international or commercial launch projects. The space program, more­­ over, does not have a material (as opposed to ideological) need for any more land from Alcântara’s residents at present. But if it is ever success­ ful enough to require more land, it should purchase that land elsewhere, at a price fairly negotiated with the residents of that land. Furthermore, the demand of Alcântara’s residents for greater compensation from the capital-­intensive (and potentially lucrative) project on their historical land is unambiguously just, as is their demand to retain their land and for greater participation and equality in a highly unequal society founded through slavery. All these goals are worthwhile and, while they have often been in conflict, they are not at root incompatible with each other. Alcântara’s future is uncertain and Alcântara’s impasse does not offer a simple solution. But in this book, I have attempted to uncover the conditions that have led to this impasse and through it to analyze the fraught politics of inequality in early twenty-­first-­century Brazil. In a Brazil and a world of growing population, resource conflicts, and staggering social and economic inequalities, how those inequalities are imagined, felt, and understood to be (or not to be) transformable or actionable is never simply given—­and is subject to wide variability. Ethnography can provide a small-­scale perspective on people’s varied perspectives, their shifting political horizons, and the complex meanings and effects of inequality in their lives. Through such small-­scale perspectives, we might create larger-­scale models for how that inequality might be transformed.


Chronology This list is not meant to be exhaustive. It chronicles some of the events that I think are central to the life of the Brazilian space program and the recent history of Alcântara. Some of the events were drawn from Nunes and Mitchell (2004). 1961 President Jânio

Quadros establishes GOCNAE (Organizational Group of the National Commission for Space Activities), inaugurating Brazil’s space program.


April 1, 1964

The exploratory GOCNAE is institutionalized as the CNAE (National Commission for Space Activities). The Brazilian military government comes to power in a US-­ supported coup d’état.


The Barreira do Inferno launch center is built in the city of Natal.


The first launch from Brazil is carried out, with a US-­built sub­ orbital Nike-­Apache rocket.


The first Brazilian-­made suborbital rocket, the Sonda I, is launched from Barreira do Inferno.


Alcântara Rural Workers’ Union is founded.


Institutions that guide Brazil’s space program in the coming years are formed: COBAE (Brazilian Commission for Space Activities) and INPE (National Institute for Space Research).


As Brazil’s military-­industrial exports begin to boom, the mili­ tary government approves the MECB (Brazilian Complete Space Mission), which includes as its key goals the development of satellites, the development of the VLS-­1 (satellite launch vehicle) rocket to launch those satellites, and the creation of a launch base


C h r o n o l o g y

in Alcântara (expansion of the Barreira do Inferno base was made impossible by the growth of the city of Natal). S e p t e m b e r 1 2 , 1 9 8 0

Maranhão state decree no. 7820 expropriates fifty-­two thousand hectares of land in Alcântara for the implantation of the base, for the “public good.”

1982 GICLA (the

Team for the Implantation of the Alcântara Launch Center) is created and subordinated to the Ministry of the Air Force.

July 7, 1982

June 1983

The STR (Rural Workers’ Union) and the Alcântara Parish send a petition to the Ministry of the Air Force present­­ ing the following demands: “For our survival, we want: 1) good and sufficient land to work, outside of the expropriated area; 2) proximity to the sea, because the great majority of us receive part of our families’ sustenance from fishing; 3) to remain together, because of the familial ties and friendships that unite us in our villages; 4) water, which is never lacking where we live; 5) pasture for our animals; 6) definitive property title to the land, once we have assented to it.”

July 1983

The federal and state governments accept these demands and sign an accord to that effect registered by a notary (em cartório).

1 9 8 3 –­1 9 8 5



Thirty young men from Alcântara are recruited in Alcântara and taken to São José dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo, to be trained by the government to carry out expropriation of villages. Machado was one of these young men.

The team for the implantation of the spaceport studies the municipality in order to expropriate land. Although the 1983 accord had specified that the land to be reallocated would be defined in November 1983, only in July 1985 did the Ministry of the Air Force present a proposal, offering land parcels of fifteen to twenty-­two hectares—­ significantly less than the thirty-­five hectares required by law at that time. The military regime falls. Following the death of the president-­elect, Tancredo Neves, the Maranhão-­state power broker José Sarney, who was allied to the military and was slated to become vice president, becomes the first civilian president in more than two decades.

C h r o n o l o g y 1986

The federal government sends a message to the president of the Rural Workers’ Union, agreeing to the thirty hectares of land demanded by Alcântara’s residents.

March 1986

Because the military has taken no action, villagers from Alcântara, with leadership from the Union, block the main road into Alcântara. Villagers only agree to give up the roadblock on April 1, when the air force agrees to discuss the size of the lots of land.

April 15, 1986

The Modulo Rural (the minimum amount of land legally allowed to settle a family of five in a given area) in Al­ cântara is reduced from thirty-­five to fifteen hectares by a decree from President Sarney.

1 9 8 6 –­1 9 8 7

Twenty-­three villages along Alcântara’s coast are expropriated in two phases. The approximately fifteen hundred people whose lands are expropriated are given lots of approximately fifteen hectares per household in the interior of the peninsula. The villagers are moved to seven agrovilas, named Perú, Peptal, Marudá, Espera, Cajueiro, Só Assim, and Ponta Seca.


The third phase of expropriation is planned for October 1988 (expropriating the seaside villages of Baracatatiua, Caiuaua, Peitiua, Camarajo de Cima, Camarajo de Baixo, Pacoval, Mamuna, São Francisco, Barbosa, Capijuba, Mam­ una II, Farol de Pirajuba, Brito, Itapera, Ponte, Folhau, Uru­Mirim, Uru-­Grande, Mato Grosso, Bom Viver, Rio Verde, Vista Alegre, Lago, Centro Alegre, Canelatiua, Arapiranga, and Retiro). Because of villager resistance budget shortfalls, this round of expropriation is never carried out.


After the fall of the military government, a new constitution includes the Quilombo Clause.


The Brazilian and Chinese space programs agree to build the CBRES (China-­Brazil Earth Resources Satellite).


Construction of the CLA (Alcântara Launch Center) is completed.


The first successful suborbital sounding rocket is launched from the CLA.


A new presidential decree expands the area expropriated from 52,000 to 62,000 hectares. As of this writing, however, a total of just over 8,713 have been physically expropriated.


C h r o n o l o g y 1992

A women’s political organization, MOMTRA (Movement of Woman Rural Workers of Alcântara), is created in Alcântara.


The first Brazilian-­built satellite, the SCD-­1 (Data Collection Satellite) is launched from Cape Canaveral with a US-­built Pegasus 3 rocket.


Villagers, under the leadership of the Rural Workers’ Union, occupy the headquarters of INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) in São Luís, demanding attention to villager plight.


Machado, after nine years in the air force, begins to organize villagers to protect their land.


The civilian AEB (Brazilian Space Agency) is created. Nonetheless, the launch center remains under control of the Ministry of the Air Force.


ACONERUQ (Association of Black, Rural, Quilombo Communities of Maranhão), the principal quilombo-­movement organization in the state of Maranhão is formed.


The public-­private company INFRAERO (Brazilian Corporation for Airport Infrastructure) announces that it will be carrying out the new round of expropriations.


The first attempted launch of the VLS-1 rocket from Alcântara veers off course and must be destroyed by remote control.


The second Brazilian-­built satellite, SCD-­2, is successfully launched from the United States.


The Sino-­Brazilian CBERS-­1 satellite is successfully launched from China.


The seminar “Seminário Alcântara: A Base Espacial e os Impasses Sociais” is held. Quilombo-­movement leaders in Alcântara report that this was the event that built momentum around the quilombo movement in Alcântara.


On the basis of this seminar, MABE (Movement of Those Affected by the Space Base) is created, taking the mantle from the Rural Workers’ Union as the leader of villager struggle and, unlike the Union, articulating the issue in racialized terms.


C h r o n o l o g y 1999

As part of a general demilitarization of the government, the military ministries are renamed comandos, and placed under the umbrella of the civilian ministry of defense.


The government’s environmental-­impact statement (a requirement of the 1988 constitution) is released. Representatives of villagers argue that it omits Alcântara’s population from its analysis.


The second attempt to launch the VLS-1 is aborted and the VLS-1 destroyed after its second-­stage rocket fails to ignite.


IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) agrees with villager representatives, invalidating the environmental impact statement that had garnered protest since the previous year for its omission of Alcântara’s population.


A contentious Technology Safeguards accord for US use of the base is signed by the Brazilian and US governments. It becomes a major political issue for Brazilians who allege that it threatens Brazilian sovereignty and is never ratified by the Brazilian congress.


With the support of NGOs, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and Global Justice, a suit in favor of Alcântara’s villagers is filed in the Inter-­American Commission on Human Rights.


The Sino-­Brazilian CBERS-­2 satellite is successfully launched from China.


The third prototype of the VLS-1 rocket explodes on its launchpad three days before takeoff, killing twenty-­one technicians in the space program.


The Brazilian and Ukrainian governments sign an agreement for the creation of a joint Brazilian-­Ukrainian com­ pany, Alcântara-­Cyclone Space.


A decree by the new Lula government makes “self-­ identification” the principal legal criterion for the titling of quilombo communities.


The Brazilian Congress approves the agreement between Brazil and Ukraine for the creation of a joint launch company, Alcântara-­Cyclone Space.


C h r o n o l o g y 2004

Plans are announced to create a civilian CEA (Alcântara Space Center) that will operate alongside the military CLA, focusing especially on commercial launches.


The GEI (Executive Interministerial Group), an interministerial group, is created to aid in the creation of the civilian Alcântara Space Center and the “sustainable development” of Alcântara.


The Ukrainian-­Brazilian company Alcântara-­Cyclone Space is formally created.


Brazilian astronaut, Marcos Cesar Pontes is launched to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-­8. The Brazilian government pays the Russian gov­ ernment US$10 million for this, a move that is widely criticized in Brazil.


A blockade by residents of Mamuna prevents the start of construction of a launch site by Alcântara Cyclone Space on villager land between Mamuna and Baracatatiua. A federal court sides with the villagers, and the new launch site is subsequently built on the exiting CLA.


INCRA publishes an official document affirming its intention to award land title to Alcântara’s quilombos (INCRA 2008a). However, because of opposition within the fed­ eral government, as of this writing no titles have been awarded.


The minister of defense, Nelson Jobim, publishes a letter to the federal attorney general opposing any awarding of quilombo land title, writing that, “a complex and ex­ tremely dangerous project requires an extensive empty area around it, revealing it to be completely incompatible, for reasons of security, with the occupation of the area” ( Jobim 2010).


The Sino-­Brazilian CBERS-­3 is lost when the Chang Zheng 4B rocket, lifting it from its launch site in China, malfunctions.


The Sino-­Brazilian CBERS-­4 satellite is successfully launched from China.


Amid political turmoil in both Ukraine and Brazil and doubts about its viability in the Brazilian space program (according to my sources there), Alcântara Cyclone


C h r o n o l o g y

Space disbands. Between 2006 and 2015 Brazil had invested approximately R$500 million (about US$200 million) in the project.

August 31, 2016

The PT (Workers’ Party) president, Dilma Rousseff, is impeached, and the conservative Michel Temer is installed. The new government promptly begins to dismantle the redistributive apparatus put in place by the PT and to write long-­term austerity into the constitution. This ends the period of Workers’ Party governance that spans most of the research for this book and creates significant uncertainty for Brazil’s space program and Alcântara’s quilombolas.

January 2017

Reports in the Brazilian press state that the controversial “Technology Safeguards” accord for the US use of the spaceport is being secretly negotiated by the Temer administration and the incoming Trump administration.


Abbreviations ABA Brazilian Anthropological Association ABIN Brazilian Intelligence Agency ACONERUQ  Association of Black, Rural, Quilombo Communities of Maranhão ADCT Transitory Constitutional Devices Act Brazilian Space Agency AEB AIAB Association of Brazilian Aerospace Industries CBRES China-­Brazil Earth Resources Satellite Black Cultural Center CCN CEA Alcântara Space Center CLA Alcântara Launch Center CNAE National Commission for Space Activities COBAE Brazilian Commission for Space Activities COHRE Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions CONAQ National Coordination of Quilombos Communities DEPED Aerospace Technology Command Ministry of the Military EFMA Palmares Cultural Foundation FCP FUNAI National Indian Foundation GEI Executive Interministerial Group GERUR Rural and Urban Study Group GICLA Team for the Implantation of the Alcântara Launch Center GOCNAE Organizational Group of the National Commission for Space Activities GTAM Amazônia Work Group Air and Space Institute IAE IBAMA Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources IBGE Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics INCRA National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform


A b b r e v i at i o n s

INFRAERO  Brazilian Corporation for Airport Infrastructure INPE National Institute for Space Research MABE Movement of Those Affected by the Space Base MDA Ministry of Agrarian Development MECB Brazilian Complete Space Mission MIRAD Ministry of Agrarian Reform and Development MMA Ministry of the Environment MOMTRA Movement of Woman Rural Workers of Alcântara MST Landless Workers’ Movement MTCR Missile Technology Control Regime NGO nongovernmental organization PCdoB Communist Party of Brazil PFL Liberal Front Party (renamed Democratas in 2007) PLACTS (Pensamiento Latinoamericano en Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad; Latin American Thought in Science, Technology, and Society) Brazilian Democratic Movement Party PMDB PNAE National Program for Space Activities PSDB Brazilian Social Democratic Party PT Workers’ Party SBPC Brazilian Society for Scientific Progress SCD Data Collection Satellite SEPPIR Special Secretary of Politics for the Promotion of Racial Equality SNI National Intelligence Agency STR/STTR Rural Workers’ Union STS science, technology, and society UFMA Federal Universal of Maranhão UnB University of Brasília UNDP United Nations Development Programme UNESCO United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization University of São Paulo USP VLS satellite launch vehicle


Notes introduction


2. 3. 4.


6. 7. 8.

See Conca 1997 on the rise and fall of a Brazilian military-­ industrial complex that surged with exports during the Cold War. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from texts in Portuguese, as well as from ethnographic materials, are my own. Thomas More ([1516] 1965) coined the term utopia from the Greek: οὐ (not) and τόπος (place), literally “no-­place.” It is because of this imagined, unreachable character that Marx so brutally excoriated the socialists he characterized as “utopians” ([1847] 1992, 92; [1852] 1963, 23). While Marx is one of the great exemplars of the fact that social analysis—­if it hopes to achieve material goals—­needs to be rooted in a rigorous attempt to understand reality, those material goals are also shaped also by imagined utopias. It has become familiar reflex to associate utopian politics with the horrors of Stalin and Mao. But, as Graeber points out, Stalinism and Maoism were not characterized by utopianism as such but by the untenable idea that their utopianism, their vision of the good society, was a matter of scientific fact (2004, 10–­11). In this sense, they resemble neoliberalism. After all, it is neoliberalism—­sharing Stalinism’s and Maoism’s disdain for political fantasy—­that rests its political judgments on the presumption of economic law. See Holston 1989 for a sharp analysis of another Brazilian utopia gone awry, the modernist capital, Brasília. See I. B. Leite 2012 on the different meanings and history of these terms. The Quilombo Clause is a constitutional guarantee in Brazil’s 1988 constitution, in article 68 of the Ato dos Dispositivos


n o t e s t o pa g e s 8 – 2 7

Constitucionais Transitórios (ADCT), or transitory constitutional devices—­ named transitory because they are intended to be implemented and then phased out. Written into the document along with two articles in the con­sti­ tution’s permanent body protecting and enshrining Brazilian black cul­ture, article 68, as it is sometimes glossed, protects the land of escaped slave-­ descended communities. In the official English translation of the consti­tu­ tion, it reads: “Final ownership shall be recognized for the remaining mem­ bers of the ancient runaway slave communities who are occupying their lands and the State shall grant them the respective title deeds.” The quilombo movement is the sizable political movement that has formed around this clause. In recent years, there has been an explosion of claims of quilombo status for communities throughout Brazil, as I detail in chapter 5. 9. The book is better known in English by the name of its English translation, The Masters and the Slaves (1946). 10. In keeping with anthropological practice and to guard people’s privacy and safety, Evelyn’s name is a pseudonym, as are the names of all individuals mentioned herein except widely-­known public figures and the authors of works cited. 11. For an excellent ethnographic exploration of rural anxiety in the context of intense development, in a very different Brazilian context than the one I describe but with some significant parallels, see Dent 2009. 12. The equator is the most fuel-­efficient place to launch satellites. The Earth rotates faster on the equator than at any other point, at 1,037.56 miles per hour, completing full rotation in 24 hours where the earth’s circumference is greatest. So rockets launched east from the equator need less fuel to reach orbital speed than from more distant latitudes. Chapter one





Whenever I am in Brazil, I purchase a few sacks of farinha d’água to take home to the United States. It is hard to find outside of the Amazon, but in the megacities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo it can be found in a few shops specializing in Amazonian products. This delicious dark purple stone fruit that grows on high flagpole-­thin palms is known as juçara in this region where, after the thin edible surface of many fruits is pounded off the much larger inedible hard seed, it usually is eaten unsweetened, with farinha d’água and dried shrimp. It is known elsewhere in Brazil and throughout the world as acai. But most acai that is machine-­processed, sweetened, and produced for export comes from Pará, the Amazonian state to Maranhão’s northwest. Alcântara Cyclone Space never succeeded in conducting a satellite launch and was disbanded in 2015. According to my sources within the civilian space agency, it was dissolved because of political turmoil in both Ukraine and Brazil and internal doubts about its viability among space program

n o t e s t o pa g e s 2 7 – 3 7

officials. Some Brazilians contend that it was United States influence on the Ukrainian government that came to power in 2014 that caused Ukraine to pull out of the deal ( J. Assis 2017). I do not have the knowledge to evaluate this claim, but as chapters 3 and 7 discuss, the United States has been consistently opposed to Brazil’s launch program and some Brazilians suspect the United States of covert action against the space program. According to my sources in the space program, between 2006 and 2015 Brazil invested approximately R$500 million (about US$200 million) in the project. 4. In scholarly literature developmentalism most often refers to an ideology of state-­driven autonomous economic growth, especially by means of supplanting imports through the stimulation of domestic industry, an ideology that prevailed in many Latin American countries during the mid-­twentieth century (Sikkink 1991; Love 1996). In this book, I use the term in a more general sense to refer to the varied political orientations emphasizing state-­ driven economic and technological advance that were central to Brazilian economic policy and national ideology from the Getúlio Vargas’s governments beginning in the 1930s until the final decades of the twentieth century. Although developmentalism is frequently associated with the political left in Latin America, the broader orientation that I describe here spans left-­ right divides (Conca 1997, 27; Martins 2000; Skidmore 1967). In chapter 7, I also contrast what I term developmentalist nationalism, concerned principally with state-­driven technomilitary progress, with territorial nationalism, concerned instead with the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. 5. This so-­called new middle class is the principal empirical focus of my current research. 6. For the canonical capitalist version of mimetic convergence, see Rostow 1962. 7. Since the title of this work is Constellations of Inequality, I should mention that the Brazilian flag pictures the stars and constellations visible in the sky over Rio de Janeiro on November 15, 1889, the date of the coup d’état that overthrew Brazil’s constitutional monarchy of the Empire of Brazil and es­ tablished Brazil’s First Republic. 8. The Portuguese phrase Brasil um País de Todos contains the ambiguous “de” which can mean both “of” and “from.” 9. It is notable, however, that as early as 1986, before the 1988 constitution conferred special rights to quilombo communities, the term quilombo did appear in a news report describing Alcântara’s villages (Lopes 1986), lending support to the arguments of chapters 5 and 6 that more than legal incentives are prompting quilombo identification. 10. The secretaries are ministry-­level positions responsible for the coordination of the politics implemented by the ministries proper. Although not officially “ministries,” they each have an appointed minister. 11. This is almost equal to the approximately US$300 million that had been spent on the base during its first two decades.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 3 7 – 4 1

12. In 2016, the conservative government of Michel Temer took away the ministerial status of SEPPIR and the Ministry of Women, making them subordinate to the Ministry of Human Rights. 13. This includes SEPPIR’s then minister, Matilde Ribeiro, who also visited Alcântara during her time in office. To the great disappointment of Alcântara’s social movements, who had hoped to find in her their best ally in the federal government, Ribeiro said that she thought that more forced dislocation in Alcântara was probable, and that she had no decision-­making power in the matter. 14. Despite this difference and distance, there has been an enormous recent migration from the region of which Alcântara is a part to Brasília. One Sunday in Brasília, I rented a car to explore the “satellite cities” which have sprung up around the strictly delimited and thoroughly planned city proper. Pulling over on the side of the highway to buy some tangerines from a young man, I was surprised to hear his utterly distinct rural Baixada Maranhense accent. He was from Pinheiro, a municipality that neighbors Alcântara. 15. It is notable that the uniformly hostile posture of the Brazilian media toward Lula and the PT was not for a time shared by major Anglophone media, including economically conservative sources like the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. These foreign media, however, became generally favorable toward Lula during Brazil’s economic boom (roughly 2004–­2010), in part, I would argue, because his administration was perceived as providing a capital-­friendly alternative to the feared “populist” Latin American left led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez ( J. French and Fortes 2012; S. T. Mitchell 2014). 16. Brazil’s first post-­dictatorship election was an indirect election, and the vice president elect, the Maranhense, José Sarney (about whom see chapter 3), allied to the military, took power only after the death of the president-­elect (allied to the party opposing the military), Tancredo Neves. 17. It is typical of the convolutions produced by the alliances between Lula and José Sarney, the former Brazilian president and state-­level local strongman (see chapter 3)—­two figures who could hardly be more politically distinct—­that Alcântara’s mayor in 2006, although allied locally to Sarney’s group, was actually from the right-­wing PFL (the Liberal Front Party, re­named Democratas in 2007), which was antagonistic to Sarney’s PMDB (the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) on the national political scene. Sarney’s political machine functioned in Maranhão through both the PMDB and the PFL. Sarney’s daughter, the former Maranhão governor, presidential hopeful, and senator, Roseana Sarney, was then in the PFL. In return for Sarney’s continued support for the Lula administration in the senate, Lula stumped for Roseana Sarney in her campaign for a new term as Maranhão governor in 2006, despite his party’s enmity with hers and to the horror


n o t e s t o pa g e s 4 9 – 5 7

18. 19.

20. 21.

of the state PT. Despite Lula’s help, Roseana Sarney lost that bid for the governorship. “Zero Hunger” is both the name of the program and the title of the book. Ansell’s concept of intimate hierarchy is closely related to the concept of complementary hierarchy that I develop here. But I use a different concept because Ansell’s key focus with intimate hierarchy is the mutual vulnerability of the strong and weak in rural Brazil, as it shapes social interactions between patrons and clients (2014, 69), while I am more concerned with poor people’s reduced material dependence on local elites and the social effects of that reduced dependence. The first of those two mayors was a man, the second, a woman. These new pools and grinders have replaced, in some areas, the traditional technology of farinha d’água production, which I describe in chapter 2.

Chapter two





This is a fragment of Gullar’s famous poem, Poema Sujo (Dirty Poem). Poema Sujo is more than an exemplar of the genre of nostalgic Alcântara poetry, since it is concerned with a wide range of topics. Gullar, from nearby São Luís, wrote this poem while in exile in Argentina during Brazil’s military government. Alcântara plays a bit part in the poem, standing in for faded opulence and emptiness. My translation is a modification of Leland Guyer’s (1990). Josue Montello’s novel of Alcântara’s decline, Noite Sobre Alcântara, is the seminal literary statement of this perspective. It describes Alcântara as appearing “closed in by the dense vegetation that invades it. From far away, at the sight of a mamona tree, at the edge of the shade, one has the impression that the wild has already planted its flag of conquest there. Soon, above the roofs, the vines and creepers will have covered everything with branches” (1978, 7). A few sections of Alcântara increasingly resemble, in their cash-­dependent poverty and their population density, the many impoverished slums of the nearby state capital, São Luís, where improvised shacks perch on stilts ( palafitas) above the tidewaters. If pressure on land in Alcântara’s countryside continues apace and without effective government intervention, in a few decades Alcântara may take on the character of unplanned and desperate urbanity that characterizes many of São Luís’s peripheral neighborhoods. On inequality and violence in urban São Luís, see Linger 1992. In keeping with Brazilian usage, I use the term Índios to refer to Brazil’s indigenous peoples. While the term has been rejected by many Native Americans in the US and elsewhere in the Americas, it was explicitly valorized by the Brazilian indigenous movements of the 1970s and 1980s and is widely used in Brazil as a term of self-­identification (Ramos 1998, 5–­6).


n o t e s t o pa g e s 5 7 – 6 0







The key exception to this is agrarian reform that has been won by Brazil’s MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, Landless Workers’ Movement). The nationwide MST has availed itself of a provision in Brazil’s 1988 constitution that requires the Brazilian government “to expropriate for the purpose of agrarian reform, rural property that is not performing its social function.” The MST stages land occupations on unproductive plots and forces the government’s hand in distributing the land to landless people. The MST has had limited activity in Alcântara, where most of the people who have been at the center of land conflict still occupy their land. But in many other areas of Brazil the MST has had considerable success. On the MST see DeVore 2015; Morton 2014; Schock 2015; Wolford 2003. Brazilian government sources (see, e.g., Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional, n.d.) usually translate Tapuitapera as “terra dos Índios” in Portuguese or “land of Indians.” I tried to track down a more precise etymology for the term. One nineteenth-­century source suggests that the name Tapuitapera signified “land of enemy Indians” (Martius 1863, cited in D’Evreux 1874, 357), but a seventeenth-­century source indicates that it referred to “another residence of Tupinambá Indians” (D’Abbeville 1614, cited in Veiga 2013, 88). I made an inquiry on the listserv of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America, which is read by many experts in the indigenous people and languages of the region. Dominique Tilkin Gallois suggested that “the term ‘tapui’ is a frequent Portuguese derivation of tapy’yj [tapy’yi], enemy, and tapera a derivation of tapererã, or taperã, ancient village, abandoned village.” Kathleen Lowrey, Kacper Swierk, Eric Levin, Barbara Sommer, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, and Marcelo Fiorini agreed and made similar points, and Fiorini suggested that the best approximate meaning of Tapuitapera was “an abandoned non-­Tupian (therefore ‘enemy’) village,” probably referencing an earlier period of non-­ Tupinambá settlement. The ability of enslaved people to win their freedom in the face of economic decline of owners is not unique to Maranhão. For example, George Reid Andrews notes that in mid-­seventeenth century Cuba, many enslaved peo­ple won de facto freedom because of the bankruptcy of a copper mine in Santiago del Prado (2004, 22). Matthias Röhrig Assunção suggests that four factors contributed to the “exceptional frequency, size, and longevity” of quilombos in nineteenth century Maranhão: “the high proportion of slaves in relation to the free population in the north of the province[;] the existence of abundant rainforests, with many rivers and streams[;] the existence of a frontier, that is, a vast area not controlled by the State, next to the plantation areas[;], and the political instability during the years 1820–­1841” (1996, 393). Later in chapter 4, I return to describe community members’ interactions with this Lieutenant Colonel Anselmo.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 6 0 – 7 2

10. Francinaldo, then fifty-­four years old, was among the first generation in the interior of Alcântara to learn how to read. 11. In 2005, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) reported Alcântara’s population to be 22,359 (IBGE 2005). About five thousand of these people live in Alcântara’s little urban center, and the rest live in the more than two hundred rural villages scattered throughout the rural forested areas. 12. Tourists seldom stay overnight in Alcântara, except during a few key festivals in the region, especially around the time of the Festa do Divíno Espiritu Santo, which is usually in May, and the Festa de São Benedíto in August. From one to one and a half hours by boat from the state capital, it is a fre­ quent day-­trip destination. It is hard to imagine a tourist sitting through the two-­hour video, especially since there is usually only one afternoon passenger boat to São Luís. So, after lunch, tourists have little time to explore the town before they are pressed to return to the dock. 13. The former slave-­plantation areas of the Baixada Maranhense, where Alcântara is located, are unique in Brazil for a specific local appropriation of reggae, which people started to listen to via shortwave radio broadcast from the nearby Caribbean during the 1970s. When I lived in the region, a rural party in the Baixada, and many urban parties on the periphery of São Luís, invariably meant a reggae party. To a slow-­groove-­based reggae emanating from the obligatory and enormous traveling speakers called a radiola, people in the Baixada dance in a slow couple-­based style that differs from the way in which reggae is danced anywhere else, including in Bahia, where reggae was also known in the 1970s. The best treatment of reggae in Maranhão is in C. B. R. da Silva 1995. 14. Although the bus is inscribed “Ministério de Aeronáutica,” the air force no longer holds its own ministry in Brazil. Like much at the CLA, the projects of different political eras share space on this vehicle. Along with the sepa­ rate ministries of the army and navy, the Ministry of the Air Force was eliminated with the creation of the civilian Ministry of Defense under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration in 1999 (Hunter 2000, 116). Still, the base is often referred to locally as the “Aeronáutica.” 15. These hammocks are made from nylon twine that frequently washes up on Mamuna’s shore. Because it faces São Luís, Mamuna’s shore receives much detritus from São Luís, some of it useful. Many of Mamuna’s residents wear mismatched flip-­flops, for example, one of the bay’s most common offerings. 16. There is a sharp debate within political science about the extent to which the military has lost political power in the years since the fall of the 1964–­ 1985 military government. Notably, Hunter (1997, 2000) argues that the military has lost most of its prerogatives to the civilian government, while Zaverucha (2000, 2005) argues that the military still retains significant prerogatives.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 7 3 – 8 2

17. Through an analysis of property relations among rural squatters in northeast Brazil, DeVore makes a similar case, drawing together conceptual re­ sources for circumventing the Cold War dichotomy between “collective” and “private” property, which continues to shape political projects concerned with social inequality and development (2017). Chapter three


A surprise dry-­season rain had wet some of the electrical parts of the rocket days earlier; however, after the equipment was dried, it was found to be undamaged (M. A. C. do Nascimento et al. 2004, 25). 2. The images were released in the Ministry of Defense’s 2004 investigative report (M. A. C. do Nascimento et al. 2004, 30–­31). 3. For an exemplary study into the social and technical causes of another spaceflight disaster, see Vaughan 1996. 4. See Collins 2004 for an excellent ethnographic analysis of such conflicts over future-­oriented projects in Brazil. 5. Not far from Alcântara, Pinheiro is the largest city in the mostly rural Bai­ xada Maranhense. Sarney’s influence shapes politics throughout the state, but in the Baixada, his client networks are especially inescapable. It is worth noting here that Sarney is a fiction writer of some acclaim. Much of his work, including his most famous novel, O Dono do Mar (1995; The lord of the sea), is suffused with Maranhense mythology. 6. The Mirante provides local news and programming for Brazil’s dominant Globo network. 7. On the day of the explosion, the president of the Brazilian Space Agency was in Moscow in negotiations with the Russian government for the possible use of the base. There have been negotiations over time between Brazil’s space program and those of Russia, Ukraine, the United States, China, and Israel—­all of which are interested in the gravitational advantages offered by Alcântara’s equatorial location, and all possessing more successful launching programs than Brazil. According to sources at the space agency, Russian technicians were immediately invited to participate in the Brazilian investigation. 8. A handful of ethnographies that take technoscience and inequality very seriously are models for this study, in particular Gusterson 1996; Masco 2006. 9. In its earlier versions, the idea of “symmetry” in STS emphasized use of the same analytic tools to explain true and false beliefs (Bloor [1976] 1991; Hess 2001); later formulations emphasized use of the same analytic tools to analyze human agents and nonhuman objects. In an important essay in the development of “postcolonial technoscience,” Redfield (2002) joins this emphasis on symmetry to Chakrabarty’s (2000) push for the provincialization of Europe’s ostensible universals. 10. A suborbital launch reaches space but does not enter orbit.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 8 3 – 9 1

11. For some touchstones in the burgeoning literature in the anthropology of space, see Battaglia 2006; Farman 2012; Helmreich 2012; Hoeppe 2012; Messeri 2016; Masco 2012; Olson 2012; Redfield 2000; Valentine 2012. 12. The annual budget of the US space program, by far the world’s largest, ranges from about $15 billion to $20 billion per year. 13. Even during Brazil’s economic boom of the 2000s, industrial production played a shrinking part in the Brazilian economy. From 2002 to 2009 manufactured goods dropped from 55 percent to 44 percent of Brazil’s exports, while raw materials grew from 28 percent to 41 percent of Brazil’s exports (P. Anderson 2011; F. de Oliveira 2006; G. M. Rocha 2007). 14. The cost of a VLS-1 rocket itself was approximately US$6.5 million in 2003 (Gouveia 2003, 33). 15. Satellite launching is dominated by a few countries and companies. From 2007 to 2011, 38 percent of commercial and noncommercial launches were Russian, 24 percent were launched by the United States, 16 percent by China, 9 percent by Europe (with most of the European launches taking place at Kourou—­a base in French Guiana). Japan, India, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, and Iran also launched some satellites during this period and until this publication. Some launches were also carried out from the Sea Launch equatorial launching platform, formerly controlled by a multinational consortium of companies and today controlled by the Russian corporation Energia Overseas Limited (Federal Aviation Administration 2012, 17–­18). 16. As a researcher from the United States living and working with quilombolas in Alcântara, I was regarded with suspicion by officials of the spaceport and denied access to the grounds of the spaceport itself. Consequently, this section, and my ethnographic data about the base, are derived primarily from textual sources, informal conversations, and off-­the-­record (and off-­ the-­spaceport) interviews. 17. There have been more than three hundred successful suborbital launches from Brazil. 18. This right-­wing military nationalism, as Lourenção observes, does have some commonalities with forms of anti-­imperial nationalism more often associated with the left (2007, 169). 19. CBRES (China-­Brazil Earth Resources Satellite) is a successful binational satellite program, and Brazilian-­built satellites have been launched successfully from the United States. 20. Alcântara Cyclone Space was a joint Brazilian-­Ukrainian company agreed upon by the two nations in 2003 to exploit Alcântara’s gravitational advantages and Ukraine’s launching technology in international satellite launch markets. The company was disbanded in 2015. 21. Cited in P. Nogueira 2004; see also Costa Filho 2002; Escada 2005, 107–­13; Furtado and Costa Filho 2003, 26; R. Nogueira 2003. 22. The rocket at this launch was the prototype of the VSB-­30 suborbital sounding rocket, constructed in partnership with the German Space Agency.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 9 2 – 9 9

23. Some of these soldiers are also stationed at Brazil’s Barreira do Inferno launch base in the northeastern city of Natal. The base was built in 1965, four years after the inception of the space program, but the city of Natal encroached and made expansion impossible. Many of the civilian engineers and technicians, on the other hand, live and work in the city of São José dos Campos in the state of São Paulo, the hub of Brazil’s aerospace and military industries. 24. Brazil’s “racial democracy,” as articulated in the 1930s by Freyre, was shaped through sexual relations between white men and nonwhite women. The idea that such relations—­although often marred by inequality and domination—­ show Brazil’s lack of racism is an enduring one. As Goldstein writes, “in Brazil, it is widely believed that miscegenation and racism are contradictory, yet it is precisely their superficially uncomplicated coexistence that is part of Brazil’s uniqueness” (2003, 127). That relations between white men and nonwhite women are foundational to the nation is not merely part of “racial democracy’s” mythology but also has some material substantiation. One study of self-­identified white Brazilians suggested, on the basis of genomic evidence, that “the immense majority (probably more than 90 percent) of the patrilines of Brazilian whites is of European origin, while the majority (approximately 60 percent) of the matrilines is of Amerindian or African origin” (Pena et al. 2000, 23). While, as Santos and Maio suggest, such findings cannot simply be taken at face value (2004), my friends’ sense of sexual-­racial marginalization in comparison to these well-­to-­do white technicians should not be surprising. 25. Alcântara’s land and seascapes are populated with a wide variety of spirits and enchanted spaces, known locally as encantados and lugares de encantaria. These sites, often associated with the ruins of Alcântara’s slave infrastructure, are in some cases avoided as spiritually dangerous places. 26. Tambor de Crioula is practiced throughout the Baixada Maranhense and in São Luís. 27. “NewSpace” refers to the emerging sector of commercially-­oriented space­ flight companies that, to some degree, work independently of the governments and conventional government contractors that, during the twentieth century, were responsible for spaceflight. 28. It is possible that the nature of Brazilian rhetoric could shift if their space program moves from failure to success. Redfield’s anthropological study of the European Space Agency’s base in French Guiana (2000) traces such ideological shifts, as that program went from failure to success. 29. For an excellent ethnographic and historical work on the importance of opacity, see Ohnuki-­Tierney 2015. Chapter four



The location is superior to the European Space Agency’s launching center at Kourou in French Guiana, which is 5.3° north of the equator.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 9 9 – 1 0 6







Anselmo was implying that it was Maranhão potentate, former Brazilian president, and national power-­broker José Sarney who brought the base not to the air force’s preferred location, the state of Amapá to the north, but to Alcântara. A number of sources within the federal government later confirmed this claim, and I have no reason to doubt its truth. During the time of Sarney’s presidency, critics charged that he transformed the space program into a source of clientelist money for Maranhão. A 1989 article in the Folha de São Paulo, for example, criticized the president: “The Brazilian Complete Space Mission (MECB), which predicts the launch of the first national satellite in the second semester of this year, was reduced, during the Sarney government, to the mere inauguration of the launch base in Alcântara, in Maranhão (the state where the president was born)” (Folha de São Paulo 1989). After consulting several experts about the matter, I do know the answers to these questions now. There are several places on the Brazilian coast offer­ ing equivalent gravitational advantages to Alcântara’s (though it has always been highly unlikely that the Brazilian government would move such a costly installation). And there is enough space for two additional installations to be placed within the existing base. In fact, after a 2008 judicial decision, one civilian installation was placed within the military controlled base (S. T. Mitchell, forthcoming). Callon and Latour define a black box as follows: “A black box contains that which no longer needs to be reconsidered, those things whose contents have become a matter of indifference. The more elements one can place in black boxes—­modes of thoughts, habits, forces and objects—­the broader the construction one can raise” (1981, 285). For a brilliant synthesis and comparison of such an actor-­network perspective with a political-­economic perspective in Latin Americanist anthropology, see Ferry 2013. While I lived in Alcântara, Almeida frequently traversed Brazil for political and scholarly activities. He held successive professorships at the Universi­ dade Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro and the Universidade Federal de Amazonas in Manaus; he also gave an extended seminar to students at the Universidade Federal do Maranhão. He often returned to Alcântara—­a region where he has been conducting field research for more than three decades and of which he has encyclopedic knowledge. As I have mentioned numerous times in this book, I was also an actor in these conflicts. I frequently used my anthropological authority and expertise to aid in the struggles of the quilombolas while in Alcântara: helping MABE write a successful grant application to a German NGO; conducting interviews in Alcântara’s communities and, on that basis, helping MABE and community leaders draft the document sent to the federal government’s Fundação Cultural Palmares affirming the communities’ self-­identification as quilombolas; and other activities.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 0 7 – 1 1 9


One village in Alcântara has the name Fora Cativeiro, which literally means “Out of Captivity.” The community does not feature in this book, because it stands outside the area claimed by the spaceport. 9. Although ESPN, the sports network, would seem an unlikely source for journalism about a place like Alcântara, the network had produced a one-­ hour episode about the city. It was part of a series led by the (now deceased) retired Brazilian soccer great and journalist Sócrates to promote sporting activities in poor municipalities throughout Brazil. Alcântara, which is as photogenic as it is cash poor, was one of the ten municipalities chosen. 10. Months later, he refused to be interviewed in Brasília. 11. They are all Brazilians except for a few Portuguese-­speaking foreigners, such as me. 12. Vieira’s verdict on Maranhão—­the “kingdom of lies”—­is a familiar refrain in Maranhão politics and popular culture. Perhaps Maranhão’s most famous contemporary musical export, for example, the Maranhão-­born singer-­songwriter Zeca Baleiro, frames a song, “A Serpente (Outra Lenda),” with quotes from the sermon. The song deftly combines the trance-­like rhythms of the Matraca-­style Bumba-­Meu-­Boi folk music from Maranhão with rock instrumentation and phrasing. Baleiro draws on macabre Maranhão mythology in a hymn to the serpent described by Maranhão folklore as growing beneath São Luís, the island on which Maranhão’s capital city is located. According to legend, when the serpent has grown enough that its head reaches its tail, it will strangle the entire island, dragging it to the depths of the sea. Ambiguously joining a spirit of playful festiveness with nostalgia and a grim destructiveness, the chorus rousingly implores: “I want to see, want to see the serpent wake. I want to see, want to see the serpent wake. So that the city might never again sleep. So that the city might never again sleep.” Chapter five





Other significant conflicts between quilombo communities and the Brazilian military include those in Marambaia, Forte Príncipe da Beira, and Rio dos Macacos. The seminal publication that resulted from this early work was Projeto Vida de Negro 2002. The work grew out of research by Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida in 1988 and 1989. As Mattos notes, it laid the groundwork for much future work of anthropologists and activists in (1) grounding identi­ fication of rural black communities through ethnic self-­identification and the collective use of land and (2) the historical research into the existence of historical (especially nineteenth-­century) quilombos in the areas where these communities are located (2003, 186). Peace in the Countryside (Paz no Campo), the key anti-­quilombo political organization, contends that the quilombo movement, the MST (Landless

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 1 9 – 1 3 2

Workers’ Movement), and their government allies are waging a war against private property and land ownership in Brazil (see Barreto 2007). In what could hardly be more richly symbolic of the old-­monied and elite character of this movement, a chief spokesperson of the campaign is the Prince Dom Bertrand de Orleans e Bragança, heir to Brazil’s imperial throne, which ceased to exist in 1889. 4. The Estado Novo (New State) was the period from 1937 to 1945 when president Getúlio Vargas possessed dictatorial powers. He reorganized the Brazilian state to favor economic nationalism, corporatist relations between labor unions and the government, and a nationalist project extolling racial and cultural mixture (Skidmore 1967). 5. English-­language readers may interpret this as a critique of Jan Hoffman French, who has written extensively about the social effects of the Quilombo Clause (2004, 2006, 2009). It is not. French does an excellent job of showing how law operates as one social force among many, as do other ethnographic writers on the Quilombo Clause (Almeida 2002; Arruti 2006; M. L. Bowen 2010; Figueiredo 2011; Kenny 2011; O’Dwyer 2002; Silberling 2003). 6. The census categories that capture the vast majority of Brazilians are branco (white), preto (black), and pardo (brown). The remaining categories of amarelo (yellow, meaning Asian) and indígena (indigenous) group account for small minorities. 7. Following Fry (2005, 194), who cites Sheriff’s (1995, see also 2001) critique, I call them “styles” because they are not systematic enough to be called “systems” of classification. Also, drawing from Sheriff (1995), Fry acknowledges a further subdivision between the binary form of racial classification held by black-­movement activists and intellectuals—­which cannot coexist with the multiple style—­and the “popular” bipolar style, which many Bra­ zilians sometimes draw from, which does coexist with a multiple style. 8. Literally, “The Integration of Blacks into Class Society,” the title reflected Fernandes’s Marxist perspective. The work was released in English translation more ambiguously as The Negro in Brazilian Society (1971). 9. IBGE (the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) is Brazil’s highly regarded federal agency responsible for collecting and making available statistical data about Brazil’s population and geography. 10. For some excellent studies in English on this emerging ethnoracial organizing and sentiment, see M. L. Bowen 2017; J. F. Collins 2011; J. H. French 2009; Hordge-­Freeman 2015; G. Mitchell 2009; Pinho 2010; Selka 2008; Paschel 2016; Perry 2013; Roth-­Gordon 2017; Smith 2016; Sullivan 2017; Warren 2001; Williams 2013; Vargas 2010. 11. For an important analysis of ambiguity and hierarchy in ethnoracial iden­ tification in another Latin American context that bears some similarities to this one, see W. Mitchell 2006. 12. It is significant that many people in Maranhão associate Bahia’s Afrobrazilian traditions with both the authentically African and the modern.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 3 4 – 1 5 1

Maranhão’s own Afrobrazilian traditions, because of their association with the local and their relative absence in what Hanchard has called the “transnational black public sphere” (2003, 10), do not have such a prestigious association with the modern. 13. The activist and the anthropologist manifest these different epistemic and moral commitments despite their very similar political commitments in support of community land claims. Chapter six





5. 6. 7.


Thompson evocatively and entertainingly elucidates the field-­of-­force metaphor as follows: “I am thinking of a school experiment (which no doubt I have got wrong) in which an electrical current magnetized a plate covered with iron filings. The filings, which were evenly distributed, arranged them­ selves at one pole or the other, while in between those filings which re­mained in place aligned themselves sketchily as if directed toward opposing attractive poles” (1978, 151). It is notable that this is a two-­dimensional spatial image. By imagining the field of force crossed by vertices in three dimensions, I think we get closer to the relation between distinct, yet materially grounded, forms of political consciousness that I analyze here. On the history of racial comparison along the Brazil/US axis, see Andrews 1996; Bailey 2008; Daniel 2006; Hellwig 1992; A. W. Marx 1998; Mitchell, Blanchette, and Silva, n.d.; Owensby 2005; Pinho 2005; G. L. Ribeiro 2005; Sansone 2003; Seigel 2009; Skidmore 1993a. “Racial democracy” is not Hanchard’s key concept, although the “myth of racial democracy” is used by many who cite Hanchard. Hanchard argues that the ideology of racial democracy, an ideology that denies the existence of all racial animosity and subordination, has ceded historical ground to “racial exceptionalism.” Racial exceptionalism, in this typology, is an ide­ ology that gives the existence of Brazilian racism some “qualified recognition,” while maintaining that Brazil is more “racially and culturally accommodating” than other multiracial societies (1994, 43). Brazil’s economic stagnation that began in 2013 and welfare-­state rollback that began under president Michel Temer in 2016 have severely degraded these economic gains. The meeting was to help the community form a state-­recognized community association. See chapter 5 for the different meanings and uses of the terms negro and preto. In fact, there is a woman, then in her seventies, who lives in Mamuna and who—­unlike any other woman I know in the region—­would frequently go shirtless. When I asked a close friend in Mamuna about this, she told me, “she is descended from ‘wild Indians’ [Índios bravos], so she keeps that tradition and nobody minds.”

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 5 2 – 1 6 2

8. 9.

Samucangaua is a community in Alcântara where most people have very pronounced African ancestry. Intersectionality theory, an influential body of thought with roots in ac­ tivist communities and in the legal academy, particularly in the United States (Crenshaw 1991), covers some ground similar to the matters I discuss here. However, its key metaphor of an objective grid marking out a map of distinct subject positions makes it close to a contemporary variant of what, following Thompson, I call a mathematical approach and less useful for understanding the contingencies that lead to the emergence of different forms of solidarity and political consciousness (see Nash 2008; Puar 2012).

Chapter seven


2. 3.


The report was released only to the Jornal do Brasil and the Gazeta Mercantil, both well-­regarded newspapers at the time. Much of the reporting for both newspapers was by journalist Tales Faria, so that there was significant overlap in the material covered. I quote both sources here (Faria 2007a, 2007b). The Jornal do Brasil was at that time one of Brazil’s major dailies, and, founded in 1891, the nation’s third oldest newspaper. It generally took positions to the left of O Globo, founded in 1925 and part of the enormous Globo media conglomerate that also produces much of Brazil’s most-­watched television programming. At the time of the report’s release, Jornal do Brazil and O Globo competed to be the principal daily of Brazil’s second-­largest city, Rio de Janeiro. In 2010, losing money and without Globo’s deep pockets, the Jornal do Brasil became online only, and subsequently lost much of its influence. The Gazeta Mercantil, founded in 1920, was for much of the twentieth century Brazil’s key economy-­focused newspaper. But it too ceased to publish a print edition in 2009, ceding ground to online sources and to newer print competitors, in particular Valor Econômico. For a detailed exploration of the origin and circulation of tales about a foreign (i.e., US) invasion of the Amazon, see S. T. Mitchell 2010. Foresta (1992) identifies two—­sometimes contradictory and sometimes complementary—­lines of thought that in the nineteenth century characterized elite and military thinking about Brazil’s future: the positivist and the geopolitical. These are closely parallel to what I refer to as developmentalist and territorial nationalism, and helped me develop the concepts. On the importance of the idea of national territory in Brazilian nationalisms, see Burns 1995; Carvalho 1998; Garfield 2004; Buarque de Holanda [1959] 2000. According to Cezar Marques, who wrote a canonical nineteenth-­century reference work on Maranhão, seventeenth-­century Portuguese Jesuits called Alcântara the Aldeia dos Americanos, or the Village of the Americans, because the region contained a large population of Tupinambá—­people considered “Americans” by the Jesuits (1864, 5). Contemporary claims about US presence in Alcântara obviously have very different concerns about


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 6 5 – 1 7 1

“Americans” in the region, but Aldeia dos Americanos remains a richly evocative phrase. 5. Nationalists have characterized indigenous groups as assets in protecting national sovereignty, especially in conflicts over “biopiracy” in pharmaceutical production (M. C. da Cunha 2009). 6. I should note two important exceptions to this. During the period of national debate over the accord, PT congressman (and later minister of defense under Lula) Waldir Pires aggressively claimed that the accord was a threat to Brazilian technological development (see, e.g., Pires 2001). Similarly, Roberto Amaral, a socialist who was minister of science and technology under Lula and Brazilian general director of Alcântara Cyclone Space, has consistently critiqued the accord for its threat to Brazilian technological development (Amaral 2017). Although these important voices exist, their influence has not won the constituency that territorial nationalism has—­nationally, and, especially, in Alcântara. 7. The relevant section reads: “The establishment of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Centre led to the relocation of several traditional villages in the 1980s from areas expropriated by the air force. So-­called agrovilas—alter­ native relocation sites—­were established. However, judging from the testimonies received, the agrovilas constitute a flagrant example of short-­term solutions becoming a long-­term problem. The inhabitants of the agrovilas, previously self-­sufficient in their traditional villages with sufficient access to fish and fertile land, have now become dependent. Relocation, regardless of the means, is never an ideal solution. In the rare cases where such relocation can be justified, it must be done with full consultation and participation of the concerned population, in compliance with international human rights law. Only in this manner can one ensure that relocation, if unavoidable, re­­sults in an improved living situation of those affected, as opposed to a re­gression and loss of livelihood” (Kothari 2004, 19). The rapporteur also in­dicated his optimism about the government process that his visit had helped produce, writing, “The Special Rapporteur is encouraged by the fact that following his mission, by a presidential decree dated 27 August 2004, an interministerial working group has been established for the sustainable development of the Municipality of Alcântara” (20). 8. They were, indeed, men. The only military woman had waited by the roadside. 9. Then a state deputy (or state congressman, a position he has held twice), Dutra had more recently been elected as a federal deputy (or federal congressman, a position he has also held previously). He has also been vice-­ mayor of Maranhão’s capital, São Luís. 10. Dutra, who is Afro-­Brazilian and identifies as such, is deeply connected to Alcântara’s politics. As he put it to me in conversation, “Alcântara is the municipality where I work, much more so than the municipality where I’m from, Burití.”


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 7 1 – 1 8 5

11. Dutra then represented left-­wing sectors of the Maranhão-­level PT. In 2005, he was elected president of the Maranhão-­state PT Directory against Washington Oliveira, who represented more conservative sectors of the left-­ leaning party. In 2013, after long conflict with the national PT, principally over its alliance with Maranhão’s Sarney group, Dutra left the party and joined the PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil). 12. Italicized items in quotation marks within this text are direct quotations of the GTAM report. The items outside of quotation marks within the block text are by the journalist, Tales Faria. 13. With “Brumairean,” Stepan draws a comparison to The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in which Marx analyses the coup that brought Louis-­ Napoléon Bonaparte to power in France, made possible by a conjunctural alliance of classes. One could draw the parallel to Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire even more closely. One of the most vivid aspects of that text is Marx’s demonstration that the presentation by the bourgeoisie of “the special conditions of its emancipation [as the] general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved” ([1852] 1963, 50) is a contingent, precarious, and ongoing project. Despite its best attempts, though, the Brazilian military was much less successful at presenting its interests as universal than the French bourgeoisie has been, both then and now. 14. I am reluctant to say more here about the configuration of forces behind Brazil’s “coup” of 2016 because it is a topic of my current research—­one that I have not yet sorted out. Armando Boito Jr. argues that the conditions of possibility of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment were the following: (1) the “entrance of the upper middle class as an active and militant social force,” (2) the desertion by the “internal bourgeoisie” of its “neodevelopmentalist” alliance with the PT, and (3) the passivity of Dilma’s government in the face of conservative opposition (2016). conclusion

1. 2.



For excellent ethnographic work on Brazilian and Brazilian-­descended population in the United States, see Margolis 2013. Before winning the presidency in 2002, Lula had also run for president in each of the direct elections since the fall of the military regime: in 1989, 1994, and 1998. For some significant ethnographic works on inequality in Brazil’s marginal urban neighborhoods, see Caldeira 2000; J. F. Collins 2015; Fischer, McCann, and Auyero 2014; Larkins 2015; Scheper-­Hughes 1992. By 1972, Veloso was in exile in England. His song probably refers to the photos taken by the Apollo 11 crew in 1969, when he was behind bars.


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Index Page numbers in italics refer to figures. abundance, 11, 44–­45, 60, 71. See also poverty; wealth activism/activists, 51, 120, 126, 128, 131, 134, 166 actor network theory, 100, 207n5. See also anthropology/anthropologists; science, technology, and society (STS) Aerospace Cultural Center, 61 affirmative action, 18, 41, 118, 121– ­22, 128, 147; critiques of, 126 Africa/African, 29, 31, 58, 102, 151, 177, 209–­10n12 African Americans, 140–­42, 178–­79 Afro-­Brazilian, 4, 9, 118, 148–­49, 181, 212n10; religion, 92, 133, 139, 172, 206n25 age, 67, 110, 123, 148; and political alignment, 137; and racial iden­ tification, 14–­15, 31, 119, 122 agrarian reform, 42, 57, 202n5 agribusiness, 116 agrovilas, 2–­4, 10, 26, 37, 44–­46, 60–­61, 64, 66, 72, 107, 170, 180, 189, 212n7; conditions in, 10–­11, 46–­47, 212n7 Air and Space Institute, 89 Alcântara, 59, 61–­63, 73, 76, 91, 99, 103, 107, 161, 178, 182; African traditions in, 92; conflict in, 108, 152, 183; description of, 55, 61; economy of, 24–­25, 33, 44–­55, 59; formation of quilombos in,

5, 56, 59, 113, 202n8; future of, 20; government of, 51, 69; his­ tory of, 58, 112–­13, 186; as launch location, 98–­99; relation to Amazonia, 161; social mobili­ zation in, 37, 88, 169, 195; space­ port, 83; and surrounding region, 54, 130; transportation in, 10, 62, 63–­64, 66, 67, 76, 97, 109–­ 10, 173 Alcântara Cyclone Space, 6, 15, 27, 43, 51–­52, 89, 162, 191–­92, 198– ­99n3, 205n20, 212n6 Alcântara Launch Center (CLA), 3, 32, 35, 37, 62–­64, 66, 69, 76, 171–­73, 183, 188, 192; and Brazilian nationalism, 77, 88, 101; construction of, 2, 6, 26, 34, 189; and equatorial location, 63, 87, 98–­100, 112–­13, 164, 198n12, 206n; foreign interest in, 13, 77, 80, 85, 88, 95, 117; history of, 10; impact on communities, 2, 6, 10, 18, 33–­34, 44–­47, 61, 66, 109, 121, 170, 212n7; and location of launch platforms, 27, 43, 52, 99, 112, 186; planned expansion of, 11, 13–­14, 25, 36, 42, 109, 169; and profit-­focused uses, 10, 26–­28, 86, 88, 99, 184; relocation of villages for, 34, 36–­37, 47, 112, 212n7; removal of, 107


I n d e x

Alcântara Rural Workers Union (STTR), 6, 9–­10, 34, 45–­46, 48, 125, 136–­37, 141, 145, 147, 149–­50, 171, 187–­90 “Alcântara Seminar: The Space Base and Social Impasses, The,” 13, 190 Alcântara Space Center (CEA), 37, 102, 192 Almeida, Alfredo Wagner Berno de, 55, 60, 105–­7, 111, 168, 207n6, 208n2 alternative modernities, 81, 108 altruism, 73 Amapá State, 98–­99, 207n2 Amaral, Roberto, 212n6 Amazonia, 19, 65, 158–­64, 173–­74, 198; for­ eign invasion of, 85, 157–­59, 164–­65, 172, 211n2 Amazônia Work Group (GTAM), 158, 172–­ 73, 213n Amélia (biologist), 109 American Anthropological Association, 14 American dream, 144. See also United States of America American Revolution, 58 Ana Lívia (Marudá resident), 11 Anderson, Perry, 42 Anderson, Warwick, 81 Andrade, Maristela de Paula, 44, 71 Andrews, George Reid, 142, 202n7 Ansell, Aaron, 40, 49, 148, 201n19 Anselmo, Lieutenant Colonel, 32, 60, 98–­ 102, 106–­10, 169, 171, 202n9, 207n2 antagonism, 138; equilibrium of, 8–­10, 43, 180 anthropology/anthropologists, 80–­81, 93, 97, 101, 103–­8, 110–­12, 116–­22, 126, 128, 133–­34, 145, 148, 165, 168, 176–­ 77; as delimiting communities, 106; as experts, 106; as mediators, 106, 119, 121, 128; ontological turn, 18, 108 anti-­politics, 101 antirealism, 102 anti-­utopian, 4, 90. See also utopia/utopian apartheid, 158. See also South Africa Apollo, 4, 185, 213n4. See also United States of America Arapiranga (quilombo community), 189 archaeology, 120 Armstrong, Neil, 93–­94 Arruti, José Maurício, 124, 130 assemblage, 101, 103


Association of Black, Rural, Quilombo Communities of Maranhão (ACONERUQ ), 40, 190 Association of Brazilian Aerospace Industries (AIAB), 26, 28–­29 Assunção, Matthias Röhrig, 202n8 austerity, 43, 180–­81, 193 babaçu, 24, 69, 70 Bacabal (town), 131 Bahia State, 35, 59, 113, 117, 131–­32, 209n13 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 34, 183 Balaiada Rebellion, 59 Baleiro, Zeca, 208n12 Baracatatiua (quilombo community), 43, 47, 170, 180, 189, 192 Barbosa, 189 (quilombo community) Barth, Fredrik, 74, 130 Beck, Ulrich, 178 Beckert, Sven, 58 Belágua (town), 181–­82 Bertrand de Orleans e Bragança, Prince Dom, 209n3 biodiversity, 158 biology, 112 black box, 100–­106, 207n4 Black Cultural Center (CCN), 13, 131–­32 Black Lives Matter, 9, 146. See also United States of America black movements, 38, 47, 116, 122, 127, 129, 180; and racial identification, 125–­26 blackness, 9, 13–­14, 23, 32, 51, 74, 92, 120, 123–­27, 130, 131–­33, 139, 141, 145, 148, 150–­52, 170, 180, 208n2, 209n13 blockade (form of protest), 10, 43, 192 blood quanta, 9 Blue Marble, 185. See also Earth Boas, Franz, 127 Boito, Armando, Jr., 213n14 Bolsa Família (conditional cash transfer), 25, 41, 45, 49–­50 Bom Viver (quilombo community), 189 Bonaparte, Napoléon, 213n13 Bourdieu, Pierre, 90, 139–­40, 152 Brasília, 39, 71, 73, 83, 122, 158, 197n6, 200n14, 208n10; contrast to Alcântara, 71 Brazil, 111, 138, 144, 153, 182, 189, 191–­92; constitution of, 3, 6, 13, 15, 19, 31, 35, 42–­43, 93, 116, 118, 125, 129, 150, 181,

I n d e x

189, 191, 197–­98n8, 202n5; coup d’etat of 1964, 162, 173–­74, 187; economy of, 5, 28, 36, 41, 43, 45, 83–­84, 87, 126, 143, 181, 205n13, 210n4; federal police, 79–­80, 179; flag of, 30, 199n7; future of, 18, 86; government of, 36, 39, 38, 53, 107, 180–­83, 208–­9; history of, 58–­59, 172, 178; as industrial power, 77, 82, 85, 87–­88, 161, 163; inequality in, 4, 110–­ 11, 142, 178–­79, 183, 186; mass media of, 40, 79, 181, 200; military of, 14, 19, 27, 33, 72, 77, 85, 89, 110, 121, 157–­58, 161, 168, 170, 174, 191; military government of (1964–­85), 1, 6, 11, 23, 26, 40, 78, 83, 87, 129, 161–­62, 173, 181, 185, 187, 213n2; military-­industrial complex, 1–­2, 11–­12, 25, 83–­84, 173, 187, 197n1, 205n13; and race, 19, 110–­ 11, 119, 123, 127; as world power, 3, 16, 26–­27, 30, 44, 77, 83, 85, 161 Brazilian Air Force, 1–­2, 6, 15, 24, 37, 43–­ 44, 61, 66, 72, 79, 85, 89, 98, 105, 109, 152, 164–­70, 180, 188; perceptions of Alcântara among, 1–­2, 6, 44, 61, 73, 110; recruits from Alcântara, 62, 110 Brazilian Anthropological Association, 106, 116, 121, 129 Brazilian census, 126, 181; and racial classi­ fication, 122–­23, 133, 209n6 Brazilian Corporation for Airport Infrastructure (INFRAERO), 36, 190 Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), 200 Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), 191 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 128, 203n11, 209n9 Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), 158 Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), 181 Brazilian Society for Scientific Progress (SBPC), 80 Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), 13, 24, 27, 36–­39, 84, 89, 109, 168, 180, 190, 204n7 Brazilian space program, 4, 20, 61, 82–­84, 93– ­94, 158, 162–­164, 186–­87, 192; budget of, 11, 36–­37, 79, 83–­84; civilian forces in, 4, 13, 19, 26–­27, 52, 63, 84, 88–­91, 109, 162, 164, 168, 180, 192; contested

visions of, 4, 6, 82–­83, 89–­90; critique of, 11, 79, 169; difficulties of, 77, 86, 89, 94; history of, 5, 11–­13, 83–­84, 89, 91; hopes for, 28, 88; and inequality, 27, 83; international context for, 11, 28, 186; as metonym for nation, 80, 95; military forces in, 19, 26, 39, 52, 78, 82–­84, 88, 90, 94, 164, 192; and monitoring of Amazon, 161; profit-­focused, 3, 10, 26–­ 28, 86, 88, 99, 184, 186 Brazilification, 4, 178 BRICS, 179 Brito (quilombo community), 11, 170, 189 Bush, George W., 91, 163 caboclo, 172 Caiuaua (quilombo community), 189 Caixeiras, 39, 130 Callon, Michael, 100–­101, 207n4 Camarajo de Baixo (quilombo community), 189 Camarajo de Cima (quilombo community), 189 Candomblé, 131, 132, 139 Canelatiua (quilombo community), 11, 45, 131–­32, 139, 169–­70, 189 Capijuba (quilombo community), 189 capitães do mato, 59 capitalism, 5, 28, 43, 128, 136, 149; opposition to, 171. See also neoliberalism Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, 13, 41, 84, 128–­29, 162–­63, 203n14 Carneiro da Cunha, Manuela, 57, 102, 106 casa de farinha, 66, 69 Castelo (quilombo community), 151 Catholicism, 13, 34, 131, 164; Jesuit, 113, 211 Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 191 Centro Alegre (quilombo community), 189 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, 204 Chavez, Hugo, 200 China, 41; space program of, 89, 190–­92, 205n19 China-­Brazil Earth Resources Satellite, 189–­ 92, 205n19 Choairy, Antonio Cesar, 44 chronotope, 34, 183 citizenship, 4, 34–­35, 71, 93, 110


I n d e x

civil rights movement (United States), 139, 141 class, 3, 7, 50, 92, 137, 140, 142, 144, 150, 153, 155, 177, 181; alliances of, 148, 173–­74; conciliation of, 42–­43, 181, 186; and electoral politics, 51, 180–­83; and polarization, 181; politics, 19, 145, 143, 149, 182–­83 Claudia (Mamuna resident), 99 clientelism, 16–­17, 19, 49–­51, 53, 78, 148, 182, 207n2; independence from, 40, 49 climate change, 103–­4, 108 Clinton, Bill, 162 Clinton, Hillary, 146 Cold War, 4–­5, 12, 29–­30, 43, 80, 149, 177, 185, 197n1 collective ownership, 2, 10, 26, 46, 71–­74, 107, 111; suspicion of, 72–­73 Collins, John, 35, 204n4 colonialism, 113. See also empire Comaroff, Jean, 34, 131, 149 Comaroff, John L., 34, 131, 149 communism, 28, 43, 197n5 Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), 213n11 community, 10, 26, 44–­46, 73, 45, 102 Companhia Geral do Comércio do Grão-­ Pará e Maranhão, 58 complementary hierarchy, 16–­17, 19, 20, 49–­50, 53, 110, 147–­48, 162, 174, 179–­ 80, 182, 183; definition of, 16 consciousness, 3, 142, 151, 155; adversarial, 17, 51, 53, 148; class, 7, 137–­38, 140, 142, 144–­47, 153–­55, 182–­83; collective, 53; historical, 122; political, 7, 19, 120, 137–­ 38, 141, 143–­44, 146, 150–­55, 182–­83; quilombo, 118, 133, 147; race, 19, 34, 115, 117–­20, 127, 137, 139–­42, 144–­45, 147, 152–­53, 157; raising, 112 conservatism, 39, 41, 50, 90, 180–­83. See also right wing conspiracy, 15, 24, 72–­73, 80, 85–­86, 103, 157; theory, 160, 162, 172 convergence, 5, 16, 18, 26, 33–­34, 43, 132, 183; technomilitary, 86 Coronil, Fernando, 184 Corrêa, Marcos Sá, 82 corruption, 38, 41, 51, 179–­81, 200n177; opposition to, 51, 181 Costa, Lúcio, 71 Costa Filho, Edmilson de Jesus, 89 248

cotton, 1, 5, 23, 58–­60, 113, 136, 137 Coupland, Douglas, 178 crime, 181 Cuba, 202n7 cultural imperialism, 139–­40, 152 Dalma (activist), 111 DaMatta, Roberto, 16, 110 Data Collection Satellite, 190 debt, 43 deception, 43, 46, 48, 73, 86, 92, 103, 108, 118, 121–­22 deference, 49. See also subservience Degler, Carl, 147 Democratas Party, 200n17 dependency theory, 82 depoliticization, 50 development, 2–­3, 7, 17–­18, 27, 30, 38, 44–­ 45, 48, 51, 52, 81–­82, 87, 93–­94, 99, 101, 127, 161, 163, 180; as catch-­up, 4, 16, 30, 82–­83, 94; sustainable, 36–­37, 192; technological, 212n6 developmentalism, 20, 27, 29, 43, 87, 90, 132, 161–­64, 173, 184, 199n4, 211n4 Devil’s Island, 63 DeVore, Jonathan, 204n17 difference, 104, 108, 137 distrust, 37, 43, 45, 48, 72, 85, 93 domination, 108 doxa, 101 Du Bois, W. E. B., 140–­41 Dutra, Domingos, 32, 170, 212n9, 212n10, 213n11 dystopia, 179. See also utopia/utopian Earth, 186, 198n12 economics/economic, 3, 65, 73, 90, 177, 179; interest, 73–­74; law, 4, 90, 197n5; market logic, 73; nationalism, 209n4 education, 2, 32, 38, 40–­42, 51, 60, 69, 80, 203n10 elites, 40, 44, 49–­50, 55, 59, 148; allies of Alcântara’s movements, 71–­73, 150, 169 empire/imperial, 20, 93–­94, 164, 171, 185 encantados, 172, 206n25 engineering/engineer, 24–­25, 39, 76, 80, 82, 88, 100 England, 136; and cotton, 58–­59 environmentalism, 159–­60, 191 equality, 35, 43, 57, 149. See also inequality espionage, 85, 172

I n d e x

Estado do Maranhão (newspaper), 78, 168 Estado Novo, 119, 209n4 ethnic/ethnicity, 34–­35; boundaries of, 74, 124, 130; divisions of, 119; identity, 30, 105, 122; territory, 105–­7, 113, 180 ethnography, 81, 82, 102, 104, 119, 186, 179 ethnoracial, 2–­3, 6, 19, 26, 50, 77, 94, 104–­ 5, 112, 119–­20, 122–­26, 129–­31, 138, 157, 184, 209n10, 209n11 European Space Agency, 206n1 European Union, 63 Evelyn (Mamuna resident), 9 Executive Interministerial Group (GEI), 36–­ 37, 97–­98, 108, 192 experience, 112, 150, 152–­55 expertise/experts, 17–­18, 99, 100–­105, 112, 120–­21; competing, 103, 112; as deception, 103–­4; of difference, 105; of law, 105, 112; and legitimation of inequality, 18, 97; of locality, 105, 121; power of, 97; in relation to nonexperts, 103 extractive reserves, 57 Faria, Tales, 211n1, 213n12 farinha, 24, 51, 65–­66, 69, 198n1, 201n21 farming, 11, 24, 26, 55, 60, 64–­66, 68, 70–­ 71, 76, 105, 107, 112, 137; and agricultural cycle, 64; impacts from spaceport, 2, 10, 47; swidden, 24, 26, 46, 66, 70 Farol de Pirajuba (quilombo community), 189 favela, 38 fear, 92, 165 feminism, 181 Ferguson, James, 29, 101 Fernandes, Florestan, 127–­28, 209n8 Ferreira da Silva, Denise, 16 Ferreira Gullar, 55, 201n1 Festa de São Benedíto, 92 Festa do Divíno Espírito, 63, 130, 172 Fields, Barbara J., 8, 140–­41, 143 Fields, Karen E., 8, 140–­41 First World, 4, 16, 26–­27, 183. See also Global North; Third World fishing, 10–­11, 12, 24, 45–­46, 64, 69–­71, 107, 151, 188 Folhau (quilombo community), 189 Fome Zero (social program), 49 food, 11, 24, 45, 48, 60, 64–­66, 69, 109 Fora Cativeiro (quilombo community), 107 foreignness, 88, 160, 164, 169 Foresta, Ronald, 211n3

Forte Príncipe da Beira (quilombo community), 208n1 France, 110 Francinaldo (Mamuna resident), 60–­61, 203n10 Franco, Itamar, 84 Franz (GEI official), 98, 108–­9 Frechal (quilombo community), 133, 134, 139 French, Jan Hoffman, 119, 124, 209n5 French Guiana, 62, 84 Freyre, Gilberto, 8–­9, 31, 127, 206n24 Fry, Peter, 105, 119, 123, 209n7 future, the, 61, 77 gathering, 11, 24, 66 Gaudenzi, Sergio, 164 Gazeta Mercantil (newspaper), 211n1 gender, 2, 23–­24, 33, 52, 62, 64, 67–­70, 92, 130, 143, 150, 154, 168, 177, 206n24, 212n8; politics, 150 German Space Agency, 205n22 Germany, 159 Global Justice (NGO), 191 Global North, 146, 158. See also First World; Global South Global South, 82. See also Global North; Third World Globo (media company), 204n6 Gluckman, Max, 102 Goldstein, Donna, 206n24 Goulart, João, 173 Graeber, David, 73, 146, 197n5 Grandin, Greg, 160 Great Depression, 161 Guiana Space Centre, 62, 84, 206n1 Gullar, Ferreira, 55, 201n1 Haitian Revolution, 55 Hall, Stuart, 122 Hanchard, Michael, 138–­42, 147, 210n3, 210n12 Hasenbalg, Carlos, 127 hierarchy, 102, 176–­77. See also inequality history: as category of mobilization, 7, 33–­35, 105, 112, 183; production of, 17, 55–­57 Hobbes, Thomas, 100 Holston, James, 53, 110 homo economicus, 73–­74 Human Development Index, 45 human nature, 4 human rights, 170 249

I n d e x

Hume, David, 97 hunger, 44, 60, 170. See also poverty Hunter, Wendy, 203n16 hunting, 24 hybridity, 126 identity, 3–­5, 26, 30, 32–­33, 35, 57, 105, 107, 122, 148, 150, 177, 183; instrumental, 73–­74, 125; permanence of, 30, 112; po­l­ itics, 7, 19, 35, 47, 147, 149, 177; poten­ tial, 132–­33 ideologia da decadência, 55–­56, 60 imaginaries, 15, 18, 30, 33, 77, 94, 143 indigenous, 9, 57–­58, 65, 106, 113, 151, 157–­59, 165, 181, 201n4, 202n6, 212n5; social movements, 74, 118. See also Tupinambá industrial production, 87–­88 inequality, 2, 15–­16, 42, 77, 87, 146, 152, 175–­78, 184; anxieties about, 82; con­ ceptualizations of, 3, 6, 7, 16, 30, 50, 53, 140, 177; economic, 7, 181, 187; and expertise, 197; global, 27–­28, 81–­82, 95, 174, 177; imaginaries of, 30, 137; and intimacy, 16, 92, 110–­11; material, 3, 143, 178; politicization of, 17, 183, 186; reduction of, 40–­42, 145, 167, 179; as relation of dependence, 17, 40, 49–­51; and scale, 77; as shaped historically, 6–­8, 143, 178, 179; and social movements, 109; and spaceflight, 27, 82, 94, 185; spatialization of, 30, 34, 81, 184; and technology, 18, 27, 81–­82, 165; temporalization of, 26, 29–­30, 32–­34, 44, 48, 61, 81, 184 instrumentality, 118, 125 intellectuals, 149 Inter-­American Commission on Human Rights, 14, 191 International Space Station, 94 intersectionality, 211n9 is vs. ought, 97, 104–­5, 111, 143 Itapera (quilombo community), 189 Janaína (activist), 50–­51, 117, 121, 131–­34, 139–­41, 184 Jobim, Nelson, 164, 192 Jornal do Brasil (newspaper), 211n1 Jornal Pequeno (newspaper), 78 Kafka, Franz, 86 Kamel, Ali, 119 250

Kelley, Robin, 143 Kennedy Space Center, 37, 63, 190 kinship, 46–­47, 64, 137, 188 Kothari, Miloon, 14, 165–­66, 168, 171, 212n7 Kymlicka, Will, 105 labor: exchange, 69–­70; and gender, 2, 64, 67–­69, 70; informal, 41; slave, 136; strike, 40; wage, 3, 10, 33, 44–­45, 68 Lago (quilombo community), 189 land, 44, 46–­47, 57, 68, 88, 91, 106, 119, 169, 188; collective use of, 10, 26, 46, 66, 70–­73, 107, 208n2; distribution of, 115–­16; expropriation of, 2–­3, 6, 10–­11, 15, 18, 26, 34, 37, 44, 47, 64, 159, 165, 186, 189–­90, 212n7; rights, 3, 6, 9, 13– ­14, 36, 42–­44, 46–­47, 60, 93, 106–­7, 111–­ 12, 115–­16, 130, 169, 192; title, 42, 46, 73, 115, 119, 129, 180, 188, 197–­98n8 Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), 164, 202n5, 208–­9n3 Latin America, 18, 41, 50, 82–­83, 115, 140, 142–­43, 159–­61, 184, 199n4, 200n5 Latin American Thought in Science, Technology, and Society (PLACTS), 82 Latour, Bruno, 100–­101, 207n4 laudo antropológico, 105–­7, 121 law/lawyers, 14, 18–­19, 33, 45, 48–­50, 53, 74, 104–­5, 111–­12, 117–­18, 124–­27, 128, 131, 135, 142, 147–­49, 166, 179; and consciousness, 120; and race, 13, 18, 91, 118–­19, 122, 125, 127, 138–­ 39, 143–­44; and social causality, 120, 130 left wing, 13, 20, 36, 50, 143, 159–­61, 165, 171, 174 legitimation, 15, 87, 97, 175 leisure, 110 Lela (Alcântara resident), 182 Lemos (activist), 48, 125, 129, 130, 131 Letícia (Marudá resident), 44 Leve, Lauren, 149 LGBT, 181 Lind, Michael, 178 Lula da Silva, Luis Inácio, 30–­31, 36–­37, 40– ­42, 49, 119, 128, 130, 162, 181–­82, 186, 191, 200n15, 200–­201n17, 212n6, 213n2; alliances with conservative politicians, 41 Lulismo, 42

I n d e x

Machado (activist), 13, 25, 31, 39, 46, 50, 98, 111, 139–­41, 151, 164–­65, 169–­70, 188, 190 Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria, 185 MacPherson, C. B., 149 macroactors, 102 Mamuna, 9, 11, 12, 18, 37, 43, 45, 47, 52, 60, 64, 66–­70, 92, 97, 101, 107, 109–­10, 119, 151–­52, 166–­70, 180, 189, 192, 203n15 Mao Zedong, 197n5 Marambaia, (quilombo community), 208n1 Maranhão State, 41, 74, 78, 117, 181–­82; and Afro-­Brazilian traditions, 209–­ 10n12; history of, 55, 58–­60, 113, 202n8; mass media of, 78–­79; and quilombo movement, 116 Marcela (activist), 93 Mariela (Mamuna resident), 52 Marques, Cezar, 211 marriage, 68 Marudá (agrovila), 11, 44, 119, 166, 189 Marx, Karl/Marxism, 153, 173, 197n4, 209n8, 213n13 Masco, Joseph, 78 Mato Grosso (quilombo community), 189 Mattos, Hebe Maria, 208n2 Mauss, Marcel, 73 Mead, Margaret, 185 mestiçagem, 9, 19, 56, 118–­19, 126–­27, 147 mestiços, 9 Mexico, 159 Miami, 182 middle class, 23, 43, 141–­42, 174, 178, 181, 183, 213n14; new, 28 military-­civilian conflict, 4, 11, 13, 15, 19, 24, 37, 42–­43, 52, 63, 72, 84, 88–­89, 91, 112 Miller, Nicola, 161 mimetic convergence, 16–­17, 19–­20, 28–­30, 32–­33, 35, 40–­43, 49, 53, 81, 87, 90, 94, 133, 147–­48, 162–­63, 174, 179–­80, 183 Minha Casa Minha Vida (housing subsidy), 41, 52, 66–­67 minimum wage, 41 Ministério da Casa Civil, 158 Ministério Público Federal, 13 Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), 24, 39, 73, 106, 116 Ministry of Agrarian Reform and Development, 47

Ministry of Culture, 106, 129 Ministry of Defense, 36, 72–­73, 89, 191, 203n14, 204n2 Ministry of Development and of Technology, 98 Ministry of Human Rights, 200n12 Ministry of Science and Technology, 13, 24, 36, 39, 89 Ministry of the Air Force, 26, 46, 61, 63, 83, 188, 190, 203n14 Ministry of Women, 200n12 Mirante (television station), 78–­79, 166, 204n6 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), 84 modernity, 82 modernization, 81 modulo rural, 10, 46–­57, 146, 188–­89 money, 25, 38, 47, 71, 178 Monserrat Filho, José, 27–­28 Montello, Josue, 201 More, Thomas, 197n3 moreno, 13, 14, 124–­26, 132–­33, 145 Mourão, Ronaldo Rogério de Freitas, 27, 29 Movement of Those Affected by the Space Base (MABE), 14, 40, 136, 137, 139, 145, 147, 149, 190 Movement of Woman Rural Workers of Alcântara (MOMTRA), 111, 150, 190 multiculturalism, 20, 29 Natal, 187–­88, 206n23 National Commission for Space Activities (CNAE), 187 National Human Rights Program, 128 National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), 73–­74, 106, 190, 192 National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 32, 88–­89, 187 nationalism, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 15, 27–­29, 77, 80, 84–­88, 94, 112, 127, 157, 159–­61, 171, 174, 209n4, 211n3, 212n5; developmentalist, 20, 27, 88, 90, 161–­62, 211n3; military, 15, 85, 87–­88, 163–­65, 174, 205n18; and race, 8, 118; territorial, 20, 34, 161, 174–­75 National Program for Space Activities (PNAE), 36, 38 naturalization, 101 natural resources, 45, 107 251

I n d e x

nature, 71, 107 necessity, 90 negros da terra, 123. See also indigenous; slavery neodevelopmentalism, 213n14 neoliberalism, 6, 12, 18, 20, 27, 29, 34, 36, 77, 87, 89–­90, 94, 104, 149–­50, 163, 174, 184, 197n5; opposition to, 3, 41; as utopian, 4, 90, 94. See also capitalism Neves, Aécio, 181–­82 Neves, Tancredo, 188, 200n16 NewSpace, 93, 206n27 Niemeyer, Oscar, 71 Nogueira, Oracy, 123 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 14–­15, 23, 35, 36, 74, 93, 105, 116, 130, 150, 158, 166, 172, 191 normal accident theory, 87 northeast Brazil, 161, 182 nuclear technology, 78 Obama, Barack, 163 Occupy Wall Street, 19, 145–­46 Oliveira, Washington, 213n11 one-­drop rule, 9, 138–­39. See also United States of America ontology, 8, 34, 97, 101, 103, 108, 111, 137, 149; continuity of, 108–­11 Orixás, 172 Ortner, Sherry B., 178 Pacoval (quilombo community), 189 Palmares Cultural Foundation (FCP), 14, 106, 129 paranoia, 78, 85 Pará State, 117 patronage, 7, 147–­48, 182. See also clientelism; complementary hierarchy Peitiua (quilombo community), 189 Peixoto, João Paulo Machado, 161 pelourinho, 61, 167 peoplehood, 107 Pernambuco State, 59 Perú (agrovila), 119, 189 Pessoa, Fernando, 112 Pêta, Dr. (journalist), 78 Petition to Air Force, 46, 188 Piauí State, 148 Piketty, Thomas, 146 Pires, Waldir, 212n6 pobres exóticos, 184 252

politicization, 13, 17, 43, 48, 53, 153 politics/political: agrarian, 115; electoral, 16, 20, 38, 41, 50–­52, 79, 171, 180–­83, 200n6; imagination, 177; mobilization, 2, 115, 124, 137, 143, 153 Ponte (quilombo community), 189 Pontes, Marcos Cesar, 94 Portuguese Empire, 58–­59, 113 poverty, 2–­3, 6, 10, 11, 17, 23, 25–­26, 29–­ 30, 35, 38, 40, 42–­44, 47–­49, 59–­60, 81, 115–­16, 137, 140–­41, 145, 147–­48, 167, 178, 182, 184, 203n3; reduction of, 41 power, 18, 81–­82, 97, 104, 107–­8, 112, 160, 172, 185 Prado Júnior, Caio, 59 private property, 72 professions, 103 profit, 6, 18, 25–­27, 93–­94, 180, 183 progress, 2, 18, 26, 30, 33, 35, 47, 61, 85, 88, 90, 109, 163, 183 Projeto Vida de Negro, 208n2 proletariat, 153 protest, 10, 28, 41, 43, 69, 181, 189, 192 Protestantism, 50, 69, 181 quilombo/quilombola, 3, 6, 14, 39, 56, 77, 94, 102, 104, 124, 131, 150–­52, 159, 165, 170, 199n9; clause, 3, 6–­7, 19, 35, 105, 113, 128–­30, 132, 135, 150, 152, 189, 197–­98n8, 209n5; early use of term in Alcântara, 199n9; federal policy toward, 74, 105–­6, 116, 120, 129–­30, 191; as frame for understanding Alcântara, 58; identification of, 74, 97, 120, 122, 129; as juridical category, 14; land, 73, 115, 117, 119, 164; lifeways, 111; meanings of, 5, 14, 31; number of, 116–­17; rights, 19, 94, 105, 107, 111–­12, 115–­17, 130, 164, 175; politics, 149; self-­identification of, 74, 105–­7, 111, 120–­21, 130–­31, 133, 191, 208n2 quilombo identity, 7, 13, 15, 31, 32, 48, 112, 115, 117, 121, 129, 131, 133–­34, 139, 149–­50, 153, 175; as citizenship, 33; com­ plexity of; 117, 122; development of, 31, 33, 35, 59; and economic interest, 73–­74 quilombo movement, 6, 13, 15, 19, 31, 32–­ 35, 42–­43, 50, 73, 88, 97, 105, 111, 117, 121, 126, 128, 130, 133, 139, 141, 145, 149, 157, 164–­66, 170, 184, 190, 198n8,

I n d e x

208n3; alliances of, 7, 49, 71–­73, 96, 116–­17, 121, 132, 145, 150, 174, 179; conflicts of, 116; and foreign powers, 160, 164; and Maranhão, 116; opposition to, 14, 19, 72, 117–­19, 151, 157, 164, 208–­9n3 race/racial, 3, 7, 19, 62, 92, 137–­38, 143, 154–­55, 177–­78; alliances of, 132, 142; ambiguity of, 8–­9, 13–­14, 19, 97, 122, 124, 132, 209n7; binary, 119, 123–­28, 209n7; categories of, 12–­23, 26, 32, 121, 123, 126, 190, 209n6, 209n7; cheaters, 121–­22; and color, 34, 126, 133, 151–­52; democracy, 8–­9, 31, 92, 118, 127, 144, 206n24, 210n3; as floating signifier, 122; hegemony, 138–­40, 144; identification, 14–­15, 120, 125–­26; mixture, 127, 147, 206n24, 209n4; politics, 19, 138, 150; reification of, 119, 122, 177; and sexuality, 92, 206n24 racialization, 13, 18–­19, 118–­20, 125, 128–­ 29, 131, 152, 190; thesis, 19, 118–­20, 125–­26 racism, 5, 16, 26, 31, 110, 119–­20, 122, 125–­ 27, 132–­33, 137, 139, 141–­42, 147, 151–­ 52, 178–­79, 206n24; “scientific,” 31, 127 reciprocity, 10, 26, 46, 49, 64, 66, 69–­74, 107, 110, 208n2 Redfield, Peter, 204n9, 206n28 redistribution, 18, 20, 29, 41, 77, 93, 94, 145, 193 Reed, Adolph, Jr., 50 reggae, 61, 131–­33, 134, 203n13 religion, 58, 143 remanescentes das comunidades dos quilombos, 13, 35, 57, 122, 124, 129 resistance, 2, 11, 14, 20, 34–­35, 37–­38, 92, 101, 130, 151, 169, 180, 189 Retiro (quilombo community), 189 retribution, 92 reverse engineering, 82 Ribeiro, Darcy, 181 Ribeiro, Matilde, 200n13 rights, 105; group-­differentiated, 97, 104–­5 right wing, 5, 13, 18, 20, 41, 159–­61, 205n18 Rio de Janeiro, 85, 122, 141 Rio dos Macacos (quilombo community), 208n1 Rio Verde, 189

risk, 95 Rosaldo, Renato, 154 Rosendinho (Mamuna resident), 151–­52 Rousseff, Dilma, 39, 41, 49, 84, 128, 163, 174, 180–­82, 193; impeachment of, 5, 39, 41, 43, 174, 213n14 ruins, 55, 56, 206n25 rumor, 78–­79 Rural and Urban Study Group (GERUR), 44 rural workers, 34–­35, 136–­37, 145, 150 Russia, 79, 91, 94, 192, 204n7, 205n15. See also Soviet Union sabotage, 15, 77–­80, 85–­87, 91, 94, 174 Sahlins, Marshall, 75 Samucangaua (quilombo community), 152, 211n8 Sanders, Bernie, 146 Santa Maria (quilombo community), 37–­38 Santos-­Dumont, Alberto, 86 São Francisco, 189 São João (holiday), 109 São José dos Campos, 2, 32, 38, 206n23 São Luís, 13, 32, 38, 45, 53, 61–­62, 66–­68, 71, 78, 80, 91, 109, 115, 120, 185, 201n3 São Marcos Bay, 55, 61, 66, 69, 76 Sara (Canelatiua resident), 169–­71 Sarney, José, 27, 42, 46, 78–­80, 166, 168, 182, 188–­89, 200n17, 204n5, 207n2; opposition to, 78 Sarney, Roseana, 200–­201n17 satellite launch, 6, 28, 62, 76, 160, 164; com­ mercial, 6, 25–­27, 93, 171, 180; effects on local population, 37; geostationary, 99; global control of, 205n15; as projection of power, 80, 83; and resource consumption, 77, 85; revenue, 20, 84, 88 scale, 7, 20–­21, 77, 82, 91, 165, 170, 177, 179 science, technology, and society (STS), 18, 80–­82, 104, 108. See also actor network theory; anthropology/anthropologists; Latin American Thought in Science, Technology, and Society (PLACTS) Scott, Joan, 154 Secco, Lincoln, 42 secrecy, 77–­80, 86–­87, 160 Sewell, William H., Jr., 153–­54 sexuality, 33, 68, 92, 143, 154, 177, 206n24 Shaw, George Bernard, 103 253

I n d e x

Sheriff, Robin E., 209n7 Silva, Nelson do Valle, 127 Singer, André, 42 slavery, 1, 5, 9, 17, 23, 31, 34, 57–­59, 61, 63, 92, 105, 107, 111, 123, 127, 136, 155, 178, 186; abolition of, 5–­6, 17, 31, 56, 58–­60, 129, 172; escape from, 113; indigenous, 58, 113, 123; memory of, 60, 151; ruins of, 55, 167, 206n25 Só Assim (agrovila), 111 socialism, 4–­5, 149, 174, 197n4 social mobility, 132, 167, 180 social movements, 14, 19, 39, 93, 145, 148 social-­technical boundaries, 18, 97, 99, 101, 107 Sócrates (soccer star), 208n9 solidarity, 3, 51, 137–­38, 143, 149–­151, 155, 170, 183; class, 19, 140, 142; oppositional, 50; race, 19, 140, 142, 151–­52, 184 South Africa, 102 southern Brazil, 182 south-­south cooperation, 29 Souza Filho, Benedito, 44 sovereignty, 20, 26, 33, 85, 88, 157–­61, 164–­65, 170–­71, 173–­74, 183, 191 Soviet Union, 80, 82–­83, 90, 185. See also Russia space/spaceflight, 88, 185; as human future, 18, 93–­95; imaginaries of, 18, 20, 77, 93, 170; as metonymic of the nation, 80, 83; and perspective, 185 space cavalry, 3, 10, 13, 36, 46–­47, 180, 188 space elevators, 87 space race, 82–­83 SpaceX, 87 Special Secretary of Politics for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR), 24, 38–­40, 200n12, 200n13 Sputnik, 4 Stalin, Joseph, 197n5 state, the, 39, 94, 102, 118, 124, 129, 131 Statute of Racial Equality, 118 Stédile, João Pedro, 164 Stepan, Alfred, 173, 213n13 Stiglitz, Joseph E., 146 structural heterogeneity, 108–­11 structure of legitimation, 3–­4, 15–­16, 110, 144, 150, 179 subaltern, 26, 35, 85, 94, 158, 174, 184


suborbital launch, 15, 82, 91, 187, 189, 204n10, 205n17 subservience, 50, 123. See also deference subsistence, 25, 30, 45, 65 sugar, 58–­59, 113 symmetry, 82, 108, 204n8 tambor de crioula, 92, 206n26 Tapuitapera (name for Alcântara), 58, 202n6. See also Tupinambá taxation, 42–­43 Team for the Implantation of the Alcântara Launch Center (GICLA), 44, 188 technology/technoscience, 4, 17, 18, 33, 44, 71, 81–­82, 85, 100, 104, 107, 162–­165, 178, 204n8; dual-­use, 81, 84; as ethnographic site, 95; and inequality, 81–­82, 108; as oriented to the future, 77, 95; postcolonial, 82; restrictions on, 84; space, 25, 78, 80, 82–­83, 178; transfer, 163 Technology Safeguards Agreement (Brazil/ USA), 13, 91, 162–­65, 191, 212n6 telos/teleological, 30, 33, 77, 81 Temer, Michel, 39, 163, 180–­81, 193, 200n12, 210n4 Third World, 43. See also First World; Global South Thompson, E. P., 7, 19, 136–­38, 141, 143, 152–­55, 210n1 tourism, 57–­58, 61, 63, 149, 167, 172–­73, 203n12 transparency, 80 trocar dias, 69–­70. See also labor Trouillot, Michel-­Rolph, 17, 55, 178 Trump, Donald J., 146 truth, 97, 102–­4, 106, 108, 112, 160, 172, 193 Tsing, Anna, 170 Tupinambá, 58, 113, 211n4. See also indigenous Ukraine, 89, 162, 169–­70, 191–­92, 198–­ 99n3, 205n20 unemployment, 41, 44 United Nations, 14, 165–­66, 168, 171 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 126–­27 United States of America, 8–­9, 11–­13, 19, 37, 78, 83–­84, 89, 93, 110, 123, 126, 138, 139,

I n d e x

140–­42, 144–­45, 147, 153, 158–­59, 162–­ 64, 71–­74, 182, 185, 187, 190–­91, 199, 211n9; Civil War, 59; and class, 19, 140, 145; currency, 25; government, 72, 91; inequality in, 146; power, 159–­60; presence in Alcântara, 15, 91, 211–­12n4; and race, 19, 32, 110, 121, 210n2; relation to Brazil, 84, 86, 138, 159–­64, 187, 210n2; space program of, 80, 82–­84, 190, 205n12; suspicions of, 80–­90, 159–­64 University of Brasília (UnB), 122 upper class, 43, 183 urban, 23–­24, 38, 48–­49, 51, 53, 55, 62, 66, 71–­74, 92, 116, 122, 125, 145, 160, 165–­ 67, 170, 184–­85, 201n3 Uru-­Grande (quilombo community), 189 Uru-­Mirim (quilombo community), 189 uso comum, 71–­73 utopia/utopian, 2–­5, 8, 19–­21, 29, 134, 138, 142–­44, 146, 150, 154–­55, 179, 183–­85, 197n3, 197n4, 197n5, 197n6; communitarian, 73–­74; conservative, 90; convergent, 27, 33–­34; critiques of, 197n5; and Marxism, 197n5; and neoliberalism, 4, 90, 94; primordialist, 34; of space, 18, 20, 77, 93, 185 utopia of redress, 3–­4, 16, 28–­30, 33, 144, 148, 150, 179 vagrancy, 59–­60 Valentine, David, 93 Valor Econômico (newspaper), 211n1 Vargas, Getúlio, 31, 119, 199, 209n4

Veloso, Caetano, 185, 213n4 Vieira, António, 112–­14, 208n12 violence, 9, 16, 18, 53, 59, 115, 133, 139, 144, 179, 201n3 Vista Alegre (quilombo community), 189 Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, 108 VLS-­1 rocket, 12, 76, 81–­83, 86–­87, 89, 93, 159, 162, 187, 190–­91, 205n14; counterinvestigation of, 85–­90; explosion of, 6, 13, 15, 17, 32, 76–­80, 84–­87, 89, 92, 94, 96, 172, 191; investigation of, 56, 77–­80, 204n2 Wacquant, Loïc, 139–­40, 152 wealth, 38, 192 Weber, Max, 97 whiteness, 9, 32, 50–­51, 92, 123–­27, 120, 133, 139–­141, 143, 151 whitening, 9, 31–­33, 43, 125–­27, 147–­48, 180; as form of convergence, 5, 16 WikiLeaks, 84, 162 Workers’ Party (PT), 5, 14–­15, 20, 25, 29, 39–­ 42, 49, 66, 73, 145, 148, 174, 180–­82, 193, 200n15, 201n17, 212n6, 213n11, 213n14; divisions within governing coalition, 17, 25, 39, 40–­41, 53, 107, 116; social programs under, 4–­5, 11, 41, 45, 49, 64, 145, 167, 174 working class, 136, 143, 145 Wright Brothers, 86 Zaverucha, Jorge, 203n16 Zé Tigre (rural Alcântara resident), 60–­61