- La scelta della terra: Studio di un insediamiento rurale del Movimento Sem Terra in Brasile
This book by Italian scholar Luca Fanelli is no doubt a sound methodological achievement, as well as a sound study in one of the most pressing problems in Latin America today: the relationship between land, migration, and changes in peasant life. In fact, the agrarian problem might well be the most important problem in Latin America's history, but rarely do we have the opportunity to tease apart the complex relationship between rural and urban areas from the point of view of the people who live in them. Fanelli studied the peasant movement in the Paraná region of Brazil, and his methodology is at least as original as his goals. His study is framed as part of a long-lasting debate over the complex relationship between city and countryside in Latin America. In fact, as Fanelli clearly points out, there are two opposing interpretations to solve the dichotomy between cities and rural areas in Latin America. The first idealizes the "good old times" and emphases the benefits and advantages of the rural past. This "world we have lost" perspective is in sharp contrast with the second thesis, which favors the destruction of the rural world as we know it and pushes for modernization and change. In this perspective, the only solution to the incredible contrast between rural and urban areas is to abandon the rural areas and to fill the cities with this newly arrived peasant population. Thus, Fanelli's work should be placed within this long tradition of Latin America's peasant studies, whose genealogy could be traced to Eric Wolf's work on twentieth-century peasant wars, not to mention Bryan Robert's Cities of Peasants, unfortunately missing from the bibliography.
The author tries to test both contradictory theses with an in-depth case study of Santa Maria, in the Paraná area of Brazil. This provides the book with several merits. He brings back to the center of the debate the study of the peasantry as a class—whose interests and political actions should be studied without the usual reference to the urban working classes. The author also uses a rich combination of sources. Furthermore, this work places itself between history and anthropology, as he makes the most of both oral interviews and local histories of the region. On the one hand, he relies on in-depth case studies of Paraná, tracing the development of the region all the way from the 1940 s to the 1970 s as a late bloomer in terms of population or economic activity. This, says Fanelli, gives special features to the area, which sharply contrast with other regions of Brazil. He point out the complex relationship between Paraná's case and the very well-known movement of the landless.
This overall perspective provides the author with the capacity to ask the key question about the nature of peasant politics: are they or are they not revolutionary? In clear opposition to Hobsbawn, Fanelli's case study points out to a more complex answer. The nature of this particular peasant movement could not be so [End Page 756] easily classified, and the merit of this case study is to place it within the debate about peasants in Latin America and at the same time to provide an in-depth perspective of the participants themselves.
This original view is achieved through a collection of in-depth interviews, both open and closed. Analysis of these interviews makes for a very readable account that clearly goes beyond the mere case study. Thus we learn about the self-perception of the interviewees, and it becomes feasible to contrast the relation between mayor social events and individual lives. This is probably the biggest merit of the book: to bring to life and connect major historical events with the individual lives of anonymous individuals whose lives become an indispensable thread in the warp of history. The result is a well...