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  • Rural Social Movements in Latin America: Organizing for Sustainable Livelihoods
  • John Stolle-McAllister
Rural Social Movements in Latin America: Organizing for Sustainable Livelihoods. Edited by Carmen Diana Deere and Frederick S. Royce. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009. Pp. xx, 356. Figures. Tables. Index. $75.00 cloth.

As the traditional left parties and trade unions have declined in influence over the past few decades, Latin America's rural social movements have proven to be resilient, diverse, adaptable, and vibrant. Growing out of historic peasant organizations, today's rural movements encompass a wide variety of demands and organizational strategies and have positioned themselves on the forefront not only of issues over land tenure but also ethnic and gender equity, democratic reform, and environmental sustainability. Borrowing a metaphor put forth by Lynn Stephen (2007) in her analysis of women and social movements in transborder communities, these movements employ a "bifocal vision" in their work. They come from and remain acutely attentive to the micro issues of their community situations as they build regional, national, and transnational alliances aimed at the structures and relationships that produce the marginalization of their communities and the degradation of their living and working spaces.

The book itself maintains that bifocal vision by presenting a collection of articles that not only provides detailed views of several individual movements, but that also charts the contours of the varied, interconnected, and dynamic responses to the historic and contemporary exclusion of people living and working in the rural sector. Deere and Royce begin the collection with the not insignificant task of mapping the extent and interconnections of rural social movements today. Noting the diversity of the region's main organizations, they argue that, "the unprecedented attack on rural livelihoods unleashed by neoliberal globalization" (p. 5), coupled with increased organizational capacities facilitated by the region's return to democracy, increased educational opportunities, and access to telecommunications, has led to the current dynamism of these movements. What began as oneissue movements "organized to defend a way of life" (p. 12) gradually expanded to articulate an opposition not only to particular policies, but also to entire models of development that have resulted in rethinking the meanings and practices of sustainability, autonomy, and participation.

With that as a working base, the book provides a true wealth of perspectives and case studies, useful to both a broad understanding of the issues at hand, as well as detailed accounts of particular movements. In keeping with the transnational, participative, and critical stance of the movements, the 17 articles collected here are authored both by academics and organization leaders, providing for a productive dialogue of the convergences and divergences of various aspects of these movements. The articles are divided into four [End Page 136] themes. The first examines the ways in which organizations, particularly La Vía Campesina, have formed transnational coalitions to support local and national organizations around themes of mutual interest, like food sovereignty. The second section considers the region's landless movements and their impact on agrarian reform and ensuring that rural communities have rights to land ownership as a foundation for sustainable growth. "Sustainable Livelihoods, Social Justice," consists of several articles that analyze organizations that move beyond "traditional" agricultural and agrarian reform movements, such as dam and mine opposition, women's participation, and alternative economic projects, and which seek to articulate new ways of using natural and human resources. Finally, the last section of the book considers the role of transnationalism. Although transnational connections run throughout the book, the articles in this section more closely examine the transnational communities wrought by massive migration and the establishment of fair trade networks between Latin American producing and North American and European consuming communities.

This book provides a remarkable collection documenting the successes, challenges and processes of contemporary rural social movements. By analyzing the various ways in which these movements articulate local and global networks, advocate for gender and ethnic rights, and insist on environmental and economic justice, this collection makes a compelling case that these movements provide coherent and dedicated leadership toward creating more equitable and sustainable societies.

John Stolle-McAllister
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Baltimore, Maryland


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pp. 136-137
Launched on MUSE
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