- IntroductionThe Cellularity and Continuity of Protest in Brazil
It is not enough to say, as the French do, that their nation was taken unawares.—Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Marx 1963:21)
As the echoes of the World Cup die away, and the Olympics are poised to alight in Brazil, the world is watching closely. Last summer (or winter, as they call it down south), a series of street protests erupted over a hike in bus fares. This seemingly trivial augmentation of public transportation rates (about US $0.10) catalyzed an already well-organized group (the Free Fare Movement) to put together massive demonstrations in Brazil’s major cities. The speed, efficiency, and size of these protests quickly led to the reduction of the fare, but not before the protests had become even larger and considerably more amorphous (Ortellado, Lima, and Pomar 2014). It turned out that despite all the “order and progress” (the words emblazoned on the Brazilian flag) Brazilians across lines of race, gender, and social class, were upset about a whole bunch of things: spending on the World Cup and Olympics, lack of government services and infrastructure, gender inequality, political corruption, educational inadequacies, and police violence. The mainstream media attempted to trivialize the protests [End Page 883] by wondering how people could get so fussy about a tiny rise in fares. A series of street signs replied: “It’s NOT just the 20 cents, stupid.”
The protests flew in the face of developmentalist thinking. International financial analysts, political pundits, investors, and journalists writing for publications like The Economist had, up until that point, been framing Brazil as a BRIC success (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Its economy had been growing quickly. The middle class (as indexed by car ownership) had expanded. The World Cup and Olympics were coming. Everything was coming up roses. And yet, all of a sudden, the streets were filled with angry people. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the federal administration at the time was led by a left-leaning successor to the most popular president of all time—Lula. President Dilma Roussef herself had participated in anti-dictatorship protests between 1964 and 1985, and had even been tortured by right-wing military bureaucrats. How could the people be mad with the likes of her? And then, adding a final flourish of incomprehensibility, some observers were flummoxed by the fact that a considerable amount of this upset might derive from money spent on soccer. Surely this was the sacred animating force behind the distinctness of this South American people; would there soon be protests over Carnival and Brazil’s special kind of rum, cachaça, some wondered incredulously?
The articles in this collection explore these paradoxes. Three of them were originally solicited for a series in Cultural Anthropology called “Hot Spots” (Collins, Gutterres, and Holston). The shorter essays to be found there are part of an admirable attempt to make anthropological writing more accessible and concise; all those pieces can be read during a visit to the bathroom. However, these three authors felt that longer pieces might be able to contribute something different to the discussion, and so we are printing those longer contributions here. In the cases of James Holston and Anelise dos Santos Gutterres, the pieces you find here are expanded (and somewhat altered) versions of what appeared in Cultural Anthropology (whose editors, Charlie Piot and Anne Allison, we thank for permission to partially re-print). For John Collins, his longer contribution appears here for the first time (when he was asked to cut this piece in half, he simply wrote an entirely new one). We are also pleased to include two new pieces by Gregory Duff Morton and Anthony D’Andrea.
We conclude this brief introduction with two briefer thoughts. First, while protests began last summer (winter, recall), they have never stopped. Despite considerable police repression, they erupted, once again, during [End Page 884] the World Cup, and will doubtless do so during the Olympics. Stay tuned. Read the original Cultural Anthropology Hot Spot and the articles included here to understand what is going to happen. But...