Social Movements and the State

Conventional and Contentious Politics

Authored by: Rebecca Neaera Abers , Marisa von Bülow

Routledge Handbook of Brazilian Politics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138684454
eBook ISBN: 9781315543871
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter analyzes the interactions between Brazilian social movements and the state since the 1970s, focusing on academic debates characterizing each of four periods. From the 1970s to the mid-1980s, new social movement actors appeared on the scene in the context of democratic transition and opposition to the military regime. The approval of the 1988 Constitution and the creation of formal participatory institutions mark a second period, a period of greater collaboration between social movements and the state. This shift in the interactions between social movements and the state was accompanied by a normative swing in much of the literature, which went from an idealization of movement autonomy in the first period to an overestimation of the democratizing power of formal participatory institutions in the second. Since the 2000s, however, social movement scholars have attempted to break free from this pendular tendency. In the third period, which corresponds broadly to the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and to the first years of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, the literature explored how activists operated simultaneously in institutional and noninstitutional arenas and deployed both contentious and cooperative repertoires. The 2013 wave of protests marked the beginning of a fourth period, in which a much more heterogeneous set of actors took to the streets to protest, inaugurating the turbulence and uncertainty that eventually led to the impeachment of President Rousseff. These developments came as a surprise to many of the third period scholars, who had failed to identify and examine emerging phenomena that became central motifs of the most recent period, such as the upsurge of right-wing mobilization and new forms of anti-institutionalism.

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