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Alexander S. Dent, Rosana Pinheiro-Machado

Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 87, Number 3, Summer 2014, pp.

883-885 (Article)

DOI: 10.1353/anq.2014.0044

For additional information about this article

Access provided by Michigan State University (10 Sep 2014 11:13 GMT)
Protest in Brazil

The Cellularity and Continuity
of Protest in Brazil
Alexander S. Dent, The George Washington University
Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, Oxford University

It is not enough to say, as the French do, that their nation was taken
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
(Marx 1963:21)

A s 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 win-
ter, as they call it down south), a series of street protests erupted over a
hike in bus fares. This seemingly trivial augmentation of public transporta-
tion rates (about US $0.10) catalyzed an already well-organized group (the
Free Fare Movement) to put together massive demonstrations in Brazils
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 infrastruc-
ture, gender inequality, political corruption, educational inadequacies, and
police violence. The mainstream media attempted to trivialize the protests

Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 87, No. 3, p. 883-886, ISSN 0003-5491. 2014 by the Institute for
Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of the George Washington University. All rights reserved.

The Cellularity and Continuity of Protest in Brazil

by wondering how people could get so fussy about a tiny rise in fares. A
series of street signs replied: Its 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 timeLula. 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 soc-
cer. Surely this was the sacred animating force behind the distinctness of
this South American people; would there soon be protests over Carnival
and Brazils special kind of rum, cachaa, 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 DAndrea.
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


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 more substantively, if pro-
test is a punctual event meant to temporarily raise the profile of a particular
issue or set of issues, what does it mean to engage it in an ongoing
fashion? Notice that these events have not been dubbed occupations.
Second, these protests have been characterized by a form of cellular-
ity that is crucial to their unfolding and their interpretation. In terms of
the unfolding, protestors decided how and where to organize using so-
cial media. For those of us who could not be there, Facebook profiles
of Brazilian colleagues were incredibly informative. In terms of the inter-
pretation, groups like Media Ninja assembled cellular phone video shot
by hundreds of nameless reporters to counter mainstream arguments
that the protests were dominated by brigands and looters. While both
of these tendencies have been addressed in anthropologies of protest,
ethnographic engagements with mediation and politics will continue to
wrestle with these sorts of issues. We are continually told that these forms
of protest and the technologies on which they seem to depend are fright-
fully new. This may, indeed, be the case, but precisely what is new remains
to be seen. n

1All available at

Marx, Karl. 1963. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers.
Ortellado, Pablo, Luciana Lima, and Marcelo Pomar. 2014. Vinte Centavos: A Luta Contra o Aumento. So
Paulo: Livraria da Folha.

F o r e i g n L a n g u a g e Tr a n s l a t i o n s :
Introduction to the Social Thought & Commentary Collection on Protest In Brazil
The Cellularity and Continuity of Protest in Brazil
Introduo ao Pensamento Social & Coletnea de Comentrios sobre os Protestos no Brasil
A Celularidade e a Continuidade dos Protestos no Brasil


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