Pluralist Identities and Empowering 'the People': Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement (MST) at the Crossroads

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Alex Flynn


This thesis centres its analysis upon the fascination for the collective at the potential cost of a delimitation of individual expression, within the confines of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). From the perspective of an applied anthropology, and to the end of contributing a constructive critique of the MST, the thesis seeks to ascertain how the movement has structured itself through the micro-actions of its membership around the domain of collective tropes of identity and where this complex set of understandings is leading the movement, both in the immediate, and more long-term, futures. To these ends, the principal focus of analysis is how actors within the movement construct and understand experiences of movement logic and emotion, as they perceive it, in and around their ambit. The thesis is thus orientated from an ethnographic perspective; throughout, actors' accounts and experiences are privileged to attempt to throw light upon the manifold processes that being a member of the MST renders part of daily life. The thesis argues that in this extraordinarily dynamic time in Brazil, with socio-economic conditions so different to when the movement was founded, flexibility is going to be key as to whether the MST can endure, remaining relevant to its members and in a position where it can attempt to address its strategic aims. The thesis suggests that the movement faces a signal dilemma regarding the very device on which it has built its success, the unified collective front into which MST members' identities can be subsumed. This fascination for the collective and its correlates, a hostile attitude to the media and the polarisation that can separate MST members from wider society, is explored through a series of differing contexts and the thesis closes with conclusions embedded within the framework of an applied anthropology; in pragmatic terms, how can the MST best achieve its stated goals at this historically significant point of its trajectory.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2010