Miguel Carter
Brazil is one the most inequitable nations in the world. Its great disparities of
wealth have deep historical roots. This volume addresses a critical legacy and
enduring aspect of Brazil’s social injustice: its sharply unequal agrarian struc-
ture. The following chapters probe the causes, consequences, and contempo-
rary reactions to this situation. In particular, they shed light on the Landless
Rural Workers Movement (mst), Latin America’s largest and most prominent
social movement, and its ongoing efforts to confront historic patterns of in-
equality in the Brazilian countryside.
This volume offers a wide-ranging picture of the mst and its engagement
in the Brazilian struggle for land reform. The sixteen chapters included here
were produced and revised between 2004 and 2008, following a conference
sponsored by the University of Oxford’s Centre for Brazilian Studies. All the
contributors to this volume, an assembly of Brazilian, European, and North
American–based scholars and development practitioners, have ample fieldwork
experience on the subject. In concert, they offer a unique international and mul-
tidisciplinary perspective of this phenomenon. Its seventeen authors include
five sociologists, two political scientists, two geographers, two anthropologists,
an economist, as well as a lawyer, a journalist, and three development practi-
tioners. Among the writers are eleven Brazilians, three Europeans, and three
North American–based scholars. Together, they offer a sober and empirically
grounded assessment of what is undoubtedly a complex and sensitive subject.
The following comments present a brief overview of the anthology.
Chapter 1, “Social Inequality, Agrarian Reform, and Democracy in Brazil,”
by Miguel Carter sets the mst’s mobilization for agrarian reform in a historical
and comparative context. It underscores the sharp social disparities and conten-
tious visions surrounding the mst’s quest for land redistribution and appraises
the movement’s influence on Brazil’s reform agenda. The prospects for enhanc-
ing development and democracy in Brazil, it asserts, are hampered by the na-
tion’s extreme and durable social inequities. Over the last three decades the
country has experienced a conservative agrarian reform process—largely reac-
tive and restrained in its response to peasant demands; sluggish, minimal, and
ad hoc in its distributive measures; and conciliatory toward the nation’s land-
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