Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Occupying Land, Occupying Schools: Transforming Education in the Brazilian Countryside
by Tarlau, Rebecca Senn, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2014, 295; 3640659
Abstract (Summary)

To what extent is it possible for a social movement to transform a public education system in order to promote an alternative social vision? Under what conditions can this implementation occur within the bureaucratic state apparatus, at the regional and national level? How does state-society collaboration develop, in contexts where civil society groups and the state have opposing interests? This dissertation addresses these questions through an investigation of the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST), a national social movement of rural workers struggling for agrarian reform. MST activists have been able to implement educational proposals in rural public schools that encourage youth to stay in the countryside, foster a sense of belonging to the movement, promote collective forms of work, and practice participatory governance.

Part I provides an overview of the multi-level and multi-sited political ethnographic approach used to conduct this research. It then reviews the literature on social movements and state-society relations, and considers how a Gramscian framework can be used to analyze how social movements implement educational proposals in public schools that are opposed to the interests of the dominant class. Part II examines the history and national expansion of the MST's educational initiative: how activists first developed their educational proposals; why the movement went from promoting popular education to participating in the public educational sphere; and why and how the federal government appropriated these ideas as a new approach to rural schooling, known as Educação do Campo (Education of the Countryside). Part III explores the MST's attempt to transform public schools in three state educational systems and two municipalities, and why the MST's success differs drastically across the country depending on the state capacity, government orientation, and level of MST mobilization in each region.

Comparison of the outcomes in these subnational cases yield new and unexpected insights into the relationships and conditions that lead to or impede participatory governance: (1) low-capacity governments and weak institutions can offer unusual openings for social movements to implement participatory initiatives; (2) high-capacity state antagonism negates the positive effects of mobilization; (3) not-so-public forms of contention are an effective strategy that social movements can use to engage the state and participate in the provision of public goods; (4) technocracy is a significant barrier to participatory practices, even among supportive governments; and, (5) state-society collaboration is not possible if the leadership of a social movement does not have a strong connection to its base.

Significantly, this research shows that the implementation of a social movement's goals through the state apparatus does not always lead to movement cooptation or decline. Additionally, public schools, normally institutions reproducing state power, can be used by marginalized communities to support alternative social visions. However, the case of the MST also illustrates that this process is never straightforward, easy, or permanent, as it requires communities to first develop a common vision, and then work with, in, and through the ever-changing power structures to implement this vision.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Shaiken, Harley
Commitee: Evans, Peter, Leonardo, Zeus, Watts, Michael
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 76/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational sociology, Latin American Studies, Public policy, Organizational behavior
Keywords: Critical pedagogy, Participatory governance, Public school reform, Social movements, State-society relations
Publication Number: 3640659
ISBN: 978-1-321-26134-9
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