- Fellowship year:2014-2015
- University: New York University
- Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin America
- Dissertation Title: Manufacturing Identity: Radical Experiences and the Making of a New Working-Class Politics in Brazil, 1964-1985
Over the course of the 1980s, the Workers' Party (PT) played a central role in reestablishing democracy in Brazil and, in doing so, inspired a new generation of anti-dictatorship activists throughout the country. It is during this period that Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva, a former lathe mechanic who first drew national attention in the mid 1970s as a young and outspoken union leader from the industrial belt surrounding São Paulo, emerged as one of Brazil's best-known national political leaders. In 2002, more then a generation after the PT's founding, Lula was elected to a two-term presidency. In 2010, Dilma Rousseff, Lula's handpicked successor, too was elected to Brazil's highest office, signifying that the PT was much more than just Lula's party. Unlike Lula, however, Dilma's entry into politics began in the mid-1960s as a middle-class student activist who initially opted for armed resistance. Lula's decision to throw his weight behind Dilma's candidacy is only one example among many that highlights the historic relationship between Brazil's radical left and the strike-oriented labor movement that consumed São Paulo in late 1970s and 1980s.
My dissertation explores how ideas and meanings associated with working-class politics and culture influenced not only radical imaginations in Brazil, but also a national politics of democratization. The principal questions I explore are: To what extend did the generation-long process of resisting the military regime shape the (cultural) transition to democracy? What role did the Brazilian left play in this transition and in the formation of the PT. And, how did the left make the transition from guerilla-inspired political strategies to mass-based worker-student alliances? By studying the relationship between radical ideologies and everyday activism, I explore how different forms of (revolutionary) political engagement contributed to a shift away from Marxist orthodoxy (with its emphasis on vanguards, whether political parties or armed cadre) and toward an expansion of grass-roots working-class politics. In doing so, my research seeks to show how participants in leftwing groups influenced, and were influenced by, the cultures and social practices of the communities in which they immersed themselves, how activists' ideas, actions, experiences, and memories were shaped by the work they were doing, and how radical ideologies and practices contributed to the creation of a new non-Marxist working-class political culture in Brazil.