Estevan Coca is an Assistant Professor of the Institute of Natural Sciences at the Federal University of Alfenas, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate Geography, and is also a Researcher Associate of the Postgraduate Program on Territorial Development in America Latin America and the Caribbean (TerritoriAL) at São Paulo State University.
Agrarian scholar activism in Brazil
Intellectuals who seek to not only interpret the world but to change it through a political project are called scholar activists (Borras Jr. 2016). Literature on scholar activism in Critical Agrarian Studies has advanced alongside the recent changes in land politics, such as a stronger association between agrarian and environmental issues and the emergence of food movements (Edelman and Wolford 2017; McMichael 2015). Despite the existence of multiple academic collectives, that both research and politically support agrarian social movements in Brazil, there is scarce national literature that seeks to analyze agrarian scholar activism. Rare consideration of the theme in Brazil is restricted to foreign researchers from the global North (e.g., Meek et al. 2019; Pahnke 2018). Reflection on our own agrarian scholar activism is lacking and needed (see Tarlau 2014). To contribute towards overcoming this gap, I first map out and discuss Brazilian agrarian scholar activism with a specific focus on the extent to which this informs our understanding of new trends in land politics. Then, I employ the narrative method of political opportunity structures (de Moor and Wahlström 2019) to assess the experiences in which I have participated as a young public university professor. These include: i) the construction of solidarity markets for agroecological products grown by women, at Londrina State University (2016-2017); ii) the implementation of agroecological markets and technical assistance in preparing Landless Workers Movement’s (MST) production reports, at Federal University of Alfenas (2018-ongoing); and iii) unpaid teaching of graduate-level courses for members of Latin America social movements, at São Paulo State University (2016-ongoing). After narrating the political opportunity structures created by agrarian social movements in consort with agrarian scholar activists, I conclude that be it through extension programs or specific actions, Brazilian agrarian scholar activists have created institutional openings in public universities to support progressive agrarian change. Results confirm that alongside disputes over land, a classical theme of Critical Agrarian Studies (Wolford 2016; Vinha, Coca, and Fernandes 2014), new themes have emerged that guide the efforts of scholar activists, such as questions of gender, agroecology, food sovereignty, alternative food networks, peasants access to higher education, among others.
Affiliation: Federal University of Alfenas & São Paulo State University