Selene C. Herculano


XIII Congresso Mundial de Sociologia, ISA, em Bielefeld, julho de 1994. Publicado em parte no texto conjunto intitulado Latin American Environmentalism: comparative views. C. Christen et al. Studies in Comparative International Development. Summer 1998, vol 33, n. 2, 58-87.


1 - The field of Brazilian Ecologism:

The eve and somewhat great expectation of UNCED[1] and its preparatory years encouraged the creation of a Brazilian coalition of environmental and social activists to organize and perform civil society participation in it: trade-unionists, people affected by dams, amazonian rubber tappers, associations of urban dwellers, activists from black movement, feminist and women movements, indigenous activists plus environmentalists, all sat together from 1990 to 1992 and settled an alliance in a Forum called "Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements on Environment and Development". Their common aims were to strenghten popular segments of brazilian civil society, by building up their own message and points of view on environmental and developmental issues. This Brazilian Forum not only appointed as its antagonists the government, maint to be the State, whose approaches and practices toward development and environment were deeply criticized, but also "bourgeois businessmen" who had initially entitled themselves as representatives of Brazilian environment abroad. By that time a dispute arose concerning who was and who was not part and so representative of civil society.

The boarding members of Brazilian Forum were very proud of the uniqueness of it. Some of them traveled to other countries of Latin America, for interchange of experiences, and went back with the convinction that the coalition they had been building through the Forum was really unique, cause nothing similar had been found abroad. Hochstetler (1995) in her comparative study on environmentalism in Brazil and Venezuela also stressed this point.

So, given such diversity of social actors, Brazilian Forum was a nice spot to study the so-called popular, organized segment of Brazilian civil society in its efforts for empowerment. Brazilian Forum was not a pool of environmentalists or even other citizens' movements only, but a mix of them with institutes of researches and voluntary developmental agencies sponsored by foreign international solidarity. What did they struggle for? Which kind of criticism had they against the points of view of brazilian official environmental agencies?

Citizenship and democracy were their motto. Their criticism was addressed against "an international economic model which has been drawing to an absurd concentration of wealth, while condemning the whole majority to misery" (Forum das ONGs, 1992, 13). According to the Braziliam Forum, the depletion of natural resources had the same causes which were responsible for social unequalities, lack of democracy and education as well as for Brazilian external debt. In order to transform this evil model and to create a democratic society, less unequal and ecologically sustainable, an agenda of 23 points was proposed:

1 - an effective international cooperation, based on a new pattern of relationship between nature and human beings, women and men;
2 - redefinition of Brazilian role in international context, elimination of unequalities, the rise of the population to real citizenship and democracy;
3 - the dependence of the payment of Brazilian external debt to a deep investigation on its origins;
4 - a new energetic model, based upon decentralization of production; alternative sources of energy and consumption democratization;
5 - a criterious reform of brazilian nuclear program, afeter public hearings;
6 - sustainable explotation of Brazilian mineral resources;
7 - creation of national policies for fresh water supply;
8 - defence of biodiversity, with the encouragement of scientific researches to improve its knowledge, always addressing the welfare of the people;
9 - adequate and specific treatment to each of of the Brazilian ecosystems (Amazônia in the north; Cerrado in the center-west; Mata Atlântica in the southeast, part of the northeast and south; Caatinga in the northeast; Pampas in the south), adequating nature's conservancy to the improvements of the quality of life of local populations;
10 - agrarian reform and agrarian policies addressed to small domestic production and to the nutrition needs of the people, encouraging the use of soft technologies;
11 - fisheries policies addressed to handcraft fisheries;
12 - redefiniton of Brazilian industrial model, encouraging consumption of popular commodities and the use of soft technologies in order to create employment, redistribute revenues and enlarge internal market;
13 - urban reform based on 3 issues: the social function of property; right to citizenship and to democratic management of the cities;
14 - health and sanitation policies to urban and rural human settlements;
15 - assurance of accessibility to contraception methods and assistance to reproductive health, as well as respecting free individual choices;
16 - priority of investments on education, science and technology;
17 - promotion of environmental education at all levels;
18 - democratization of mass comunication and mass media;
19 - struggle against racism;
20 - definition of the boundaries of indigenous land;
21 - definition of extractivist reserves, settlement of small land owners, solution to the survival of poor stone prospectors;
22 - accessibility of NGos and social movements to official studies and researches concerning public interest;
23 - full participation of NGOs and social movements, while expression of civil society, in any discussion and decision arenas on environment and development. (Forum das ONGs, 1992, 18-21)

How far indeed and how divergent were these points to the preliminar version of the official national report which detailed Brazilian social-environmental diagnosis (CIMA, 1991)? We can consider that the official report was less propositive, but the analysis was quite the same. It couldn't be otherwise, cause the list of consultants and contributors to CIMA's study showed points of intersection with the world of Brazilian civil society.

Although activists of the Brazilian Forum liked to stress their differences towards the official points of view on development and environment, substantive boundaries were blurred and what merged as different was more a matter of procedures, cause social movements and non-government organisms have, of course, to put things more bluntly in order to take position inside the political arena.

On the other hand, how homogenous was the Forum internally? How far the ideas and ideals of those 23 points shown above were really shared by each participant? Although some differences would appear on certain issues (see Part 3), the set of beliefs of the Forum tended to homegeneity. Their internal differences and quarrels were much more a matter of different degrees of organization than on differences of points of view..

Instead of approaching Brazilian Forum as expression of a single homogeneous movement, I'd rather call it, according to Bourdieu (1984), the field of ecologism, a place/net where different actors environmentally concerned not only shared ideas, ideals, aims, strategies and habitus, but also competed for symbolic, financial, cultural and social capital. What puzzled me then was the eagerness to participate, the political interest of those activists. How to explain such zest in a country where apoliticism, apathy, non-participation, misinformation and indifference seemed to be the rule? The entities affiliated to the Forum where about 935; let us optmistically suppose that each one would work with an average of 100 activists (the average were under 20, in fact) and we find 93,500 people directly concerned. What did they really mean in a country of 94 million voters? What moved the people of that Forum in comparison to those unmoved 94 million people? And why all that enthousiasm would be vanished so soon?

2 - The research

My conclusions about the field of ecologism in Brazil are based in interviews with 65 leaders and activists of the Brazilian Forum, plus participation in and follow-up of 9 national meetings held from 1990 to 1992. My analysis also came from a survey of 935 questionaires applied to entities affiliated by the end of 1992 (185 were sent back and 182 analyzed). These questionaries were divided in three parts: 1) profile of activists and directors; 2) level of organization of entities; 3) political values and ideas of activists. This third part was based in a group of 49 general sentences to which respondents were invited to show their level of agreement/disagreement. Some cluster of sentences were chosen afterwards to try to measure opinions and values concerning human or ecocentrism, capitalist or socialist values, democratic or authoritarian beliefs, estatism or anti-estatism, rational or romantical trends, malthusianist and aristocratical values: humancentrism is understood as an attitude opposed to ecocentrism, so humancentrism is connected to a belief in the priority of human-beings in relation to nature; capitalist propensity is a general faith toward technology as an environmental saver, connected to a defense of progress, profit, businessmen, plus the idea that blames the poor for environmental problems; socialist trend has to do with a critical attitude toward capitalists, against debt swap, plus disagreement with the idea that capitalist x communist contradiction is surpassed; authoritarianism is defined as the propensity to accept a system of values based on a strong power of a few over the majority, including legitimacy of these few towards deciding about what concerns individual lives of majority; anti-estatism has to do with an anarchistic, transnational attitude often appointed by analists (Porritt, 1989; Viola, 1987) as deep related to environmentalists; rationalism is connected with modern society paradigm (set of beliefs in national sovereignty, defense of national territories and armies, parlaments, system of political parties, trust in scientific knowledge, laws and so on); romanticism is understood as a belief that subordinated etnicities and social categories - indigenous, black, women, youth - would become agents of a new ecological ethos; malthusianism is a propensity to believe that the main source of environment problem is a population surplus; aristocratism or elitism is understood as the propensity to believe in the effectiveness of actions and decisions of a competent few better men, than in effectiveness of a larger amount of people.


3 - The analysis

The profile of leaders (directors) and militants on Brazilian Forum's entities can be described as follows: leaders were male (83,3%), about 24 to 45 years old (63,3%). Answer to the causes and motivation to political participation was found in their high levels of education: 80,74% of leaders and directors of entities and 57,5% of activists in general had advanced education. The average level of earnings of activists were about 5 to 15 minimum salary (national minimum salary was then about US$ 70.00 a month)[2]. Earnings and educational levels helped me to locate these activists high above brazilian population in general, whose average level of education is 3,9 years of schooling and whose revenues are 2 minimum salary in average (IBGE). Teachers, professors, researchers of natural and social sciences, as well as university students prevailed among activists of Braziliam field of ecologism. If one takes into consideration that 9% of Brazilian voters are illiterate and 26% of them half-illiterate (TSE[3], 1994), one can easily see how scarcely representative of popular segments these activists really were.

A low level of organizanization/institutionalization was found: only 22,8% of entities defined themselves as having a high score of organization (to have registered statutes, headquarters, phone, fax, budget, personnel and so on). Among the most institutionalized I found voluntary developmental agencies sponsored by foreign international solidarity, which are NGOs that advice and encourage popular empowerment, while 49,37% of answers appointed to informality and an annual budget lower than 1001 dollars. Entities were generally young: 52% had been created from 1986 to 1992[4]. People affiliated were also low, less than 60 and even lesser activists (20).

Brazilian Forum had a predominant identification with leftist parties: 37,32% of answers appointed to workers' and socialist parties such as PT, PDT, PSB, PPS and PC do B, while 32,41% didn't answer; 9,88% defined themselves as apoliticeans and only 3,8 showed proximity to PV, brazilian green party.

As to set of beliefs, Brazilian Forum was strongly humancentered (36,12%), indifferent to malthusianism (30,96%), agreeded in minimum levels to capitalist set of beliefs (30,96%) and showed moderate agreement towars socialist values (27,27%). Democratic beliefs had strong level of agreement (26,62%), while authoritarianism reached extremely strong level of disagreement (28,38%); Brazilian Forum was indifferent to aristocratic/elistist issues, showed moderate disagreement towards beliefs against State (24,02%), as well as moderate agreement to set of beliefs in modern rationality (30,76%). Brazilian Forum showed strong disagreement toward romanticism.

Discriminating social and environmental activists some slight differences arose: social activists tended to agree strongerly to socialist beliefs, while environmentalits agreeded only moderately; social activists agreeded also strongly to democratic beliefs, while environmentalists agreeded moderately. Environmentalists showed strong disagreement toward authoritarian beliefs, while social activists showed extremely strong disagreement. Agreement toward set of beliefs in modern rationality was moderate among social activists and minimal among environmentalists.

In spite of a low level of organization and small number of activists, the entities of Brazilian Form thought to be somewhat influential in some public policies: 38% declared to be highly influential about creation of UC (unity of conservation, that is green reserves or parks); 35% appointed to a medium influence on rational management of eco-systems; low levels of influence were mentioned to agriculture and urban planning policies, while no influence at all was appointed to salarial, transportation and welfare policies. The main points of their ecological agenda were defense of eco-systems, improvements in urban built-in environment (such as sanitation), struggle for general and environmental education, for land acessibility and in defense of extractivists.

A strait proximity to State organism was found: 67,2% of the entities of Brazilian Forum declared that they had directors who also belonged to State organisms; 29,5% of directors earned their livings in State organisms at the moment of the survey; 59,5% of entities had a seat in county councils, 31% in municipal councils and 9,5% in federal ones.

4 - Common Citizens, Supercitizens or Heroes?

Brazilian political scene where the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements operated can still be described as an oligarchic democracy where people exercize only a formal, "half", "almost" citizenship, while, inside the field of Ecologism, a middle class intelligentsia either exercize heroism - a sort of heroic, super-citizenship - or "estadania" (a neologism created by Carvalho to make reference to the exercize of citizenship by those who belonged to the State apparatus during the change from Empire to Brazilian Old Republic (Carvalho, 1988).

In his introduction to Hegelian thought, Hartman (1990) emphasized four human profiles in Hegel: the victim, the individual, the citizen and the hero. The victim would be the ordinary human beings, tied to their everyday lives, those who don't make history, but just suffer its consequences. The individual is the subject of bourgeois society, limited to the sphere of private, economic interests. The citizen is the rational human being, whose freedom and rationality only exists within the State, the political society. The motivation of the citizen is not private, particular interests, but the common good. The hero is the historical human being, the one who represents the Spirit and sees the truth of his/her time and world.

Brandão, the Brazilian helenist (Brandão, 1987) described the archetype of the hero as a guardian, a warrior, someone whose life develops in the "age of the beginnings", in a frontier between two worlds. The hero has timé, that is, honor and areté, excellence. He goes out from where he was born, fights against fabulous powers, draws the support of others to his tasks, comes back to his people and founds institutions, laws, places, freeing people from evil, bandits and monsters. The hero is the archetype of change, a mixture of strength and weakness. In the field of Brazilian "ecologism" we could mention several names. Some were killed, fulfilling the tragic destiny of heroes, like Chico Mendes - the well-known labour leader and rubber tapper who was murdered in Amazonia in 1988 - and many others throughout the country[5]; others, like Betinho (Herbert de Souza, a famous Brazilian sociologist/activist and leader from the NGO Ibase) are former exiled Brazilians, who gained support abroad to come back and found institutions and social movements that work for the empowerment of the popular segment.

Betinho remembered the resistance against the military dictatorship as an heroic task:

"The dominant sector of the Brazilian elites didn't want to leave their fantastic privileges, so they raised their flags against communism, inflation, corruption. They gained the middle class, always scared of the people, and did the coup d'état. The dominant groups used the freedom that only existed for them and did their neoliberal reforms. Brazil was a pioneer in neoliberalism, all the power to the private interests and to the market, although through the hands of the State. ...The empire of the Economy, the reign of injustice, the negation of citizenship... The resistance against this was a beautiful story... a fight of the students in the streets, cultural struggles in the teathers, in the lyrics of popular music, Clandestine fights, with torture, despair, deaths, heroism and madness (...) (Souza, Herbert, "Pinochet was born in Brazil". Jornal do Brasil, 26/3/94)

Betinho also realized that this struggle for a better world and for the empowerment of the popular segments might not be carried by the popular human being, because to create a new world was a kind of an heroic task that belonged to the few men/women who were free:

"Thinking, planning a new world doesn't mean to reverse the old, but to propose a new world. So, to be popular is not a sufficient condition to oppose Capital...The dominated human being may not be able to invent, to create a world where there is no domination, he/she may not be able to propose democracy, since democracy is not created by domination, but by freedom." (Souza, 1987: 28)

The task of changing the world and building an utopia was always attached to an historical dilemma: who does in fact build it, everybody or only the better men? Democratically or as a task of the most capable? Political Philosophy and Sociology have been dealing with this dilemma for ages: it began with Plato and his model of a Polis governed by the philosopher king, then it included Lenin's and Rosa Luxemburg's debate on mass participation in the Russian Social-Democratic Party and finally it ended in the tragic iron law of oligarchy of Michels (1972), according to whom the destiny of even the most democratic organization is oligarchy. Nowadays the moral task of intelectuals and their urge for a rational organization of the social world are stressed by Bauman (1987). According to Bauman, the project of modernity has failed, because the public sphere has become subordinated to the private sphere, under the hegemony of the market. It is high time to retake the discourse of redemption of modernity and of Iluminism. That would be the task of intellectuals, that is, scientists, politicians, writers, artists, philosophers, lawyers, architects, engineers etc., all those who are distinguished from the rest of the population by means of their level of instruction and who have similar rights and duties, the most important of them the right to address the nation invoking Reason.

In Brazil, environmental and social activists are among these highly educated people, these intellectuals appointed by Bauman, who have indeed criticized modernity, at least this façade of modernity. Should it be their privileged task to propose a new world? Are they destined to be heroes with a mission or common citizens?

Any directory on social indicators points out what the naked eye easily observe in Brazilian territory: poverty and an extremely unfair distribution of education and income in the country, as shown in Tables 3, 4 and 5. Brazilian Sociology and Political Science have also stressed the limited boundaries of our citizenship, referred to as "regulated citizenship" (Santos, 1979), "estadania" (Carvalho, 1988), "half citizenship", "almost citizenship", "incomplete citizenship" (Weffort, 1991). Thus, it makes sense that full citizenship and the fight against poverty have become banners of Brazilian social movements, even environmental ones. Civil, political and social rights, although present in constitutional texts, as well as in ordinary laws and governmental institutions, are still much more formal than real, owing to poverty.

Table 3- Years of schooling of Brazilian heads of households[6], by geographic regions (1991):  

Schooling/ Regions



Center West



No schooling






1  -  3 years






4  - 7 years






8 -  10  years






11 -  14 years






15 years and more












Brazilian population






  Source: Demographic Census, IBGE, RJ, 1991 - Vol 1, Table 3.3, p. 209

Table 4 - Years of schooling of Brazilian heads of households (1991):

Years of Schooling


No schooling


1 - 3 years


4 - 7 years


8 - 10 years


11 - 14 years


15 years and more




Brazilian population


Source: Demographic Census, IBGE, RJ, 1991 - Vol 1, Table 3.3, p. 209

 Table 5 - Monthly Income of Working Population (PEA) in Brazil in 1990 (%):

No salary


Up to one minimum salary (US$ 65.00)


More than 1 m.s. up to 2 m.s.  (US$ 65.00 - US$ 130.00)


More than 2 m.s. up to 3 m.s.  (US$ 130.00 - US$ 195.00)


More than 3 m.s. up to 5 m.s.  (US$ 195.00 - US$ 325.00)


More than 5 m.s. up to 10 m.a. (US$ 325.00 - US$ 650.00)


More than 10 m.s. up to 20 m.s. (US$ 650.00 - US$1,300.00)


Above 20 m.s. (US$ 1,300.00)


Without Declaring


Source:IBGE, Statistical Annuals, Rio de Janeiro, 1992 (based on PNAD 1990)
* U$ 65.00 corresponded to  Cr$ 36.161,60, a minimum salary in 1991. Today, 1995, this minimum salary was raised to U$ 90.00.

Brazilian GNP, which has raised from 3.8 billion dollars in 1900 to 66.69 in 1960 and 425,412 billion dollars in 1992[7], has not been more equally shared by the population: in 1992, the richiest 10% of Brazilian population earned 48.1 % of the national income[8]; 52.7 % of the entire population earned less than 2 minimal salaries a month, that is, less than US$ 130.00[9]. This scenery of unequalities allowed me to define Brazil as an aristocratic society (Tocqueville, 1981), where the vast majority of people try to answer their own needs and solve their problems by means of vertical vassal bonds to their bosses, local populist politicians, landowners and even urban outlaw chiefs rather than by means of horizontal ties, through associativism, trade-unions, etc. Some succeeded in getting the State to provide them school, health and social benefits, though at very poor levels. Given such unequalities, it sounds logical that full, active citizenship has become an exception.

Leaders of the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements were mainly advisers of Social Movements working in Developmental NGOs, State technicians, teachers and professors, advisers of federal and local deputies etc., with a profile of middle class strata, as it is usually called. These narrow strata, as shown above, do not represent the average position of Brazilian society. The politically central role of these narrow strata was stressed by Touraine (1989) and by Oliveira (1988), though: Touraine compared the Latinamerican middle class to the Russian intelligentsia of the nineteenth century and Oliveira mentioned the role of the Brazilian middle class as technobureaucrats of the State. The central role of these strata is due to their role of mediator between a more or less modern oligarchy and a mass of excluded people.

According to the literature about New Social Movements (Habermas, 1981; Touraine, 1984; Feher & Heller, 1984; Galtung, 1986; Eder, 1982; Laclau, 1986; Sherer-Warren, 1993) and about Environmental Movements (Lowe & Rudig , 1986), these new social actors are defined as middle class, although not inspired by class struggle: they would rather come from devaluated categories (ethnicities, women, youth) and their activities go beyond classes and so should not be explained by class analysis. I argue that in Brazil, this so called middle-class, this movement of a cultural elite, can still be better understood through the lenses of class analysis: a social segment that, because of its conscience and expertise acts and speaks in place, in the name and on behalf of the others, facing oligarchies by means of heroism, supercitizenship and occupying niches inside the State apparatus ("estadania").

The discourse of the Brazilian Forum was in favour of full citizenship, an alternative and more human model of development, refusing neo-liberal policies that produce misery and distress and get rid of the wretched people thus created[10]. The Braziliam Forum was an historical movement, according to Touraine's category (Touraine, 1989: 287), in its search for citizenship, national conscience and in its characteristic of being addresssed to the State and having the participation of several ethnicities and different movements.

In Latin America, such historical movements had a profile of moral protest, making claims against poverty and exclusion. Touraine discards the hypothesis of seeing them as a super-proletariat; they are not able to perform any revolutionary mission, because they are a paradox of participation by means of exclusion. The Brazilian Forum was a movement still in search of an identity, whose discourse was addressed to the State, an instance at the same time antagonistic and also rescuer.

Brazilian activists have criticized the State, have struggled against it and yet have asked for financial support from federal and local governments. Was it a contradiction?

During its ninth National Encounter, the Brazilian Forum discussed how to face a financial crisis on the eve of UNCED. After a representative reported difficulties and efforts to secure financial support from the federal government, some activists from the "floor" spoke about their shame and sadness to realize that an NGO and social movement Forum asked for money from the very government which has been responsible for social wretchedness and environmental depletion.

Answering them back, the leader J. P. said that to be independent from governments is different from demanding money from them and stressed the necessity of democratizing the State:

"What is the State? A machine for whom? We need to democratize the State, to demand resources in favour of society. We are to demand this because we are legitimate representatives of society." (Belo Horizonte, May, 1992)

Later on, he added:

"It is strange, to some people, that the Brazilian Forum had its headquarters in an official space, Catete Palace, Republic Museum. How could that be, NGOs in the shade of State? No, the correct dimension of this fact is to understand that, at the end of this century, organized citizens do represent the other face of res publica." ( A ONG do Catete, in Jornal do Brasil, 11/8/92)

Brazilian Sociology has developed several debates about how real, how strong and how alive Brazilian civil society effectively was (Kowarick, 1979; Boschi, 1987; Sherer-Warren, 1993; Weffort, 1984, etc.). New discourses praising civil society against State oppression also emerged in 1990 in Brazil, inspired by the Russian dissident movement of 1989 (Wolfe,1991). In spite of this, the example of the Brazilian Forum reminded us, sociologists, of Weffort's statement, that still rings true:

"There was a need to invent Civil Society; if it didn't exist, we had to invent it; it it was small, we needed to enlarge it." (Weffort, quoted by Telles, in Sherer-Warren, 1987:60).

The leftist legacy of the resistence against the military dictatorship - a resistence which mixed activists and sociological analysts - has led Brazilian social movements to despise the State and to search for civil society's empowerment. The State has been first seen as a Bonapartist, rotten machine to be extinguished. Betinho (the Brazilian sociologist from the NGO IBASE) very often wrote articles and gave interviews where the good will, potentialities and enthusiasm of Brazilian civil society - which he refers to as the Prairie (Planície), to confront it with the Plateau (Planalto, Brasilia, the federal capital) - faced the viciousness, danger and backwardness of the State:

"Struggling for democracy went on during the new Constitution, Movement pro Ethics in Politics, Collor's impeachment, CPI[11] about corruption, Action of Citizenship against Hunger, Misery and for Life. The foundation of all this was that everything happened under the pressure of society, from the prairie. In Power, on the Plateau[12], the danger still lives. It is in the Prairie that democracy grows and enlarges, this democracy that changes the course of things, which tries to bury the "senzala"[13] and free the slaves of our culture, our economy, our politics, forever". Herbert de Souza, Betinho: "Pinochet was born in Brazil", Jornal do Brazil, 26/3/94)

So, civil society was represented as a totality of active citizens acting collectively, with the proper animation, and encouragement of developmental NGOs. All that was needed to be done was to find the adequate language and procedures to reach people and put them to action. The antinomy Civil Society versus State was an attempt to be a slogan of encouragement.

The second understanding of the essence of the State and Civil Society comes from another leader of the Brazilian Forum: J. P. made reference to a public sphere, a res publica, where the partition between State and society criticized by Marx would be finally surpassed. When he refused to blame the Brazilian Forum for the incoherence of asking for governmental support, he stressed the idea that NGOs and social movements are political actors of the public sphere, in spite of being formally and legally private. So, their efforts should be to free the State, which has become a private being, from the hegemony of private interests.

Activists of the Brazilian Forum did not seem to share the anti-statism exemplified by Betinho. Quite the contrary, they affirmed their ideals in favour of a democratic State. To return the State to the public sphere and again join State and society was always stressed by the Brazilian Forum activists as a task of real citizens, and to develop full citizenship was one of the Forum most important aims.

Legally, at least since the new Federal Constitution of 1988, Brazil is formally a democracy, where civil, political and social rights are present. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of these rights can be questioned: do they really apply to everyone? Can anyone really invoke them and base their claims on them?


5 - Conclusions

Brazilian field of ecologism could be defined as weak, struggling, poorly organized and yet influential. This weakness had to do with the socio-economic profile of brazilian population and extensive privations, while their influence can be explained by their very presence and network with subordinated levels of State organisms. Touraine (1988), analysing social movements in Latin America, argued that it would be more adequate to define them as historical movements rather than social ones, cause their antagonists are not other social categories, but the State and they struggle for issues of identity rather than salaries or welfare, as, for instance, trade-unionists do. I'd conclude that movements that deal with values and more abstract demands are movements better performed by people who own specific expertise. That could explain why these movements are influential, although short in number of affiliates.

Activists of this field, in spite of their discourse pro full citizenship and enlarged democracy, have been driven more to the role of heroes - or to perform a sort of "estadania" than to live a common citizenship owing to several different causes:

1) the apathy and lack of motivation of the Brazilian masses, which have been performing a "half-citizenship", an "almost citizenship" and have been used as masses de manoeuvre by populist politicians who integrate them more through submission than through participatory patterns (Weffort, 1991);

2) the legacy of Brazilian political history of the late military dictatorship (1964-79[14]), when banishment, death and exile were the answers to any attempt by ordinary people to participate in the decisions about the destinies of the country;

3) the low levels of education and information of the Brazilian population, where 9% of the national electorate is illiterate and 26% of them are half illiterate;

4) the poverty of a population which cannot afford the costs of communication, information, travelling and all that is needed to participate in social movements and live a full citizenship;

5) the lack of effective legal-institutional support for citizens' activism;

6) the evil of leftist currents that dominate this field and which have some bad habits of delays, procrastination, prolix and long meetings which turn activism in either a kind of sacrifice, priestly mission or a task for profissionals.

Crespo (1995), studying environmental movements in Brazil, argued that environmental ideas - environmentalism - are very well, have been spreaded, accepted and have encouraged the creation of institutions and State organisms, but environmental movement is not well, because it is full of internal, fratricide struggle. Brazilian environmental activists analyze that all kind of movements have been living nowadays a kind of ebbing tide and that the stage of denounces and of public manifestation is over. UNCED gave them the opportunity to find the path to international NGOs and new donors, so they consider it is high time now to professionalization. Competition for scarce funds and for places in State organisms also can be an explanation to such fratricide.

Hochstetler (1995), analyzing potential political roles of social movements, argues that, according to the degree of formality/informality of political arena and to substantive or transformative aims, social movements can have 4 different political roles: representation, State transformation, informal polity and cultural politics. I'd say that the field of ecologism in Brazil moved from informal to formal polity and have been oscillating between cultural politics and State transformation. Lack of representativeness is not a bigger problem as far as environmentalists have chosen professionalism.


Bibliographic References:

Bauman, Zygmunt: Legislators and Interpreters - On Modernity, Post-Modernity and Intellectuals. Oxford, Polity Press, 1989.

Boschi, R.R.: A Arte da Associação - política de base e democracia no Brasil. São Paulo, Ed. Vértice, 1987.

Bourdieu, P.: Questions de Sociologie. Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit,1984.

Brandão, J.: Mitologia Grega I. Petrópolis, Vozes, 1993, 8a edição.

Mitologia Grega III. Petrópolis, Vozes, 1987.

Carvalho, J.M.: Os Bestializados. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2a. edição, 1988.

CIMA - Comissão Interministerial para a Preparação da Conferência das Nações Unidas sobre Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento

Subsídios Técnicos para Elaboração do Relatório Nacional do Brasil para a CNUMAD, Brasília, 1991.

Crespo, S.: Verdes que amadurecem: especialização e profissionalização das organizações ambientalistas no Brasil. XIX Encontro Anual da ANPOCS, Caxambu, mimeo, 1995.

Eder, K.: "A New Social Movement?" Telos n. 52, Summer 1982, pp 5-19.

Feher, F & Heller, A..: "From Red to Green". Telos n. 59, Spring 1984 pp 35-44.

Fórum de ONGs Brasileiras preparatório para a Conferência da Sociedade Civil sobre Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento: Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento - Uma Visão das ONGs e dos Movimentos Sociais Brasileiros. Rio de Janeiro, Fórum de ONGs brasileiras, 1992.

Galtung, J.: "The Green Movement: a socio-historical explanation." International Sociology vol 1 n. 1 , march 86, pp 75-90.

Habermas, J.: "New Social Movements." Telos n.49, Fall 1981, pp33-38.

Hartman, R.S.: Hegel- A Razão na História. Trad de Beatriz Sidou. São Paulo, Ed. Moraes, 1990.

Hochstetler, K.: Social Movements in Institutional Politics: organizing about the Environment in Brazil and Venezuela, Colorado State University,mimeo, 1995.

Kowarick, L.:A Espoliação Urbana. Rio de Janeiro, Ed. Paz e Terra, 1979.

Laclau, E.: "Os Novos Movimentos Sociais e a Pluralidade do Social". Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais n. 2 vol 1, out/86, ANPOCS/Cortez, pp.41-47.

Lowe, P.D. & Rudig, W.: "Review Article: Political ecology and the Social Sciences - The State of the Art". British Journal of Political Science vol 16, 1986, Cambridge Univ. Press, pp 513-550.

Michels, R.:Los Partidos Políticos: un estudio sociologico de las tendencias oligarquicas de la democracia moderna. Trad. Enrique Molina de Vedia, 2a edição, Buenos Aires, Amorrortu Editores, 1972.

Oliveira, F.: "Medusa ou As Classes Médias e a Consolidação Democrática". A Democracia no Brasil: Dilemas e Perspectivas. Reis, F.W. & O'Donnell (orgs.), São Paulo, Vértice, Editora Revista dos Tribunais, 1988, pp. 282- 295.

Porritt, J.: The Coming of the Greens. London, Fontana/Collins, 2a. edição, 1989.

Porritt, J.: Seeing Green: the politics of Ecology explained. London, Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Santos, W. G.: Razões da Desordem. Rio de Janeiro, Rocco, 1993.

Scherer-Warren, I. & Krischke, P.J. (orgs.): Uma Revolução no Cotidiano? Os Novos Movimentos Sociais na América do Sul. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1987.

Scherer-Warren, I.: Rede de Movimentos Sociais. São Paulo, Ática, 1993.

Tocqueville, A.: De La Democratie en Amérique. Paris, Ed. Flammarion, 1981.

Touraine, A.: Le Retour de L'Acteur. Paris, Fayard, 1984.

Touraine, A.: Palavra e Sangue: Política e Sociedade na América Latina. Trad. Irai D. Poleti, São Paulo, Trajetória Cultural, Unicamp, 1988.

Viola E. J.: "O Movimento Ecológico no Brasil (1974-86): do ambientalismo à ecopolítica". Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais n. 3 vol 1, fev. 87, ANPOCS, pp. 5-26.

Weffort, F.: Por que Democracia? São Paulo, Ed. Brasiliense, 1984.



[1]United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, in June, 1992.
[2]Which makes an annual average income from US$ 3,780 to 11,340.
[3] Tribunal Superior Eleitoral
[4]Santos research (1993) also stressed this point. He analysed the number of associations officialy registered in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro from 1920 to 1980 and showed that 68,2% emerged after 1970, in São Paulo, The most frequent kind of association was those dedicated to leisure and sports and to occupational interests. Santos tried to emphasize Brazil was already a poliarchy, but he also admitted that this poliarchy was plunged inside "a bubble of indifference and alienation, in a culture of dissimulation, diffuse violence and individual and familial enclosures, while government governs too much, but surrounded by an emptiness of accountability and civic concern". (1993: 80-81).
[5]CPT, the Church Commission on Land publishes each year a calendar with the names of the hundreds of peasants murdered in the fight for land.
[6]"Permanent dwellings", only, according to IBGE methodology.
[7]UFRJ, 1990 and World Bank Atlas, 1994
[8] IBGE/PNADs (National Research based on Domestic Samples)
[9] IBGE, Estatistical Annals, 1992.
[10]See "Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento - uma visão das ONGs e dos Movimentos Sociais Brasileiros" (Environment and Development - a vision from NGOs and Brazilian Social Movements), Rio de Janeiro, Forum de ONGs brasileiras, 1992. See also "Umwelt und Entwicklung - eine Vision der brasilianischen NGOs und Sozialen Bewegungen. Der Bericht des Forums der Brasilianischen NGOs zur Vorbereitung der Konferenz der zivilen Gesellschaft úber Umwelt und Entwicklung Rio 92. Thomas W. Fatheier , Rio de Janeiro, Deutschen Entwicklungsdienstes (DED)/ FASE, 1992.
[11]Parlamentary Commission for Investigation (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito)
[12] Reference to the Central Plateau, where Brasilia, tha federal capital, is sited.
[13]Slave quarters on plantations
[14]The Law of Amnisty dated of 1979; in 1985 a first civil President was indirectly elected.




Inicio - Articulos
Home - Articles



Theomai*. Red de Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo/Theomai*. Society, Nature and Development Studies Network.
*Theomai: Ver, mirar, contemplar, observar, pasar revista, comprender, conocer
Theomai is a word of greek origin wich means: to see, to contemplate, to observe, to understand, to know

Coordinadores/Coordinators: Guido P. Galafassi - Adrián G. Zarrilli.
Sede/Place: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones