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Zero Hunger

Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy in Northeast Brazil

Aaron Ansell
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Zero Hunger
    Book Description:

    When Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil's Workers' Party soared to power in 2003, he promised to end hunger in the nation. In a vivid ethnography with an innovative approach to Brazilian politics, Aaron Ansell assesses President Lula's flagship antipoverty program, Zero Hunger (Fome Zero), focusing on its rollout among agricultural workers in the poor northeastern state of Piaui. Linking the administration's fight against poverty to a more subtle effort to change the region's political culture, Ansell rethinks the nature of patronage and provides a novel perspective on the state under Workers' Party rule.Aiming to strengthen democratic processes, frontline officials attempted to dismantle the long-standing patron-client relationships--Ansell identifies them as "intimate hierarchies"--that bound poor people to local elites. Illuminating the symbolic techniques by which officials attempted to influence Zero Hunger beneficiaries' attitudes toward power, class, history, and ethnic identity, Ansell shows how the assault on patronage increased political awareness but also confused and alienated the program's participants. He suggests that, instead of condemning patronage, policymakers should harness the emotional energy of intimate hierarchies to better facilitate the participation of all citizens in political and economic development.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1399-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION Intimate Hierarchy and Its Enemies
    (pp. 1-18)

    One evening in June 2003, Henrique, a Brazilian politician running for mayor of a small, impoverished northeastern town, attended a charity auction in a village along with several hundred people. He had made a fortune from the market and butcher shop he owned in a nearby city, and he was ready to put his money to work for his campaign, bidding on prize after prize (plates of cooked food, liquor, and soft drinks), all to be eaten right then and there, just outside the village chapel. As he won the bids, Henrique set them on a table and yelled, “Grab...

    (pp. 19-51)

    On the morning of October 27, 2002, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Rio de Janeiro in tearful celebration of what some called a democratic revolution. A child migrant turned metalworker—turned union organizer, turned political prisoner, turned party leader—had just completed his final transformation into President-Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. My friends from the headquarters of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores—PT) embraced in the rapture of victory. While they were normally divided into factions that held widely ranging views on capitalism, state policy, and identity politics, on this day they could...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Hunger, Envy, and Egalitarianism in Passarinho
    (pp. 52-66)

    One day I was sitting with a very impoverished, middle-aged village man, Adenísio, when I heard his teenage daughter, Fátima, crying violently from inside his doorless house. Her mother had scolded her after learning that a group of village women had gossiped that Fátima’s hunger-induced envy might have been responsible for the death of a neighbor’s cow. Fátima cried out, “I didn’t do anything. I did look at the cow, but I didn’t admire it. Looking is one thing; admiring is another. Mama, I wasn’t admiring it! Old, ugly cow! I didn’t even stop for one minute. I went straight...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Intimate Hierarchy and Its Counters
    (pp. 67-90)

    In 2004 the conservative mayor, Rodrigo, had served his maximum two terms and could not run again. The man he chose to succeed him was less popular, so the opposition candidate—the wealthy rancher, Henrique—had his first real chance to capture the mayoralty. With a particularly vital contest brewing, municipal politics ran “hot” that year. Family members with different allegiances grew estranged, casual acquaintances became the best of friends, and day-trading partnerships between people with different allegiances strained and sometimes broke. The informal rules of engagement generally discouraged physical violence, but a few boozy fistfights had broken out in...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Prodigal Children Return to the Countryside
    (pp. 91-113)

    Moving from the perspective of Zero Hunger’s beneficiaries to that of its implementers, I now turn to the program’s frontline agents in the state of Piauí. For these state officials, the local distinctions between long- and short-term modes of exchange that separated moral and amoral political relationships were neither visible nor meaningful. For them, all such transactions were characterized as patron-client exchange, and such clientelismo contributed to food deprivation. And so while these urban officials admired what one called the “beautiful system of family agriculture” from which their own families had derived, they nonetheless worried that in the rural interior,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Induced Nostalgia
    (pp. 114-136)

    During one of my first trips to Teresina (Piauí’s state capital) I met with the staff from the Zero Hunger Coordenadoria in its small office in the government district. It was still early in 2004, which meant that the federal administration of the program was undergoing serious changes—a new ministry led by a new minister, a “migration” of beneficiaries from the Food Card to the new Bolsa Família program, and a general shift in emphasis away from the once celebrated “local” and “structural” policies toward the “emergency” (i.e., cash transfer) policies. In point of fact, Zero Hunger was giving...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Programmatic Pilgrimage
    (pp. 137-161)

    On an unusually cold night in early May 2004, I stood next to my friend Augusto by the old church in the municipality adjacent to Passarinho. We were waiting there for a chartered bus to pick us up and take us on a ten-hour ride to Teresina. Standing around us were roughly two dozen other people—mostly young, mostly men, mostly dark-skinned—all shivering in the evening’s chill and trying to stay in good cheer. The others, who clung to their makeshift sacks full of rolled clothes and toothbrushes, all hailed from villages in Passarinho or its surrounding municipalities. Augusto,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Marginalizing the Mayor
    (pp. 162-185)

    Passarinho’s inhabitants told me of an event that occurred in February 2003, about a year before I took up long-term residence in the municipality. The story goes that one day a helicopter landed unannounced on the town soccer field—a first for Passarinho. Out of it stepped none other than Eduardo Suplicy, the famous PT senator from São Paulo, who stood before a bewildered crowd. He told the people gathered there that he had come to speak to their mayor about “ending hunger.” Rodrigo, the erstwhile mayor, arrived on the scene and announced that he only had fifteen minutes to...

  12. CONCLUSION Intimacy and Democracy
    (pp. 186-194)

    I have argued that state officials tried to impress on the beneficiaries of Zero Hunger and Bolsa Família that there was a better way to do politics than “patronage” (what I’ve called “intimate hierarchy”). In doing so, I may have committed an injustice to these officials by implying that they were insensitive to the nuances of municipal political culture, and that their perspective on this matter remained unchanged despite their own intimate encounters with program beneficiaries. In fact, their encounters with the beneficiaries prompted state officials to reflect on their preexisting ideas about patronage in the sertão and in their...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 195-198)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 199-210)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-232)
  16. Index
    (pp. 233-239)