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Partisan Publics

Partisan Publics: Communication and Contention across Brazilian Youth Activist Networks

Ann Mische
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Partisan Publics
    Book Description:

    During the 1980s and 1990s, Brazil struggled to rebuild its democracy after twenty years of military dictatorship, experiencing financial crises, corruption scandals, political protest, and intense electoral contention. In the midst of this turmoil, Ann Mische argues in this remarkable book, youth activists of various stripes played a vital and unrecognized role, contributing new forms of political talk and action to Brazil's emerging democracy.

    Drawing upon extensive and rich ethnography as well as formal network analysis, Mische tracks the lives of young activists through intersecting political networks, including student movements, church-based activism, political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and business and professional organizations. She probes the problems and possibilities they encountered in combining partisan activism with other kinds of civic involvement. In documenting activists' struggles to develop cross-partisan publics of various kinds, Mische explores the distinct styles of communication and leadership that emerged across organizations and among individuals.

    Drawing on the ideas of Habermas, Gramsci, Dewey, and Machiavelli, Partisan Publics highlights political communication styles and the forms of mediation and leadership they give rise to--for democratic politics in Brazil and elsewhere. Insightful in its discussion of culture, methodology, and theory, Partisan Publics argues that partisanship can play a significant role in civic life, helping to build relations and institutions in an emerging democracy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3081-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. PROLOGUE Exploring Brazilian Youth Activism
    (pp. 1-14)

    Partidarismo não!” With these chants against partisanship, a student rally ended in confusion and heated argument. The rally had been organized in July 1988 to pressure for the democratization of the schools, a theme that succeeded in pulling nearly a thousand teenagers out of night classes in ten schools of the Vila Prudente, a working-class neighborhood in the poorer Eastern Zone of São Paulo. The evening rally took place in a dusty parking lot outside a transit hub, with activists speaking from microphones atop a truck equipped with amplifiers. I was attending the rally with two young friends, Teresa and...

  8. Part One: Institutional Intersections

    • CHAPTER ONE Communication and Mediation in Contentious Publics
      (pp. 17-34)

      Young activists beginning political involvement in Brazil during the late 1980s entered a field marked by both dynamism and dispute. The country’s slow and cautious transition from military to civilian rule was entering its second decade, with a new constitution on the way and a series of local and state elections paving the road for the country’s first presidential elections in almost thirty years. Densely overlapping networks of religious, community, labor, and partisan activism had been mounting challenges to various levels of government since the late 1970s, although there were signs that this mobilization was beginning to weaken. Meanwhile, student...

    • CHAPTER TWO Leadership in the Intersections
      (pp. 35-55)

      In late 1995, about thirty leaders of the Brazilian student movement gathered in São Paulo for a weekend-long meeting of the newly elected directorate of the National Student Union (UNE). Most students knew each other from years of activism at universities around the country. Almost all belonged to one of the five or six political parties (or party factions) represented at the meeting, and others brought experience in community-based popular movements, nongovernmental organizations, the Catholic youth pastoral, or cultural activities such as theater, music, and radio. Despite these diverse involvements, they were committed to the common banner of opposition to...

    • CHAPTER THREE Activist Cohorts and Trajectories, 1977 to 1996
      (pp. 56-96)

      When and where activists begin their activism makes a difference, both for their subsequent careers and for the dynamics of the field. In the Brazilian activist worlds that I studied, beginning activism often did not mean committing to a single organization or movement. Many activists quickly became sucked into multiple forms of participation, sometimes straddling institutional sectors. Often these intersections expanded as they moved on in their careers. Such cross-sectoral intersections—both in activists’ own careers and in the field around them—in turn posed challenges and opportunities to young people active in a given period. In this chapter, I...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Partisan Bridging in Early Student and Catholic Activism
      (pp. 97-133)

      In May 1979, more than five thousand students trekked from the far corners of Brazil to Salvador, Bahia, for the Congress of Reconstruction of the National Student Union (UNE). Ten years after the harsh crackdown by the military regime that sent hundreds of student leaders to prison, exile, or armed resistance, students were attempting to revive and restructure Brazil’s historic central student organization. The military regime, in the midst of its slow and cautious abertura (opening) to democracy, had declared that the congress was illegal, but not prohibited, in the ambiguous doubletalk typical of the period. The conservative governor of...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Civic Mediation in the 1992 Impeachment Movement
      (pp. 134-180)

      Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Brazilian student activists wrestled with the tension between their student, partisan, and civic identities. For most of the 1980s, the accent was on their partisan affiliations, which, as we have seen, strongly structured the internal debates and battles of student politics. In 1992, civic identities swept into the foreground as the student movement—along with the nation as a whole—converged in a dramatic series of demonstrations for the impeachment on corruption charges of President Fernando Collor de Melo. The impeachment mobilizations allowed the student movement to emerge from the partisan squabbling that had characterized...

  9. Part Two: Contentious Communication

    • CHAPTER SIX Modes of Communication in Institutionalized Publics
      (pp. 183-212)

      In the year or two following the 1992 impeachment movement, the student movement continued to bask in the light of its unexpected return to public prominence. UNE showered the universities with colorful documents and posters celebrating the triumphant “return of the students” in the mobilizations to oust President Fernando Collor de Melo. Lindberg Farias, the charismatic president of UNE during the impeachment, had been honored as a cidadão Paulistano (citizen of São Paulo) by the city’s mayor, cementing his symbolic position as a civic hero (in 1994 he would wage a successful campaign for Congress in Rio de Janeiro on...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Defensive Publics in University Settings
      (pp. 213-238)

      The congresses of UNE described in the last chapter were grand, colorful, and highly ritualized publics, in which the electoral tasks of the student movement were carried out with much fanfare and public drama. These highly institutionalized publics involved entrenched modes of communication that would prove very difficult to change, despite repeated efforts at reform. However, at the grassroots levels in the universities, styles of communication were more tenuous and negotiable. Political communication was shaped by local configurations of relations among student factions, university administrations, and the changing student population. Student activists confronted increasing skepticism of partisanship among fellow students,...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Challenger Publics and Stylistic Innovation
      (pp. 239-286)

      During the mid-1990s, many student activists in Brazil were expressing various degrees of discontent with UNE and the “general” student movement. Even those most committed to UNE as an historic student institution were discussing proposals for institutional reforms (although they often disagreed vehemently over the direction and scope of those reforms). However, the anti-UNE malaise and defensive posture among activists described in the last chapter did not necessarily lead to political paralysis or the impoverishment of political debate. In some cases, this discontent was channeled into attempts to build new types of student participation, engaging different kinds of people, projects,...

    • CHAPTER NINE Partisan Dramaturgy and the Breakdown of Publics
      (pp. 287-337)

      By the late 1990s, there was broad consensus in student politics that UNE and the student movement needed to be reformed. Many of the criticisms, as we have seen, were directed at the PCdoB-controlled leadership, often by partisan opponents. However, PCdoB activists were themselves becoming concerned about problems in UNE and developing their own proposals for reform. They also began consciously changing their style, from a tendency toward confrontational tactics and sectarian control to an attempt to present themselves as “broad” and “open,” more willing to collaborate across partisan lines. After the congress of 1995 (described in chapter 6), the...

  10. CHAPTER TEN Conclusion: Parties and Publics
    (pp. 338-360)

    As I write this conclusion, the 9/11 Commission has just delivered its final report. In a rather extraordinary accomplishment, the ten-member National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, composed of five Republicans and five Democrats, succeeded in producing a unanimous 567-page report, largely praised as being “balanced” and “nonpartisan.”¹ Debates have been circulating about the degree to which individual commissioners flaunted or suppressed partisan leanings during commission hearings, and the final report left a number of gaps in the push to achieve unanimous approval. Responsibility for the 9/11 attacks was assigned to both Bush and Clinton administrations, with...

  11. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 361-366)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 367-390)
  13. References
    (pp. 391-414)
  14. Index
    (pp. 415-432)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 433-433)