Constellations of InequalitySpace, Race, and Utopia in Brazil

Constellations of InequalitySpace, Race, and Utopia in Brazil

Sean T. Mitchell

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226499123

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Through an analysis of Brazil’s changing politics of inequality, development, and race, Constellations of Inequality demonstrates the value of ethnography to illuminate the relationships between inequality and consciousness at multiple scales—local, national and global. Based on long-term ethnographic research in Alcântara, Maranhão, the book analyzes the conflicts surrounding Brazil’s spaceport—a high-technology project of global transcendence located in one of Brazil’s poorest regions. The spaceport was built in the 1980s in a region principally populated by the descendants of those once enslaved on local cotton plantations, inaugurating a land conflict that continues today. Announced by Brazil’s military government as part of a project to make Brazil a world technomilitary power, the spaceport has been beset by internal and external problems, and is today populated by two Brazilian space programs (one military and the other neoliberal) that differ in their projects to confront global political and economic inequalities. Another project at the site is concerned not with international inequalities, but Brazil’s internal inequalities of class and race. Mobilizing as escaped-slave descendants (quilombolas), villagers and their allies have organized to resist the expansion of the spaceport and to win the villagers rights of wellbeing and citizenship that have long been denied to them. The spaceport thus stands at the center of competing projects of social and material transformation, different utopias, each aimed at redressing inequality, though on very different scales, and in very different ways.