Home Institution

Pomona College

Publication Date

Fall 2013

Program Name

Brazil: Social Justice and Sustainable Development


Neo-Marxist theory suggests that capitalist structures are dehumanizing and that alternative structures should be constructed to re-humanize the people. Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) constructs settlements of small, self-governing family farms as an alternative to the large agricultural estates that dominate Brazil. The settlements have transformed the way workers see themselves. They have successfully developed a humanizing alternative; MST members see themselves as subjects. It is important for Social Justice movements to understand how MST has achieved such powerful differences from Capitalist societies in order to replicate humanizing social structures. My study sought to understand how MST’s agricultural system cultivates humanity, human dignity, and subjectivity in its community.

Assentamento Palmares, a MST settlement in Ceará, generously allowed me to pursue my research in their community. I interviewed 5 members of the settlement. I also participated in and recorded information about a regional MST meeting, a day of farm work, and a meeting of the settlement’s women’s group. In MST’s farming system, workers have direct control over food production, which humanizes the communities in many ways. They can secure their health and human dignity by farming nutritious food without pesticides and they own the products of their labor, so they are not alienated from it. Life at the settlement requires sharing and fighting together for everyone’s right to human dignity, so members to work together and help each other out, a collective consciousness that equalizes and humanizes. MST’s leadership draws from the farming-class/working-class members of the settlements; this alternative to Capitalist divisions of labor encourages its members to voice their political opinions and creative expressions. The community promotes the knowledge that workers have valuable thoughts and feelings; they are human beings. However, my time with the women’s group showed me that they are still fighting sexism in the settlement. Full humanization would require equal respect for women’s work, bodies, and voices.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change