Accepted paper:

The end of the era of institutionalised participation and the implications for rights struggles in rural Brazil


Alex Shankland (Institute of Development Studies)

Paper short abstract:

A key feature of closing civic space in Brazil since 2016 has been the withdrawal of government support for institutionalised engagement with social movements and NGOs, after decades of state/civil society co-construction of social policies. This paper discusses the implications for the rural poor.

Paper long abstract:

Over the three decades between the promulgation of the post-military "Citizens' Constitution" in 1988 and the election of the military-backed President Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, Brazil developed an approach to state/civil society co-construction of social policies that became something of a global model. Under the Workers' Party (PT) governments of 2003-2016 this model helped to deliver unprecedented progress in reducing rural poverty and hunger. Some of the main beneficiaries were 'Traditional Peoples and Communities', marginalised groups who depend on natural resources from land to which they often lack legal title. Their social movement organisations were able to use alliances with NGOs and supportive bureaucrats to secure access to the policy process through institutionalised participation spaces. Participatory institutions such as the National Food and Nutritional Security Council (CONSEA) played a key role in helping movements to negotiate inclusion of their grassroots constituencies in government programmes. However, they failed to achieve any substantive changes in land rights legislation or the highly unequal structure of land tenure in Brazil, and the PT governments continued to favour agribusiness over the rural poor in state resource allocation. After the impeachment of PT President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 the space for institutionalised participation was drastically curtailed, and violence against land and environmental rights defenders intensified. In January 2019 one of Bolsonaro's first acts as President was to abolish CONSEA. This paper discusses the implications for the rural poor of a reliance on institutionalised participation for engaging the state in the face of closing civic space.

panel G2
What does changing civic space mean for development?