The Movement of Homeless Workers and the Construction of Political Communities

Authors: Dan Furukawa Marques*, Université Laval
Topics: Political Geography, Land Use, South America
Keywords: Movement of Homeless Workers, political communities, Brazil, urban movements, territorialization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Brazil, since the June 2013 protests until today’s political crisis, the Movimento de Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Movement of Homeless Workers, MTST) is one of the only social movements that managed to channel the social anger by mobilizing thousands of citizens, mainly from the favelas (urban slums). Presently considered the “most important movement in Brazil” (Löwy, 2016), roughly counting 900,000 "roofless" at the national level, they occupy empty terrains and demand social housing. These occupied territories transformed into urban encampments are true laboratories of participatory and economic democracy. They become small self-managed towns with innovative social practices: itinerary literacy schools, agroecological urban agriculture, political education, hybrid management (hierarchical and egalitarian) of common spaces, alternative health clinics, workshops on the construction of urban spaces, etc. Defending an “urban reform” inspired by the “right to the city,” the MTST seems to give a new hope to citizens’ participation and construction of their own territories, showing how politics is lived through social relations and everyday actions (Boulos, 2014). This paper aims at showing how “territorial movements” (Fernandes, 1996, 2000; Vergara-Camus, 2014), such as the MTST (but also the Zapatistas or the Landless Movement) manage to create not only spaces of resistance, but also a sense of community and a commitment to political action based on the principles of collective work, participatory democracy, mutual help, and reciprocity. At the same time, this process of solidarity building is not without conflicts, tensions, and contradictions, which reflects the territorialization and construction of a political community.

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