Current Institutional Affiliation
Lecturer, History, Classics, and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Wisconsin / Madison
Contested Development: Itaipu and the Meanings of Land and Opposition in Military Brazil

My project will use the history of the Itaipu hydroelectric dam to trace the layered contours of development, land, and opposition during Brazil's dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. Itaipu marked a distinct shift in Brazilian development ideologies; rather than taking an urban-industrial approach, the dictatorship began to view the countryside as a new fulcrum for growth. However, the military's perception of Itaipu clashed with that of the 42,000 people whose lands it flooded, galvanizing a struggle of small-scale farmers, landless peasants, and indigenous communities. By looking at Itaipu from the margins, we can grasp the manifold ways that dictatorship and development insinuated themselves into the lives of rural Brazilians. My project is premised on three hypotheses. First, Itaipu must be understood as an experience rather than a project—one that was contested by the military and various rural actors. Second, the question of land determined much of Itaipu's history and its consequences. For the dictatorship, Itaipu was an experiment in rearranging rural landscapes by displacing local farmers under the banner of national development, and for enabling the cross-border colonization of Paraguay's fertile agricultural lands. For local Brazilians, diverging relationships to land resulted in unique forms of social mobilization at particular stages of the protests against Itaipu. Finally, these movements reveal an unexplored genealogy of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) that emerged toward the end of the dictatorship, elucidating the meanings of Brazil's political transition and the social realities that persisted after the return to democracy. By exposing the broader realities of development, the image of land as a social catalyst, and the complexities of Brazil's path toward democracy, my project will articulate Itaipu's role in the transformation of modern Brazil.