Imagining a Path to Revolution

Zeichner_Brazil_062409, originally uploaded by CLACS – NYU.

I arrived in Brazil on June 2, 2009. And, even though this would not be my first in the country, I have a clear recollection of feeling a strong sense of anxiety upon arrival, likely caused by my awareness of the difficulty one experiences in Brazil when trying to plan a research routine in advance. Remembering my previous experiences, I already knew that life in Brazil tends to be full of unforeseen contingencies that are often the result of unpredictable happenings.

My project in Brazil aims to explore the formation of alternative gender constructions in the industrial suburbs surrounding Sao Paulo during Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985). During the military regime, many left-wing political organizations, among which university student activists were the dominant participants, embraced the belief that the true revolutionary “vanguard” could only be found among popular sectors. This ideological approach motivated several leftist groups to send members into factories in the Greater Sao Paulo Area to effectively become factory workers. For those that went into factories, this meant not only a rethinking of class identities, but also of appropriate ways to perform masculinity and femininity. While their inspiration to engage in this type of political and social organizing was, ultimately, based on a romanticized and essentialized understanding of what they considered to be the “working class,” these individuals toiled and marched side-by-side with rank-and-file workers and union leaders, and ultimately contributed to shaping the identity of a new age in labor-oriented activism.

Originally, my plan while in Brazil was to spend the first three weeks in Rio de Janeiro, after which I would travel to Sao Paulo for the final three weeks. However, as I feared following my arrival, events in Brazil are often unforeseeable. My first day in the archives in Rio de Janeiro was a success. After close to an hour of negotiating with the archivists in the State Archive of Rio, I convinced them to let me work with a collection of documents that was in the process of being microfilmed. Nonetheless, when I returned the next day to work with the same documents, I was “regretfully” informed that the collection was now “off limits.” Adapting to the situation, I decided to cut my time in Rio short and traveled to Sao Paulo where I was confident I would be able to work in certain archives that were already familiar to me. Little did I know that the public university school students were about to go on strike, which would bar me from accessing the Edgard Leuenroth Archive, one of the essential archival sources for my research.
While I am currently not able to do research in either of these archives for certain unforeseen contingencies, I am discovering new ways to make my time here worthwhile. I have already conducted two interviews with former activists, as well as found several new archives that are proving to be quiet useful. However, only time will tell what future unpredictable happenings shape the next steps.

Natan Zeichner
PhD student, History

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