Patronizing Dispossession: Patronage Networks and Contention in Amazonia

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 08:50
Oral Presentation
With ethnographic evidence from a riverine-peasant community menaced by a hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon, I argue that patronage groups can provide the basis for both resistance to and compliance with territorial dispossession. Anti-dispossession social movements provide resources and framing for some local groups, which selectively protest dispossession and intrusive subcontracted firms. In response, private firms employ co-optative mechanisms to ensure local support and project continuity (Selznick 1966[1949]). First, subcontracted firms co-opt local families informally through financial incentives, creating acceptance within shifting patronage groups. This partial and informal cooptation radicalizes local conflicts. Companies then deploy a second, formal co-optative mechanism by providing privately controlled information and ‘new public participation’ (Walker et al 2015); a “social communications” firm effectively divides the community by subsuming contending parties into a participatory and representative “community council” under private auspice, thus managing to avert threats to project continuity. I argue that patronage groups and participatory techniques are crucial intervening mechanisms to understand and explain the interactions between state or corporate powers and local communities as well as the shape of dispossession processes. Territorial dispossession provokes reaction from social movements and civil society but its contentious politics is shaped by local and extra local relations of dependency conceptualised as patronage.