Dr. Moises Lino e Silva is an anthropologist who specializes in the question of freedom and its relationship to different pressing topics such as poverty, violence, sexuality, and development. Dr Lino e Silva has written on issues related to the impact of ecotourism on the life of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Forest and his current research is centered on issues of freedom as experienced by slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He currently holds a shared appointment teaching in Anthropology and in International and Global Studies at Brandeis University. Recently, Dr Lino e Silva has been selected a World Social Science Fellow by the International Social Science Council (UNESCO).
What do you think are the main challenges for economic development and sustainability in Brazil?
So, while some advances have been made, there in still a lot of inequality in Brazil. A good question to ask is how will the new economy work for different people. For example, my own work as an anthropologist focused on favelas (urban shantytowns) in Rio de Janeiro and a big concern is how will Brazil deal with favela dwellers now that the country is richer. Some favelas have of course benefitted from social projects. But, for instance, with big international events in Brazil like the Olympic games and the World Soccer Cup there have been changes to the lives of the urban poor. One thing is the so-called “pacification” of favelas, during those events, where the state took over the territory from drug lords and a challenge is to see if those policies will be sustained in general and to see if Brazil’s growth can be sustained beyond what people would call a “bubble” and what will happen to the poor if this bubble bursts. The second thing is about how Brazil’s growth will impact the environment. Brazil has a lot of natural resources such as oil and minerals that have been traditionally what we exported. Part of Brazil’s growth can be explained by its relationship to China and the Chinese buying our commodities. So another question is how much of our development is dependent on exploiting natural resources for producing commodities? More specifically, how does industrial growth cause pollution in our cities and rivers? Like in Sao Paulo, it is appalling how polluted the river Tietê is. It is more like an open sewer and it smells really bad. So there are various questions of reconciling economic growth and protecting environmental resources. The last thing I will mention is the impact of the agricultural industry on our forests. People argue that they need more land for growing their crops and raising cattle but where does that land come from? From deforestation. We have been successful in slowing down deforestation but it is always an open-ended question and we need to see how this will play out in the future.
What role are you going to play on the panel at the event on Brazil’s Balancing Act? What will you be talking about?
This event and the panel is an important forum to open up the discussion and not to think that business is the enemy of sustainability and the environment. I will use my anthropological background to talk about the indigenous Brazilian communities and how if you are considered indigenous person you have special land rights under the law and they can claim areas of land as their territory. These lands are protected in different ways. But the point of my talk will be to show how difficult it is to actually know who is an indigenous Brazilian person and who is not. That is a big question because that status grants you particular entitlements. I will talk about a very public event where a famous Brazilian anthropologist, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, was misquoted in an article about this question of development and indigenous people for a news magazine of major importance. I will discuss the news magazine’s position and how they read the argument that was put forth by Viveiros de Castro and his response to that reading. It is all about how anthropologists take part in the discussion about “indigeneity” and the Brazilian state seeks the help of anthropologists to determine who is and isn’t indigenous. So anthropological theory and approaches are important in practical terms but these are not always accessible to other people and this event shows that in how it became a national debate.
You are teaching an IGS class on the Rise of Brazil. Could you tell us about the themes you cover in the class and how it is going?
I am really excited about this course. Professor Chandler Rosenberger proposed the title and we worked together to develop the syllabus. The idea is to address the fact that Brazil is becoming more prominent on the international scene and Brazil is now no. 6 or no. 7 in the list of the richest countries in the world. So people have to face the fact that there is a projection that traditional centers of power will not be the same in the next few decades and there will be a shift in the international balance of power. The course tries to explain what Brazil has been doing, even in times of international financial crisis, to continue growing and the crisis didn’t affect us as much as other places and why. Also recent events in Brazilian history and we also talk about the relationship between Brazilian politics and other themes like clean energy. So how does Brazil have one of the cleanest matrices of clean energy in general and what are the roots for that. But also, we discuss how Brazil just found a huge amount of oil recently and that makes us more self-sustainable but we could also become exporters of oil and that is generating a lot of income for the country. In all that though, there is an important point that Brazil stopped think of growth as coming before social equality. Brazil is still of course a very unequal country but the idea moving forward is not to grow the cake and then split it but rather that these things go together. In fact, I think the way Brazil is rising is precisely through some programs that give more income to people that have been historically the poorest in the country. The number of people passing the poverty line is amazing and these people are also eagerly consuming and that contributes to the internal market and the whole economy. So there is a lot to be learned from the Brazilian case and that is what we are doing in the course.