Liminality and exclusion: Brazilian pickers and their relationships with Brazilian society


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IPC-Ig Research Associate, Beatriz Magalhães, presents her research findings of her MA thesis about the rights of Brazilian pickers and their relationships with Brazilian society

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Liminality and exclusion: Brazilian pickers and their relationships with Brazilian society

  2. 2. 1- INTRODUCTION   Garbage as the other side of the production and consumption process; Recycling as the opposite process of consumption. O’Brien (2008):  -“"We" have not become "inordinately touchy" about what happens to our waste(…)”  “rubbish stands on a subterranean rung of the ladder of our collective awareness - and ever has it been so.”
  3. 3. INTRODUCTION    Žižek (2008): “The problem is that trash doesn’t disappears.” Once something is thrown away, it is turned into garbage, and it then becomes an object for actions of those who are responsible for collecting it and taking it to its final destination, the garbage dumps. However, between being thrown away by the consumer and being collected, garbage may be also object for action of other subjects, the pickers.
  4. 4. INTRODUCTION  All over the world, pickers are in a peculiar situation, because:  They are the key element to transform garbage into a commodity, which contributes to the reproduction of capitalist system, And, at the same time,  They are marginalized and excluded in/ of the society; as poor people, they don’t have access to many rights and services that people with a higher income have.
  5. 5. INTRODUCTION  Recycling is an activity that has been increasingly acquiring more value, in the context of the “environmental paradigm” that has been recently ascending on main debates in governments, media, universities… Main questions: - In recent years, has the work of the pickers in Brazil become more recognized because of the ascension of the“environmental paradigm”? 
  6. 6. INTRODUCTION - In other words, is the changing of perceptions regarding environment in society being followed by a social change? - The main purpose of this work is to investigate the relationships between recyclable materials pickers and Brazilian society.
  7. 7. INTRODUCTION  Taking into account important events such as the creation of the MNCR (National Recyclable Materials Pickers` Movement) in 2001, the approval of LNRS (National Solid Waste Act) in 2010, and, in recent decades, the rise in significance of environmental issues, this work also discusses the possibility of positive changes in the relationship between pickers and society, considering its historical characterization by liminality (as proposed by Victor Turner) and exclusion.
  8. 8. INTRODUCTION     This work examines the relations between pickers of recyclable materials and Brazilian society through three foci of analysis: 1 st : a set of interviews with recyclable materials pickers in different situations, in Belo Horizonte and its surrounding area; 2 nd: two documentaries about pickers – “Boca de Lixo” (Eduardo Coutinho, 1992) and “Waste Land (Lucy Walker, 2009) 3 rd: the interactions with policy makers and representatives of business sectors and nongovernmental organizations.
  9. 9. 2- FROM WASTE PICKERS TO RECYCLABLE MATERIALS PICKERS: THE CREATION OF A CATEGORY  Fieldwork between August 2010 and February 2012 in Belo Horizonte;
  11. 11. DEPOIMENTO DE DONA GERALDA, CATADORA, 61 ANOS:  “I began to collect papers when I was eight years old. During that period, people were treated as if they were garbage, nobody had an environmental vision, and nobody knew what the environment was. And we could find work with recyclables materials. (Pickers’ situation) today is better than it was when I began…But it still needs many improvements.”  “Eu comecei a catar papel com oito anos de idade, né. Naquele tempo, as pessoas eram tratadas como lixo, ninguém tinha visão de meioambiente, ninguém nem sabia o que era o meio-ambiente. E a gente conseguiu achar alternativa de trabalho foi no material reciclável.”
  12. 12. “People generallly uses very often the word “garbage”. It is not garbage, it is recyclable material.” (Gilberto)  “It isn’t garbage. There is no garbage. I usually say that, if it was garbage, I hadn’t raised nine children, I was not working until today , and so on. Hence, this is not garbage. It is raw material that comes out from nature and which is not correctly destined by people. We give them the correct destination since a long time. We know how to do it.” (Dona Geralda) “Na verdade, tem uma coisa que o pessoal usa muito, que é falar essa palavra lixo. Não é lixo, é material reciclável.” “Não é lixo, né?...Não existe lixo. Eu falo que, se fosse lixo, eu não tinha criado nove filhos, não tava aí até hoje trabalhando, né? Então, não é lixo. É matéria que sai extraída da natureza e que as pessoas não dá o destino correto pra elas. Nós dá esse destino há muitos anos. Nós sabe como fazer isso.” (Dona Geralda, em entrevista realizada em 25/10/2011)
  13. 13.   One of the conclusions here is that, from the picker’s point of view, the material collected is not seen as garbage. We can say that semantically the word “garbage”only refers to the person that throws away something. To people that are going to collect the materials and give them a different destination, the word “garbage”is innapropriate, since here we are talking precisely about the material that will be used for sustenance. We can even say that someone’s garbage is someother’s sustenance, both in direct and indirect sense, regarding at the same time pickers that collect leftover food and those who collect “recyclable garbage”and transform it into “recyclabe material”.
  14. 14.  Waste sorting has existed since more than a thousand years ago…It exists since many years ago, but it has not always been official. Now we hope that this thing that has been created, waste sorting, ecology, we hope that it is not only a ephemeral thing, that is in fashion now and will not be in the future.  “A coleta seletiva tem mais de cem anos. (...) A coleta seletiva já existe há muitos anos, muitos anos, só que oficialmente não, né. Agora, assim, a gente acha que criou-se, a gente espera que não seja um modismo, criou uma coisa que é a coleta seletiva, ecologia(...)Isso é bom também.(Gilberto, em entrevista realizada em 26/10/2011).”
  15. 15.  “We, pickers, have been doing services since many years ago. And, because of the lack of information and of capacity, we didn’t see that…Today, after federal and state’s programs, after institutions that support pickers have been created, we began to see this from another point of view, we began to see how important pickers are in environment and in society, and for society, in general.” (Madalenainterview- October 25, 2011)  “Hoje, o papel dos catadores há longos anos, a gente já presta um serviço ambiental, há muitos anos. E a gente, por falta de informação, por falta de capacitação, a gente não via, muitos catadores não viam isso. Hoje, depois dos programas do governo federal, do governo estadual, das instituições apoiadoras dos catadores, do movimento, a gente começou a ver isso de outra forma, ver a valorização do nosso trabalho, ver o quanto que o catador é importante no meio-ambiente e na sociedade, e pra sociedade em geral.” (Madalena, em entrevista realizada em 25/10/2011)
  16. 16. PICKERS, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE   As a conclusion, pickers’s activity could be characterized as what Joan Martinez Allier (2009) classifies as “the environmentalism of the poor”. To Allier, the inevitable conflict between dominant economic order and the environment gives room for the creation of a third current of environmentalism. The author says that “the main thrust of this third corrent is not a sacred reverence for Nature but a material interest in the environment as a source and a requirement for livelihood (...) Its ethics derive from a demand for contemporary social justice among humans.” (ALLIER: 2002)
  17. 17. 3- ANTHROPOLOGICAL REFLEXIONS BASED ON TWO CINEMATOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATIONS OF PICKERS   We assume here that movies are a way to represent reality from which we can interpretate. It is also assumed that the “privileged look” (Xavier: 2003: 36) supplied by movies make possible to the viewer the access to an unknown world: those of the landfills.
  20. 20. LIXO EXTRAORDINÁRIO (LUCY WALKER, 2009)    Documentary made from a work developed by artist Vik Muniz and his team with a group of pickers that worked on Aterro do Jardim Gramacho, in Rio de Janeiro. Transformation idea is fundamental in this work Transformations in the worlds of things and in the world of people
  21. 21. LIXO EXTRAORDINÁRIO (LUCY WALKER, 2009) Vik’s picture of Suelem, a young picker at Gramacho, and her children Suelem and her children
  22. 22.   Transformation in the world of things is radical: Vik’s picture cristalizes not only garbage’s transformaton into a commodity, but the transformation of what has been thrown away into a very high valued object, which only a very small group of people is able to buy. Transformation in world of people is more complex and we can argue if it really exists, since it remets us to structural questions.
  24. 24.   Documentary filmed on vazadouro de Itaoca, in São Gonçalo, close to Rio de Janeiro. People’s relationship with garbage is characterized by dependence and valorization, as we can see by the following passages of interviews with 2 women::
  25. 25.   Lúcia: “We need that waste bin, because there are food for the pig, there are clothes, good clothes that we find there, good shoes...I, for example, send, give clothes for people, I take many clothes, because we can find good things there...Because sometimes what is not useful for the rich, is useful for the poor, and for us that is useful, there are lots of useful things there.” “A gente precisa daquela lixeira, porque tem uma comida de porco, tem uma roupa, a gente acha as roupas boas, calçados bons, por exemplo, eu mando, dou roupa pras pessoas, eu pego muita roupa, porque vem roupa ali, vem coisas boas. Porque o que não serve, às vezes o que não serve lá pro rico, serve pro pobre, e pra gente aquilo é útil, tem muita coisa útil ali.”
  26. 26.  Jurema:  “That garbage is our bread and butter, can you see? (...) And all my children were raised up with garbage’s money...  “Aquele” lixo é um quebra galho, sabe? Aquele lixo é o braço direito da gente. E os meus filho são tudo criado é com o dinheiro do lixo, mermo.”
  27. 27. WASTE LAND, THE SCAVANGERS AND THE ORDER OF THINGS  So garbage is referred here like something that is useful: “We need that waste bin”  “for us that is useful, there are lots of useful things there.” 
  28. 28.  This is opposite to the definition of garbage, always referred as something useless, with no value, thrown away.
  29. 29. Here, like with street pickers, someone´s garbages is someother´s livelihood but now, also more directly, since what has been thrown away is useful not only to be sold, but also to eat, to dress...  Here one can note that there is a subjective side of utility, depending on different conditions for the subjects, as Lúcia´s phrase show: “sometimes what is not useful for the rich, is useful for the poor”.
  30. 30. WASTE LAND/ LIXO EXTRAORDINÁRIO  As suggested by the title in Portuguese, here garbage is “extraordinary”, because it changes the order of things. Hence, once it is transformed into art, garbage is no more something rejected, but it is now raw material for highly desired works of art, as we can see in the auction scene.
  31. 31. THE SCAVANGERS/ BOCA DE LIXO  In Boca de Lixo, on the contrary, there is no such a trangression. Despite the word garbage is considered as “useful”for those that survive from it, those people are already out of the system, and also relegated to the status of residues, in respect of   labour market Society as a whole, that allows their survival to occur without dignity, creating feeling of revolting and shame even for themselves:
  32. 32.  Both movies bring into light the question of pickers visibility and in this sense both of them can be considered as trangressors of an order that excludes them lefting them invisible to the eyes of society.
  33. 33. 4- PARADOXES AND CONTINUITIES THAT DEFINE PICKERS´S POSITION IN BRAZILIAN SOCIETY   Rising of valuation on environmental questions can be perceived in the last decades in Brazil; 2001: Creation of the National Movement of Recyclable Materials Pickers (MNCR) August 2010: National Waste Act was approved; (Lei 12305- establishes National Waste Policies) 
  34. 34.  In the last years, many sectors of Brazilian society have been including enviromnent issues in their agendas, although these speeches are not homogeneous neither always trully respect the environment.
  35. 35. The rise of "environmental paradigm",  the recent discovery of other actors that can turn garbage commodity, and  the organization of pickers as a profession, as well as the elaboration of public policies to correct destination of waste, notably PNRS,   set up a new order with respect to garbage in Brazilian society.
  36. 36.  In this context, pickers have been fighting for society to recognize their services and rights.
  37. 37.  Recycling, the opposite of consumption, emerges as another objet of valuation;
  38. 38.   The situation of pickers in Brazil is characterized as one of liminality, as defined by Victor Turner (1995): It is, then, always among the signs of an explicit exclusion and an incipient or indirect inclusion that scavengers are situated in society, which makes possible that one evoke the concept of liminality as proposed by Turner (2008) to develop a theoretical approach concerning the positions occupied by the pickers in society.
  39. 39. LIMINALITY  “The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous, since this conditions and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions into cultural spaces. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial.” (TURNER: 1995: 95)
  40. 40. QUESTIONS THAT STILL HAVEN’T BEEN ANSWERED:  What are the effects of this new valuation of recycling? Will it bring good effect to pickers? Will they be effectively recognized by society as the protagonists and pioneers of an activity that only very recently has been valued by society? Will they achieve a good remuneration for the services and by consequence be out of the group of the poorests and the excluded?