The Political Organisation of the Homeless in Brazil


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Presentation given by Rosemeire Barboza da Silva, University of Coimbra, Portugal at a FEANTSA Research Conference on "Rethinking Homelessness Policies", Lisbon, Portugal, 2007

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The Political Organisation of the Homeless in Brazil

  1. 1. Conference: “Rethinking homelessness policies” Feantsa and Centro de Estudos para a Intervenção Social September, 28 — LisbonThe process of collective and political organization of the homelessness in Brazil: notes for a thorough debate in public policies1Our paper will try to confront and to analyze such dimensions from a diverse and interdisciplinaryperspective, questioning the historical evolution of the homeless in Brazil. From a populationperceived in the 90s mainly from an individualist and charity point of view, we go as shown byempirical observation to a population able of collective organization, a population whose rows arefilled with an increasing number of long term unemployed who see in the collective organizationsome ways of performing and being visible in the public space, as shown in the case of socialmovements such as the MNPR.In this direction, this coming out of the homeless population, as a collective one "from the bottom"ends by imposing new perspectives and new forms to conceive democracy, now reviewed andextended in its participation forms.Science therefore also assumes a different role, being understood much more in a perspective ofcitizen science or of the situated knowledges, that entails involving citizens in its debates andextending the active participation as well as the commitment of these citizens in the construction ofa public and engaged science that favours the diversity of knowledge and the gradual constructionof a society more equitable and fair. Keywords: Homeless, Public Policies, citizen science and social movements.1 Rosemeire Barboza da Silva is a student in the PhD Program in Governance, Knowledge and Innovation ofthe Faculty of Economics of the University of Coimbra and a scholarship from the International FellowshipsProgram of the Ford Foundation. E-mail for contact: 1
  2. 2. The public power gives us “assistencialism” and clientelism. “I give you a place in the shelter and you keep quiet”. We want dignity and respect for the homeless, which is a right. This population contributes in paying the taxes of the city each time they buy a simple sweet or a piece of bread. Anderson Lopes Recently, from year 2000, we perceived movements that question, by its natureeminently political, what has been produced until then, scientifically and in the fields ofpublic policies, on the impossibility of organizing the population living in the street inBrazil. The «catadores» of materials you recycle (part of the population living in the street,and that do not appear in the above presented definitions, for being characterizedessentially in relation to the centrality of the work) suggest for the entities that work withthe adult population in street situation and organize a national meeting, in the month ofJune of 2001. Two encampments of the “Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST)”initiate an experience known as “urban-rural” and promote what is known in São Paulo asthe program “From the street to the land”, where the street population are the main focus.Also in São Paulo, the experience of the Councils and the Forums and the election ofrepresentatives of the population living in the street for the programs of ParticipativeBudget in the capital, São Paulo, among other actions, give notice of an organization thatconsolidates itself more and more in initiatives anti-hegemonic and emancipatory, in a fightagainst oppression, preconception and discrimination. Two of these initiatives seem to be narrowly related to the emancipatory possibilityof who are or live in the streets. The first one is the creation, in September of 2003, of aForum of University Students about the homelessness (that will become in 2004 the“Forum of Discuss about the homelessness of the city of São Paulo”); The second,retaking and magnifying, in 2004, the Forum of the Homelessness, that in 2005 willoriginate the Movement of the Homeless of the city of São Paulo, undertaken by thepopulation themselves and currently known as Movement of Fight in Defence of theRights of Homeless (MNPR in portuguese). In 2004, few months before the Day of Fight of the Homelessness, old and currentparticipants of the Forum, who also frequent the meetings of the Forum of Discuss,articulated themselves and demanded the independent organization of this date. Theentities until then responsible for the formatting of the claims stands against this request,and, in that year, the non-participation of the homeless in the Day of Fight does notdemonstrate that a divide appeared in the relation assistance/population and that theautonomy and protagonism on the part of this population it is a burning issue. 2
  3. 3. The tone of the claims also diverge: while the entities fight for programs ofprovisory housings, the population fights for proper housing; while the entities fight formore vacancies in shelters, the population fights for access to education. And theexaggeration follows, not only in demanding speeches anymore: we witness an increase inthe questioning and the claim for better services given by the entities as well as thetransparency, the accountability and the governance of the public power that ischaracterised by a logic of social control, a logic that drives to keeping this population onthe sidelines. Still in 2004, a slaughter perpetrated against the population that slept in the streets,with great international repercussion, mobilizes more than two thousand people in a walkthrough in the city centre of São Paulo. The murders had not only shocked the society, asthey seem to have been one of the crucial points for the post organization of thepopulation. The speech of the heterogeneity of the street, that always was between thequestion of the equality and the difference - who is the homeless? Who is the unemployed?Deepens itself, and the population try to change the nature of its claims: public policies,yes; but what is the content of these policies? How are they organized? Social recognition isdemanded and as people penetrates in hegemonic spaces, such as the public power. Theyelect representatives of the population to a council, named by the government “Council forthe monitoring of the Services that act with the Population leaving in the Street”. In our opinion, these victories and these possibilities to perforate the hegemonicsystem act positively in the organization of the population, that, in a creative andindependent form, commemorates in December, in the Praça da Sé (known as the stage ofsome popular mobilizations in São Paulo), a Christmas with shows, music, theatre, sales ofartefacts, etc. In this day, the traditional food distribution and donations were substitutedby the opened microphone, through which some exposed blatantly the reality of thestreets, the inefficiency of the public policies and the contradictions of the economicsystem. Inaugurating the year of 2005, one more time the population joins together aroundcommon problematic. The heterogeneity, that at some moments served to strengthen anegative identity, a will of remaining unidentified, is respected, but is questioned: untilwhich point are we different? If, on one side, the affirmation of equality, with universalisticprinciples, can strengthen and lead “to the discharacterisation and negation of theidentities, the cultures and the differentiated historical experiences, especially to the refusalof the collective recognition” (SANTOS, 2003:63), on the other hand, the movement of 3
  4. 4. the population strengthens the idea of thinking about oneself by means of a group towhich we belong and conjugates itself with the idea that is possible for a social movementto stem from the proper population. In May of 2005, new moment: the population, that already ripened the idea bymeans of some representatives, mobilizes more than 200 people for a voting of thecommission agents (three bearers and three substitutes) to the Council for the Monitoringand divulges the formation of a social movement of the homeless that, with penetration ininstances of the public power, NGOs, cooperatives and university, will fight for the rightsof the population. From then on, the MNPR has participated in debates and conferences, in diverseplaces of Brazil and even in international commissions. This multifaceted character of themovement is emphasized by Anderson Lopes, in the same interview mentioned above: “Today the street population is even participating in the Conference of the Cities, which was not designed for the people of the street but for other movements, the so-called social movements. But we see that who makes the city is the one who lives in the city and who uses the city is also the people of the street, they live in the city, they use the streets of the city, they use the marquees of the city and plus it to understand that city and to help to inside make the public policies of that city. The street population knows how much the situation is difficult when while they are sleeping there is a car passing to shed some water on them on of it or when the banks places chuveirinho to shed water on them or when the police is ostensive, then it has that to participate in public policies.” This emergency of the citizen as social movement also discloses the access and theconquest to the recognition that the creative appropriation of the nomination allowedthroughout the years, acting and contradicting the obstacles: “Different forms ofoppression or domination generate forms of resistance, mobilization, collective subjectivityand also distinct identity [...]In these resistances and their articulation global / local residethe impulse of the anti-hegemonic globalization” (SANTOS, 2003:61). In this globalization against an established order and in search of identities that canbe alternated, it is possible even though, in the fluidity of the flexible identities, to calloneself former-inhabitant of the street, to have domicile, but to also continue fighting, asSebastião Nicomedes, member of the National Commission of articulation of the MNPR,says in an interview,: “Much people were in the street, obtained job, left and forgoteverything. I am more collective, I do not want to leave alone. Some that lives in the streetdo not know anymore who they are, they do not know anymore that they are people, theyare even ashamed of raising the eyes.” 4
  5. 5. Thus the MNPR undertakes its search of identity in the border of the partialconnections that they establish with the diverse actors of the public arena. The populationin street situation, that now assumes the identity of social movement, imagines itself “at thesame time as a social conflict and a cultural project” (TOURAINE, 2002:254). The subjectthat speaks, from the street, identifies himself with who is in the street; even putting in theOther, the preconceptions of the social imaginary, perceive himself as the fruit of a processof who was in the streets and is not anymore: “The Subjects constructs himselfsimultaneously by the fight against the bodies and by the respect of the other as subject; thesocial movement is the class action of defence of the citizen against the power of themerchandise, the corporation and the State. Without this change, the citizen runs the riskof dissolving in the individuality” (TOURAINE, 2002:302). We believe that, as emergency, social movement and securing themselves on theflexibility of its identities, the street population is walking for the construction of a futurethat, if it appears as agonistic and contradictory, also itself as full of possibilities. Notes for the debate in the construction of Politics: The engagedinvolvement of the researcher We saw throughout the first pages that our discussion, based on an existential,cognitive, affective and political experience with the homeless of São Paulo and that alsogoes through years of activism next to this collective one, is a way undertaken andmediated by the perspective of the “situated knowledge” ” (from the place from which wespeak), of the “partial connections” (because any knowledge only makes sense whenrecreated and reinvented, and the connections with such collectives are never total, ourinvolvement, even when we are part of the field, is always a flexible involvement) and of a“incarnate objectivity”. In this way, sharing with the readers an experience means to place it in the publicspace, even in a partial and incomplete way, so it can be reformulated and recreated,expanded and creatively incorporated to the necessities of each one of the citizens or if thecollective that access this experience, always starting from an objectivity embodied (cf.HARAWAY, 1991) - or, in other words, from what is considered as politically excellent. Going from this perspective, the knowledge production is understood as acollective and political action, because the starting point is “we”: that “we” constructed andreinvented in the daily relations. Hence our perspective, for already having in itself a 5
  6. 6. political positioning explicit and marked, differentiates our epistemological proposal, inaccord with what is proposed by Donna Haraway in the text “situated Knowledge” (1991): “to speak from a place is clearly a proposal of affective involvement, political and cognitive that redimensionate the knowledge proposal: it is known from what it is lived deeply; e if constructs knowledge from what witness. In these circumstances, we try “to produce not so much effects of aloofness as effect of connection, incarnation and responsibility with some other location imagined that we can already see and construct” (HARAWAY, 1991:122). Therefore, our objective, explicit since the beginning, is based in the idea of “notspeaking for the collective ones, but articulating with them” (cf. HARAWAY, 1991), beingthis skeleton that supports and supplies the structure for a partial connection that allows usto examine the proposal of flexible identities, in direction to a discussion that aims “tocontest the science that represents the other, reflects the other, gives him a voice; or elsenot departing from semiotics politics of the articulation” (CEDEÑO, 2006:69). When we speak about articulation, we have the perspective that “it is always a non-innocent, challengeable practice. The companions do not establish themselves once and forall. Here there is no ventriloquist. The articulation is a product and can fail” (HARAWAY,1991:141). However, it can start again and rearticulate itself as many times as necessary. Inthis way, it is in accordance with what Santos (1987) call a science of the emergentparadigm - “the science of the emergent paradigm [...], being analogical, is also presumablytranslator, that is, stimulates the concepts and theories locally developed to emigrate toother cognitive places, in order to be used outside of their context of origin” (SANTOS,1987:77) - and it attempts to place in this space of debate a co-construction carried throughwith the population in street situation: by means of the experience, we understand that thedeficiencies and the low intensity of understanding of the phenomenon of the street thatthe concepts on this population bring with them (cf. BARROS, 2004) do not act asimpeditive of the action, but, many times and in different spaces, they are used alternativelyas a strategy of fight and resistance. The collective subjects the emergency of which we witnessed appear together withtheir negotiated and flexible identities, in the genesis of collectives articulated and full ofpotentialities. Our objective, as we write down regarding the partial connections and thereflectivity, is 6
  7. 7. to struggle to see differently, not to fit in the conventional, to support the reinforcement of people or groupings that do “not fit”, generating what Haraway calls `others inadequate/inadequately when practising and to potentialyzing new forms of subversion (CEDEÑO, 2006:67). The subversion brought about by a critical theory that allows to identify in thecitizen its “future trends” (cf. SANTOS, 2002), beyond allowing to diffract “meaningsembodied in daily actions” (CEDEÑO, 2006:66), also provide a theoretical-methodologicalskeleton inventive and creative, in which it is possible not only to use our body, oursensations and experiences, in order to understand them as situated knowledge, but also toquestion the concepts to see their meanings reformulated. E as to work the participation of the street population, in view of itsemancipation? The contribution of the “translation of the practical ones” But which are the notice of organization and articulation that this movementpresents, how are they configured? For Melucci (2001: 33), “a social movement is not thereply to a crisis, but the expression of a conflict”. We perceive in its expressions possibleforms to remove from invisibility (even when this invisibility can be an advantage) thepopulation that lives in the streets. This invisibility is part of the flexible identities and ofthe border of who is/lives in the street: who is there, mistaken many times for the urbanlandscape and, many times, hastily, can see without being seen (cf. BHABHA, 2005) and,therefore, can develop forms and possibilities of answers that we, as sheltered people,cannot understand without an adequate translation of the practices of these collectives. For Santos (2002: 262), “the translation is the procedure that allows to createreciprocal intelligibility between the experiences of the world, available ones as much the asthe possible ones […] this is about a procedure that does not attribute to any set ofexperiences neither the statute of exclusive totality nor the statute of homogeneous part”.In this way, it is possible to glimpse in the translation work a possible way, as much for theunderstanding of the possibility of interchangeable and inserted identities, proposals for theflexible identities, as to look at the experiences of the world, by means of the cut and of theclipping: “The experiences of the world are seen at different moments of the translationwork as totalities or parts and as realities that do not get exhausted in these totalities orparts” (SANTOS, 2002:262). In this in case, the translation work would be based in thetranslation of the social practices of the movement emerging from the street: “When] 7
  8. 8. impacting the practices [… the translation work aims at creating reciprocal intelligibilitybetween forms of organization and objectives of action” (SANTOS, 2002:265). Being this work pragmatic in so far as it confers existence not only to the streetmovement, but also searches in these practices specific tensions, we are conscientious that,“when we speak about a social movement, we refer, generally, to a collective phenomenonthat presents itself with a certain external unity, but that in its interior, contains meanings,forms of action, ways of organization very differentiated and that, frequently, invests animportant part of its energies to keep the differences united” (MELUCCI, 2001:29). In thisperspective, “the translation work aims at clarifying what unite and what separates thedifferent movements and the different practices in order to determine the possibilities andthe limits of the articulation or aggregation between them” (SANTOS, 2002:266). The translation of the practices of the collectives of the street means believing that“in due time we will demand the impossible in order to pull out of it what is possible.”(Handsworth, apud BHABHA, 2005:220). The M.NP.R for example, recently started to join efforts with historical fights forhabitation in the city centre of São Paulo, with the movement “without-ceiling” andNGO’s that stand against the processes of gentrification. That is, even if those are one-time initiatives, the process of translation of practices was already in March. More recently the federal government also incorporated the activities of the Inter-ministerial Group that deal with social issues and policies directed to the population livingin the street, leaderships and representatives of the M.N.P.R. Such a conquest can alsobring about a new way of articulation between the diverse social actors, the opening of thedialogue and the possibility of a real form of emancipation route to a truly activecitizenship.ReferencesCEDEÑO, Alejandro Astrid Leon (2006). Emancipação no cotidiano: iniciativas igualitárias em sociedades de controle. In Departamento de Psicologia Social (São Paulo: Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo).GONZALEZ REY, Fernando L. (2000). El lugar de las emociones en la constitución social de el psíquico: el aporte de Vigotsky. Revista Educação & Sociedade. Ano XXI, nº 70. 8
  9. 9. HARAWAY, Donna J. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women: the reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books.IRWIN, Alan. Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise and Sustainable Development. London: Routledge, 1995.MELUCCI, Alberto (2001). A invenção do presente: movimentos sociais nas sociedades complexas. Petrópolis: Vozes.NUNES, João Arriscado (2000). Teoria crítica, cultura e ciência: o(s) espaço(s) e o(s) conhecimento(s) na globalização. In Santos, B.S. (ed.). Globalização, fatalidade ou utopia? Porto: Afrontamento.SANTOS, Boaventura de Sousa (2002). Para uma sociologia das ausências e uma sociologia das emergências. Revista Critica de Ciências Sociais. Coimbra, Centro de Estudos Sociais (CES), n. 63, outubro.SAWAIA, Bader Burihan (2000). A emoção como lócus de produção do conhecimento — uma reflexão inspirada em Vigotsky e seu diálogo com Espinosa. In, Conferência de Pesquisa Socio-cultural.TOURAINE, Alain (2002). Crítica da Modernidade. Rio De Janeiro, Editora Vozes: 7ª Edição.TOURAINE, Alain (1984) O Retorno do Actor: Ensaio sobre Sociologia. Lisboa: Instituto Piaget. 9