Of Imperialism and Drinking Fountains: Student Activism and Everyday Politics in Brazil, 1955–90

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 12:10 PM
Old Town Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Colin M. Snider, Stephen F. Austin State University
Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, students were one of the most important political groups, often challenging governments and reshaping political, social, and cultural life in Brazil. A number of books in Portuguese and English have characterized students as one of the most radical groups in modern Brazilian history. While this portrayal is not inaccurate, its tendency to emphasize the radical language of student demands while overlooking the fact that student voices in this period were neither homogeneous nor consistent. Reforms that one generation of students could demand were labeled “imperialist” by another generation, only to be re-adopted by a later generation yet. It was not at all uncommon for students to find that their more extreme political views often bumped up against their daily experiences and desires as members. This paper looks at the ways students behaved on campuses and in society to understand the complex (and often contradictory) politics of daily life in Brazilian universities. I argue that students’ status as members of a respectable middle-class often led to contradictions between the official stances of student groups like the National Union of Students and students’ individual demands. This paper uses the Brazilian university system to understand how calls for educationl reform tempered more fiery anti-imperialist rhetoric in the late-1950s and 1960s, resulting in more nuanced struggles for social change in the 1970s. By focusing on issues of class, culture, social status, and material expectations among students, this paper allows us to better understand ways in which student politics and practices shaped and were shaped by the social, cultural, and political contingencies of quotidian life in Brazil in the twentieth century. Simultaneously, it allows us to expand our interpretation of student politics beyond passionate rhetoric towards an understanding of the quotidian as political.
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