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Aaron Ansell: Zero hunger: Political culture and antipoverty in northeast Brazil

    Zero hunger: Political culture and antipoverty policy in northeast Brazil

When Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil's Workers' Party soared to power in 2003, he promised to end hunger in the nation. In a vivid ethnography with an innovative approach to Brazilian politics, Aaron Ansell assesses President Lula's flagship antipoverty program, Zero Hunger (Fome Zero), focusing on its rollout among agricultural workers in the poor northeastern state of Piaui. Linking the administration's fight against poverty to a more subtle effort to change the region's political culture, Ansell rethinks the nature of patronage and provides a novel perspective on the state under Workers' Party rule. Aiming to strengthen democratic processes, frontline officials attempted to dismantle the long-standing patron-client relationships–Ansell identifies them as “intimate hierarchies–that bound poor people to local elites. Illuminating the symbolic techniques by which officials attempted to influence Zero Hunger beneficiaries' attitudes toward power, class, history, and ethnic identity, Ansell shows how the assault on patronage increased political awareness but also confused and alienated the program's participants. He suggests that, instead of condemning patronage, policymakers should harness the emotional energy of intimate hierarchies to better facilitate the participation of all citizens in political and economic development.


Aaron Ansell

Ansell is a sociocultural anthropologist specializing in northeastern Brazil and with research interests in political discourse, social inequality, and alternative democracies. He will teach multicultural communication, ethnography, investigations in religion and culture, historical and theoretical frameworks in material culture, and public humanities.

The author of  “Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy in Northeast Brazil,” Ansell has been published in American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, and Bulletin of Latin American Research. He is a contributing co-editor for the Society of Linguistic Anthropology’s Section News column.

Ansell received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California in San Diego and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.


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