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States, Movements and the New Politics of Blackness in Colombia and Brazil


The 1990s marked a dramatic shift throughout Latin America from constitutions and state policies that hinged on ideas of colorblindness and mestizaje to targeted policies for black and indigenous peoples. This study analyzes the role black social movements played in this shift in Colombia and Brazil, two countries where the state adopted the most comprehensive reforms for black populations in the region. It also analyzes the impact of achieving such reforms on black movements' trajectories in the two countries. In so doing, I not only examine how black movements are shaped by the political context in which they emerge, but how they are able to reconfigure that political context in ways that ultimately reshape black movements themselves. Drawing on 18 months of fieldwork including in-depth interviews, archival analysis, and ethnographic methods, this study reveals new ways of understanding ethno-racial politics in these countries and offers insights about the relationship between movements and the state, as well as contestation within movements. Further, in examining how black movements seize upon changes in the global political field, appropriate global discourses into local struggles, and build transnational alliances, this work also challenges us to integrate the constant interplay between global and local processes into our analyses, especially when our aim is to understand social movement dynamics in the Global South.

In the first part of the dissertation, I show how the rise of global policy norms around multiculturalism, and the Durban World Conference against Racism, provided political openings for black movements in Colombia and Brazil, respectively. However, I maintain that it was the interplay between such global factors and national political developments paired with strategic action by black movements that best explains states' adoption of these historic reforms. Even so, while both countries adopted policies for black populations beginning in the 1990s, the dominant discourse around black rights in Brazil centers on notions of "the right to equality" and inclusion, whereas black issues in Colombia are largely framed in terms of the "right to difference", culture, territory and autonomy. I suggest that these discursive differences have as much to do with how black populations were historically imagined by the state in the two cases, as they do with the different discursive tactics used by black movements when making demands on the state.

The second part examines the consequences of the shift to ethno-racial legislation on internal black movement dynamics in the two countries. More specifically, I analyze the nature of formal structures of political participation set up for black populations in response to movement pressure. I do this by examining how movement actors negotiate, inhabit and contest such spaces, revealing a reality of social movement institutionalization that is much more complex than the literature suggests. Whereas black movements in Brazil have been absorbed into mainstream politics within a relatively democratic state, black movements in Colombia have either been repressed violently or institutionalized into precarious alternative political structures leading to unique internal movement dynamics. In order to understand the relationship between structure and agency as well as ntional and international political processes in these two cases, I propose the conceptual framework of national and global political fields which I argue contributes both to the literature on race in Latin America and social movements.

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