Life in Moving Encampments


I need to note here that what I have referred to as an absence of politics, a lack of public space and engagement, and rather decorative symbolisms are not what I found to be the case at the encampments of the Landless Workers. All of the places I have mentioned are settlements, where Landless Workers have permission to stay for an undefined amount of time and have already lived for many years. The life in moving encampments, before they have reached a stage of settlement (Camini, 2009; da Silva, 2008), would require a different study and is not my topic here. However, I should mention that in this context Landless people do not receive food, clothes, or other materials from the state, from nearby settlements, or from the central organization of the Landless Movement.


At the encampments, Landless Workers are confronted with all possible technical, political, and social difficulties while negotiations are going on about if and where they would be allowed to settle down. They engage in everyday discussions, try to face all possible difficulties collectively, live in mixed spaces and not yet as “families,” actively participate in general assemblies and local politics, and even undergo a kind of testing in the life of a Landless Worker – if they disobey certain rules, they might even be expelled from the encampment by a decision of the general assembly.[1] Many people have responded to my critique above by maintaining that if Landless Workers had stayed longer at encampments, engaged more deeply with politics, and become more used to participating in collective discussions and more engaged forms of organization, then life at the settlements would be different as well.

[1]What impressed me a lot, and – as seen from my perspective – went together with the rather hierarchical organization described above, were the very strict morals at the encampments: no alcohol consumption, respect of family constellations and no affairs with pther people’s partners, a strict maintenance of hygiene rules (distinctly different from other occupations I have visited in Europe or the US). “If one does not follow these rules, one cannot become a good land worker,” as the second oldest woman of an encampment said.