Moving Forward, Moving Beyond: Meta-Reflection and Societal Change

The agrarian reform that formed the core of the Landless Movement’s demands never happened, and international politics do not seem to be in any way supportive of the poor or what is ecological and fair (fair even mathematically thinking: trade or international banking policies are by far not fair). Even if there is public funding, the distribution of money is centralized and bureaucratic and goes together with indirect democratic politics. The government’s own statistics show that a small percent of landowners own almost half of Brazil, and the vast majority of privately owned land is either badly used, under-used, or not used at all, even though the Federal Constitution allows for the expropriation of land not performing its “social function:”

One could say that the Landless Movement as a whole has been an important, radically novel constellation: nothing similar has ever taken place in the history of agriculture. One could also say that the moral, societal, and political-economical order has been necessary – historically necessary – in the particular conditions in which the movement grew. Still, the following question can be posed: To what extent does the Landless Workers’ Movement continue to be a movement (Leite & Dimenstein, 2006), to become different from itself, to face the current political-economic situation, to overcome its own boundaries, or to create novelty anew? What are the qualitative changes that the Landless Workers’ Movement needs and can make? What are its next steps?

We have seen above that the Landless Movement has a significant symbolic and discursive production, which involves the imaginary and manifests important aesthetic qualities. The central administration of the Landless Workers’ Movement produces the movement’s own newspapers, journals, webpages, CDs, and films. Politics is however centralized and a lot of contradictions or double binds (Bateson & Bateson, 1987; Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987) are made invisible and do not concern the Landless Workers in their everyday lives: for example, their relation to the state or to nature, or how they need/use technology. I see here emerging possibilities for a qualitative transformation of the Movement as a whole, as well as for the qualitative development of the Landless Workers to a new state of consciousness.

I have shown, for example, that the discourse of the poem celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Landless Workers’ Movement referred to metaphoric categories such as “mother land” and the “fruits of the rebellion.” One could say that this discourse mediates both the relations of Landless Workers to each other and to nature – as well as the inner speech of a Landless Worker to him-/herself (Vygotsky, 1934/1987). If we tried to depict this relation in a diagram, it would look like this:

One could say that this relation is mainly semiotic. However, its material aspects (the materiality of the newspaper circulated at the settlements) are also quite important and should not be ignored. It is only in relation to the other elements of this triadic relation that each element obtains its characteristics: the poem is a poem, the people in question are the “land-less rural workers.” At the same time, the poem mediates and shapes the relation of the Landless Workers to the “land” or the “nature,” literally the “Earth”: the “terra” (female noun in Portuguese) is “our mother” and this kind of “natural” justice has been re-achieved through “our rebellion” – whose “fruits” “we” can now enjoy. Land is thus endless – it does not belong to anybody or it belongs to all:

Here again one can say that this relation is semiotic, and coincides with dispersed collective memories of fights, police violence, and solidarity (see above). At the same time, this relation is materialized: Landless Workers not only enjoy the “virtual fruits” of their rebellion, but also “real fruits” and their juice (see first section):

Not only fruits, but also irrigation technologies, water, and other tools and devices as well as money and electricity mediate the Landless Workers’ relation to the land (terra), as explained throughout this essay. To focus on fruit: this fruit is organic and produced in quite small quantities, thus embodying or performing “biodiversity:” Landless Workers are enacted here more visibly as eating bodies who share fruit than as fighters who share collective memories:

But again, it is difficult to separate the material from the symbolic or semiotic aspects of the enacted relation between land (terra) and fruits. One could endlessly produce similar diagrams (cf. Engeström, 2008; Pape & Peirce, 1988; Serres, 1980/1982). I have elaborated elsewhere on matter, meaning, and multiplicity (Kontopodis, forthcoming; Kontopodis & Niewöhner, 2010), but the issue I would like to pursue here is quite a different one: contradictions or double binds are implied in the mediations presented above, which could be resolved through the qualitative transformation of the mediated relations and the emergence of new relations – meta-mediations (Kontopodis, 2011; Roth, 2007) that would enable Landless Workers to view their own material-semiotic production from a meta-perspective (cf. Bateson & Bateson, 1987; Fichtner, 2005).

I believe that such a meta-perspective would enable Landless Workers to speak, reflect, and witness how they produce the “fruits of rebellion” and “organic fruits” at the same time – although these have so far been kept separate. Landless Workers need to develop a Meta-Pedagogia da Terra and a new pluralistic politics of direct participation in meaning production. Their everyday experiences are very rich – even while cultivating such an “objective” thing as fruit. This experience could be the springboard for a continuous and endless reflection as well as sharing. Such a reflection about everyday experiences is possible for everybody and might escape dominant discursive formations that, however critical they might be, quite homogenize difference and subjective feelings (Stephenson & Papadopoulos, 2006). Such a reflection would also endlessly question all given mediations and relations, thus creating the possibility for a more participatory politics.

I think that the Landless Movement, given its radicalism considering education as well as agricultural production, offers a unique historical possibility for a new revolutionary subject to emerge who would engage both in what could be called “intellectual” and “agricultural” production or work. In my view, this can happen if Landless Workers would begin to document how they produce fruit – more or less in a similar mode of how I documented it here. For this they could use writing, blogging, or film media. In the context of the Soviet revolution, Eisenstein and other artists tried to use cinema so that the upcoming revolutionary working class would view its everyday life from a meta-perspective. A very different cinema than today’s Hollywood was produced, which made visible how the reality of the movie was constructed, through which techniques and technologies, and left much more space for imagination and subjective interpretations of the projected images. This kind of cinema also inspired future generations of movie-makers such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Bella Tar etc. (Deleuze, 1985/1987, 1986).

One could say that such cinematic pictures were created in a way quite similar to how Velasquez painted his famous Las Meninas – the painting that Foucault described as “pure reflection,” i.e. as the reflection of the reflection, and not (only) the reflection of reality (the subject of the painting is literally reflected in the mirror while the whole context of the painting is visible (Foucault, 1966/2002; , see also: Kontopodis, 2011)). Important for such a project would be that the media was used by everybody – not only by children, teachers, and artists. Everyone would create mediated accounts, dialogues, and debates about the everyday life among Landless Workers, as well as document their everyday experience, analyze it, and virtually share it with other movements (cf. Stephenson & Papadopoulos, 2006).

The product of this mediation of the mediation (i.e. meta-mediation) would be a meta-discourse about different discourses (ecological, historical, etc.). Thus the Landless Workers would be able to view their symbolic and material production from a meta-perspective and materialize this meta-perspective in new products, overcome the existing division of labor as well as its implied modern dualisms to which I have referred in detail, and create the possibilities for endless becoming – in the sense of Nietzsche, Deleuze & Guatarri, Haraway, and other philosophers (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987; Haraway, 1989, 2008; Nietzsche, 1885/2007). Why shouldn’t a new form of natureculture emerge (Haraway, 2004) – here taking culture literally as cultural production (not only as values, mentalities, etc.)? Why shouldn’t a discursive synthesis emerge that would concern both matter and memory – and not separate objective science from subjective experience, politics from everyday life at the settlements, or nature from technology, as is currently the case (cf. Bergson, 1896/1991)? I believe that such a meta-discourse – materialized in new practices and meta-tools – would significantly contribute to solving the various implicit contradictions presented above and create the conditions for direct and endless political participation, i.e. for the further qualitative development of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement.

There have been a few research and/or educational projects that moved in such a direction, although they have only focused on children in schools: Rodrigo Rossoni (2004) organized and documented a photography workshop for a period of eight months offered to 34 school-age children. He analyzed the ways of constructing the children’s identities through their verbal and visual discourses, as well as through 30 photographs they produced. Although this photography was not “reflective” in the sense outlined above, the whole project involved a lot of reflection from a meta-perspective and to some extent created the conditions for new discourses.

Another project used the art produced by five countryside artists (mainly paintings and photography) as educational material in what could be seen as a political-pedagogical project of child education (Schütz-Foerste, et al., 2010). This project also offered to some extent the possibility of sharing everyday experience and reflecting on it through the development of a meta-perspective. Such projects could be generalized[1] – initiated by the Landless Workers themselves, in the same way they self-organized their basic child and adult education 25 years ago. They could lead to a new politics of participation as well as to new material-semiotic production. “Our identity project” is yet to be realized.

I strongly believe that such a qualitative “movement” is possible. Not only is it possible, it is the only way for the Landless Movement, after 25 years of existence, in the context of a very different local, national, and international politics and a non-existent agrarian reform, to remain in “movement” – to remain a “Movement” (cf. Leite-Ferreira & Dimenstein, 2006). It is also a challenge to pass from centralized governance to direct democracy, achieve a different level of consciousness, and create new forms of existence, new forms of material-semiotic becoming. This writing is an appeal to all involved and interested people to move in such a direction.

[1] I present elsewhere in detail how a pedagogics of meta-reflection can take place, see Kontopodis, 2011. For a presentation of other innovative and reflective educational projects that took place in Brazil, albeit outside the Landless Movement, see Kontopodis, 2009. I would like to emphasize that “pedagogics” in such a case should not refer only to children and young people, cf. Deleuze & Guattari, 1994.