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.