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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Seeking One’s Fortune Elsewhere: The Social Breakdown of a Smallholder Settlement in the Brazilian Eastern Amazon and the Consequences for Its Rainforest Reserve

Bartholdson, Orjan; Porro, Roberto; Pain, Adam


Using two cases, Anapu and Sao Manoel, located in the Brazilian Amazonian, this paper discusses the relationships between smallholders' capacity for collective action, smallholders' potential to unite and defend their territories, and the role of the state. In November 2017 a forest reserve of the settlement in Anapu was invaded by near 200 armed illegal squatters. We show how this event resulted from a gradual increase in internal tensions and loss of trust, thereby undermining attempts for collective action. A large reason for the lack of a functioning social network, reciprocal interactions and social trust is the migratory background of the settlers, which hinder the creation of extended kin networks, intermarriages between kin groups, as well as other forms of long-term networks of cooperation. This becomes clear when comparing Anapu to the social organization of the settlement of Sao Manoel in central Maranhao, which has been strong and functional for several decades. The reasons for the latter's social coherence and trust is that it formed around interlinked extended kin groups. Collective resistance against a predatory large landowner in the 1980s contributed to forging trust and cohesion that could effectively be used to acquire and maintain collectively owned fields and cattle, to formalize an association and a cooperative and to negotiate social tensions within the community. The reciprocal network of Sao Manoel has made it possible for its settlers to use its more restricted natural resources to a sustainable extent, without negatively affecting the eco-system of their habitat.


collective action; social networks; forest reserve; community based forest management

Published in

Forum for Development Studies
2022, Volume: 49, number: 1, pages: 107-127