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Keywords:

  • agrarian reform;
  • contentious politics;
  • deforestation;
  • direct action land reform (DALR);
  • political ecology

The South of Pará, located in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, has become notorious for violent land struggle. Although land conflict has a long history in Brazil, and today impacts many parts of the country, violence is most severe and persistent here. The purpose of this article is to examine why. Specifically, we consider how a particular Amazonian place, the so-called South of Pará, has come to be known as Brazil's most dangerous badland. We begin by considering the predominant literature, which attributes land conflict to the frontier expansion process with intensified struggle emerging in the face of rising property values and demand for private property associated with capitalist development. From this discussion, we distill a concept of the frontier, based on notions of property rights evolution and locational rents. We then empirically test the persistence of place-based violence in the region, and assess the frontier movement through an analysis of transportation costs. Findings from the analyses indicate that the prevalent theorization of frontier violence in Amazônia does little to explain its persistent and pervasive nature in the South of Pará. To fill this gap in understanding, we develop an explanation based on the geographic conception of place, and we use contentious politics theory heuristically to elucidate the ways in which general processes interact with place-specific history to engender a landscape of violence. In so doing, we focus on environmental, cognitive, and relational mechanisms (and implicated structures), and attempt to deploy them in an explanatory framework that allows direct observation of the accumulating layers of the region's tragic history. We end by placing our discussion within a political ecological context, and consider the implications of the Amazon Land War for the environment.