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“But the winds will turn against you”: An analysis of wealth forms and the discursive space of development in northeast Brazil

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ABSTRACT

In this article, I explain the unfolding of a participatory development project in northeast Brazil by exploring how local genres of public speech articulate with categories of wealth. Although development resources cannot be easily categorized into local classes of wealth, they nonetheless evoke some of the anxieties cultivators feel when dealing with wealth forms susceptible to the evil eye. Beliefs surrounding the evil eye shape cultivators' relations to material objects, and they also define the contours of safe and acceptable speech within the village development association. As a result, during association meetings, the villagers speak in ways that frustrate development agents seeking to generate “open” and “transparent” managerial discourse felicitous to project success—at least, external notions of project success. Appreciating the link between wealth and speech forms sheds light on both the local implementation challenges that participants in such projects face and the reason development agents frequently blame ostensive project failures on beneficiary backwardness. [wealth, Brazil, development, evil eye, peasant society]

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