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Keywords:

  • cattle raising;
  • cattle culture;
  • political ecology;
  • Amazon

Abstract

Cattle raising is currently the leading cause of deforestation in Amazonia, and an increasingly appealing and profitable way for a growing number of smallholders to make a living in the western Amazon state of Acre, Brazil. The Acrean rubber tapper social movement contested the arrival of cattle ranchers in the 1970s and 1980s, but cattle raising has expanded among smallholder groups, including the rubber tappers, over the past 20 years. Building on the legacy of political–economic analyses of Amazonian cattle raising, this study argues for an expanded view of cattle raising by incorporating perspectives on the cultural constructions surrounding cattle and intergroup socioeconomic relationships. Data obtained from surveys and participant observation are used to examine the factors that have contributed to the expansion of cattle raising across three Acrean groups, each historically distinguished by their unique forms of livelihood and associated identities: forest-extractivist rubber tappers, agricultural colonists, and large-scale ranchers. It is argued that three factors have contributed to the growth of cattle ranching among these groups: political and economic shifts, which have made agricultural and extractive livelihoods less competitive with cattle raising; the spread of positive cultural views surrounding cattle raising; and the transition of intergroup relationships from conflict to cooperation in the cattle industry.