The Amazon's last pioneers : the rise and fall of Volkswagen's development project in the Brazilian rain forest (1973-1986)
Title: The Amazon's last pioneers : the rise and fall of Volkswagen's development project in the Brazilian rain forest (1973-1986)
Author: ACKER, Antoine
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
This thesis explores the rise and decline of the farming project Vale do Rio Cristalino, run by Volkswagen in the Amazon from 1973 to 1986. This large-scale development project was built within the framework of a colonization program launched by the Brazilian military regime to promote the territorial occupation of the region. Celebrated as a technological revolution in tropical farming, the ‘VW ranch’ was supposed to be a model of civilization in the jungle, to pave the way for the conversion of the Amazon into a modern export economy and to elaborate solutions to overcome hunger in the ‘Third World’. However, this consensual image was tarnished after Cristalino became the subject of various socio-environmental scandals, leading to the mobilization of transnational networks against the project. This thesis analyzes the transformation of Cristalino from a scientifically and politically legitimized project to a space of conflict. It is a multi-layered case study of how a development project was negotiated between different groups of actors and in dialogue with environmental factors. It argues that there were three main reasons for the demise of Cristalino: the conflicting interests behind an apparent consensus of development, a growing awareness of the scarcity of resources, and disappointing results in the area of labor conditions. This historical example leads one to question the loss of authority of the politics of development in Brazil and at the international level from the second half of the 1970s. By showing how a deterministic view of development—which fixed the intensive exploitation of nature as the Amazon’s unique historical outcome—was progressively unravelled, this thesis reveals the process of politicization of a place. With the dismantling of the ‘developmentalist’ consensus, the future of the rain forest became an open issue, negotiated through the prism of multiple projections, viewpoints and scales of intervention.
Defence date: 9 October 2014; Examining Board: Professor Kiran Klaus Patel, Maastricht University (EUI Supervisor); Professor Claudia Damasceno Fonseca, EHESS; Professor Christof Mauch, LMU/RCC; Professor Dirk Moses, EUI
Type of Access: embargoedAccess