From the mouth of the hummingbird: Values of activism among popular environmentalists in Bahia, Brazil

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John S. Burdick


Activism, Environmentalists, Bahia, Brazil, Social movements

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


This dissertation investigates the values of activism held by one small environmental organization in the Chapada Diamantina region of Bahia, Brazil. Research for this project was conducted through extensive participant-observation and interviews over a sixteen month period from September 1998 to January 2000.

This study divides the values of environmentalism into three categories: values of activism, values of nature, and values of group organization. The organization, Grupo Ambientalista de Palmeiras --Environmentalist Group of Palmeiras--or GAP, has been active for over ten years. It is made up of 16 men and 4 women, most of whom are poor-working-class, Afro-Brazilian locals in the national park region of the Chapada Diamantina. GAP's activities include (but are not limited to) forest fire fighting, trash collection and recycling, tree planting, town festivals, and care for injured or lost animals. GAP does not engage in many traditional social movement activities, such as meetings, fundraising, protests, or confrontational actions. I argue that the group's emphasis on activist values such as action, service, craziness, peace, love, and 'doing one's part' has contributed to the sustainability of the organization.

GAP's values of social movement organization reflect a resistance to formalized structure and process. Group members celebrate their unconventional forms of activism as 'crazy' (doido). The dissertation includes an analysis of the charismatic leadership style of the organization's president, examining how he maintains leadership in the group in part through his self-representation as a sort of 'ecologically noble savage.'

This dissertation suggests that scholars' notions of social movement success must be broad enough to recognize and incorporate groups like GAP that do not engage confrontational forms of activism. I challenge the notion that 'environmentalism of the poor' must necessarily be based in a preservation of the ecological basis of livelihood. Rather it must be recognized that 'the poor' too may understand nature as invested with aesthetic, emotional, and experiential value. Through ethnographic detail, I demonstrate how GAP's values of nature reflect an experiential and emotional sense of intimacy with their local environment.


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