Keywords: biodiversity, imaginaries, imagined community, science, activism, social movements, Brazil, ethnography, scientific ideas, environmentalism
'Our strength is diversity': imaginaries of nature and community in a Brazilian social movement
This paper addresses the relation between activism and science through exploring imaginaries of nature and society. We analyse how a social movement started to reinvent itself by adopting and adapting a scientific image of nature. MST–Brazil (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra/Landless Workers Movement) is possibly the largest social movement in Latin America. A self–proclaimed Marxist movement, since the late 1990s some sectors of the movement have started changing towards environmentalism by adopting an image of nature as 'biodiverse'. Using ethnographic data, we look at how imaginaries of natural and social order are used to achieve practical goals and to negotiate new identities and lines of action. We describe how, by adapting scientific ideas, MST recreated itself as an 'imagined community'. Thinking in imaginaries of nature and community provides significant insights on how social movements increasingly use, reframe, mobilise or contest scientific knowledge. This framework allows for thinking about the relations between science and social movements in a dynamic and action–oriented perspective.