Tag: authoritarianism

Milei, Crowds, and Concrete Waves in Argentina

I am home, reading Stefan Helmreich’s new book, A Book of Waves (2023). The news on TV then catches my attention: I see images from the inauguration of Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei. The syntagmatic association is obvious: Milei is a new addition to the wave of authoritarian populist rulers now in office. I let out a long sigh, thinking about the future of my relatives and friends in Buenos Aires. Once again, I failed miserably in my ability to forecast election results. Previously, I missed the mark for the 2016 elections in the US and the 2018 elections in Brazil. For many years, my anthropological work has been with forecasts, albeit atmospheric ones (e.g., Taddei 2015, 2020). I often poke fun at my friends in meteorology, telling them that society is more complex than the atmosphere—perhaps to justify why we in the social sciences are so bad at forecasting collective human behavior. In any case, I have the feeling that, of all the uses of the wave metaphor, perhaps this one, associated with extreme rightwing nationalistic politics at the international stage, is the most elusive and misguiding. Is the waviness of the phenomenon derived from any measurable feature, like it is for natural phenomena such as physical ocean waves or El Niño? Or is the waviness just ascribed afterward simply as a familiar semantic container for a myriad of facts so that the public can hold it in their minds? In any case, physical oceanographers also read waves backward. They call it an inverse problem (Helmreich 2023, 258). (read more...)

Sugar Cane in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

When now Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, putting development ahead of environmental protection, many in the agribusiness sector were decidedly optimistic. One agribusiness group, however, was not: sugarcane ethanol producers. Bolsonaro has since seemingly backtracked on his withdrawal promise, and ethanol producers are now the ones who are optimistic. While sugarcane cultivation is implicated in broader agricultural practices that have historically promoted deforestation in Brazil, sugarcane industrialists ultimately care about the climate accord because it bolsters support for renewable fuels like ethanol. Another group concerned with Bolsonaro’s potential policies was scientific researchers, who worried about the continuation of recent cuts to scientific funding. Nonetheless, it should be noted that for some of these researchers the ethanol industry is also at stake in their work. Sugarcane has increasingly become a focus of scientific inquiry as new biotechnologies expand the potential scale and scope of sugar-based renewables, including both fuels and materials like plastic. (read more...)