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Doctoral defence of Mariana Galvão Lyra, MSc, 5 Nov 2021: The anti-mining movement in Brazil between 2013-2017

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Environmental Policy will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies at Joensuu Campus and streamed live.

MSc Mariana Lyra, what is the topic of your doctoral research? Why is it important to study the topic?

The actual take on mining conflicts and activism tends to have a general negative connotation instead of an appreciative interpretation. My research delves deep into the Brazilian anti-mining movement to understand the context in which activism take place, their main strategies and course of actions, and their ability to influence the overall mining debate in Brazil in the 2010s. More specific, the research covers the 2013–2017 time frame, when discussions on the mining framework and a severe tailings dam failure happened.

My research contributes to scientific discussions on mining and society by seeking conceptual bridges across political-ecologically oriented studies on social movements against mineral extraction. It elaborates on the challenges faced by the anti-mining movement in Brazil during the 2013-2017 period by focusing on interlinkages between social movement theories and approaches of environmental justice and intersectionality.

It sheds light on the key challenges faced by groups fighting for more environmental and social justice in mining conflictual situations. I provide research avenues to interpret anti-mining activism by approaching three major dimensions: the context in which activism sparked, how it has responded to events connected to mining during the research time frame, and how it has influenced the overall mining sector. The first dimension is concerned with how the anti-mining activism has been established in Brazil and how it grew during the studied period. The second dimension will scrutinize what kind of anti-mining actions took place as a response to mining events. Two cases in particular will be analyzed: the discussions around the mining code draft and the aftermaths of the Fundão dam disaster. The effects of these cases on anti-mining activism are explored through a twofold focus on social movements and environmental justice studies. Finally, the third dimension will investigate the influence the activism efforts have had on the overall mining sector. Results present the efficacy of mobilization and collective action, how activism is addressing environmental justice issues and shedding light on social and economic inequalities and injustices in Brazil.

This thesis demonstrates how activists are challenging mainstream narratives provided by Governmental authorities and companies by counter-narratives. The push by activists of mining issues onto the national agenda, framing mining issues as social and environmental violations, and underscoring the need for more participation and recognition rights. It opens up avenues to consider the relevance of activism in mining discussions and decisions, and, especially, to consider the quality of public participation in mining industry-related processes, which raise questions about how democracy has been employed in practice.

This thesis reveals the intrinsic link enveloping the extractive industry, between inequality and environmental justice activism. In Brazil, the massive presence of social inequality in communities close to mining sites is pushing society to mobilize. Activism does not only show the need to advocate for more participatory and recognition rights for these communities, but concomitantly denounce governmental actions in cases where justice is needed.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

The thesis makes an important contribution to the analysis of social movements in Brazil through a case study of the anti-mining movement in Brazil between 2013 and 2017. This covers events which have not previously been analyzed in English. The research also contributes to the international comparative literature on the social and environmental impacts of mining. The geographic focus of the research is Brazil and thus can also be viewed as a contribution to Brazilian studies. The sectoral focus is mining and the research also makes a contribution to studies on mining history, sociology of mining, and mining policy.

The central research problem was to document and assess Brazilian anti-mining activism over the time period 2013 to 2017. This was approached in two main steps. First a review of other Brazilian social movements: the movimento sem terra and the anti-dam movement. Second by research on two sub-case studies one on the development of the new Brazilian mining code and one on the responses to the Fundão tailings dam collapse. These were specific choices to compile data to answer the central research question.

The research makes a contribution to the literature on social movements through a contribution to the literature on social movements in Brazil and on the anti-mining movement in Brazil. Each national context helps to deepen the foundation for cross-national comparison and thus the research provides material that other social movement researchers may draw upon. The research makes a contribution to the general discussion of “framing” in social movements and points out the important of environmental and social justice as frames used by activists.

How can the results of your doctoral research be utilised in practice?

The relevance of the research is primarily societal and practical. It situates the Brazilian anti-mining movement in the socio-political evolution of Brazilian society in the democratic period since the end of military rule. This can provide an interpretation of the anti-mining movement for those who may not see anti-mining as a facet of a wider emergence of civil society in Brazil.

The practical relevance of the research is that it can provide guidance to social movement actors including academics, NGOs and communities in how to approach the explanation and organization of civil society to challenge the growing environmental and social impacts of mining in Brazil. This makes a practical contribution for Brazilian academics, NGOs and communities but also to similar actors in other countries. This is important because the exploitation of mineral resources is increasing internationally and the impacts of mining are accelerating internationally.

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

First an extensive literature review of the social movement and environmental justice literature. Second, an extensive review of primary and secondary literature on social movements in Brazil, the development of the mining code, and the Fundão tailings dam collapse. Third, a series of face to face interviews with key informants identified through snowball sampling. Fourth follow up interviews through internet with key informants. Interviews were transcribed and coded. From these interviews and documents a series of orientations towards the mining sector and mine impacts were extracted and presented in tabular form.


The doctoral dissertation of Mariana Galvão Lyra, MSc, entitled Against the plunder of our ores’: The anti-mining movement in Brazil between 2013-2017, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies on 5 November at noon in Joensuu Campus, Metria, M100. The Opponent will be Professor Anja Nygren, University of Helsinki, and the Custos will be Professor Rauno Sairinen, University of Eastern Finland. Language of the public defence is English.

For further information, please contact:

Mariana Lyra,