As the demand for natural rubber declined, however, the Brazilian government sought to stimulate the economy in the 1970’s by encouraging southern ranchers to bring their cattle to the isolated state and convert the forests to pastureland.
During the dramatic land conflicts that ensued, rubber tappers captured international media attention by arguing that their harvesting of rubber and other products from the standing forest gave them a livelihood, while at the same time contributing to the preservation of the Amazonian rain forest. While much has been written about the internationally celebrated “forest guardian” rubber tappers, few researchers have tried to understand the ranchers, who, in the minds of many, remain the violent and environmentally destructive villains of Amazonia.
In an article titled “Black Hats and Smooth Hands: Elite Status, Environmentalism, and Work Among the Ranchers of Acre, Brazil,” UC Santa Barbara anthropologist Jeffrey Hoelle studies the growing cattle industry as it related to rubber tappers, ranchers, and other rural groups. His article, which received the Eric R. Wolf Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Work, appeared in a recent issue of the journal Anthropology of Work Review.
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