Fabricio Telo

Fabricio Telo (he/him)
Recent Graduate – Ph.D. in Social Sciences
Department of Development, Agriculture and Society
Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Current Research Project: 

Memories of Struggles for Land in Rio de Janeiro State

This community-based project aims to draw attention to the importance of the memory of struggles for land; overcoming the silence about the repression that took place in the rural areas; and contributing with rural social movements to strengthen the struggle for rights in the present time. To achieve these goals, the project conducts workshops with teachers in elementary public schools. The project team is formed by students and professors of three different universities, social activists and secretaries of education of three municipalities where the workshops have been taking place.

The project’s starting point is previous research entitled “Conflicts and Repression in the Countryside in Rio de Janeiro State”, conducted in partnership with the Rio de Janeiro State Truth Commission. In the workshops with the teachers, the project addresses the main findings of this research regarding the human rights violations committed against peasants and Indigenous peoples mainly during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985. The project consists of a course delivered in four different workshops that take place once a month.

Since several schoolteachers had relatives or family members involved in the struggles for land during the dictatorship, the project team encourages them to reflect on their personal memories within a broader historical context in order to gain a better understanding of the sociopolitical causes of their own personal histories and thus develop a “sociological imagination”, as C. Wright Mills calls it.

What motivated you to pursue this project?

In Brazil, the transition from the military dictatorship of 1964-1985 to democracy was slow, preserved characteristics of the authoritarian regime, and forgave those responsible for human rights violations. It took more than 10 years for the Brazilian state to provide reparations for victims of the regime and 26 years to approve the creation of a Truth Commission. Even with these measures, or because they were taken too late, a significant amount of people in Brazil still support the legacy of the dictatorship. The abuses committed by the dictatorship, especially those resulting from struggles for land, are usually forgotten and invisible. Contributing to the efforts towards overcoming this condition of invisibility and forgetting is what motivated me to pursue this community-engaged project, which is also an indirect way to redress the human rights violations of the regime.

Surprising Findings and Challenges

One of the most impressive findings conducting the workshops was noticing the fear that teachers feel when it comes to addressing the history of the dictatorship in class. Because of the polarized political context that Brazil is currently experiencing, aggravated by the election of a politician who explicitly supports the legacy of the military dictatorship, teachers are afraid of suffering retaliations for confronting the narrative of the current government regarding the military regime. In the workshops, we discuss strategies to overcome this fear and avoid self-censorship without getting exposed to eventual reprisals.

Innovative Research Methods

The project is based on the principles of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who understands community-engaged projects as communication and not as a transfer of knowledge. His perspective emphasizes the need not only to talk, but also listen, that is, a dialogue. For this reason, the workshops guarantee at least 50% of the time for the exchange of knowledge and experiences through debate and group work, valuing the knowledge accumulated by the teachers participating in the course, be it about the reality in which they live, or their pedagogical work.

In 2019, the project team produced a children’s literature book and a teaching game in order to facilitate the teachers’ work addressing the memories of agrarian conflicts with elementary school students. Such materials are available on the project’s website.

What impact do you think the project will have?

Through this project, university students have the opportunity to learn with elementary and high school teachers and vice versa. Students who were writing their monographs on topics related to the project also had the opportunity to enrich their research by networking with workshop participants. The project also succeeded in raising awareness among teachers about the importance of working with the memories of the struggles for land and the impact of the repression on the peasants who participated in these struggles. By learning about these memories, the peasants’ children are more likely to value the struggles in which their parents participated in the past and realize that the land where many of them are currently living is the fruit of those struggles.

Fabricio’s advice to other graduate students:

Engage as much as possible in community-engaged projects in partnership with social movements and/or non-governmental organizations. Getting involved in their struggles enables you to develop a knowledge that you would never get only by going to classes or reading books.


Teló, Fabricio, Leonilde S. Medeiros, Regina S. Fernandes and Alessandra Gasparotto. 2021. “Land and Transitional Justice in Brazil.” International Journal of Transitional Justice. (forthcoming).

Fabricio’s other publications are available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Fabricio-Telo

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