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Volkswagen in the Amazon

Volkswagen in the Amazon
The Tragedy of Global Development in Modern Brazil


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Part of Global and International History

  • Author: Antoine Acker, Universität Zürich - Historisches Seminar
  • Date Published: September 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316647776

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About the Authors
  • From 1973 to 1987, Volkswagen's (VW) 140,000 hectare 'pioneer' cattle ranch on the Amazon frontier laid bare the limits of capitalist development. These limits were not only economic, with the core management of a multinational company engaged in the 'integration' of an extreme world periphery, but they were also legal and ethical, with the involvement of indentured labor and massive forest burning. Its physical limits were exposed by an unpredictable ecosystem refusing to submit to VW's technological arsenal. Antoine Acker reveals how the VW ranch, a major project supported by the Brazilian military dictatorship, was planned, negotiated, and eventually undone by the intervention of internationally connected actors and events.

    • One of the first books on the topic to focus on a Western country other than the US: it has a wide global appeal and can interest students on at least three continents
    • Tells the story of a fascinating case, embedded in a 'global history' of rain forest protection
    • Suitable for multi-disciplinary use, including history, area studies of Latin America, Brazil, Europe, and Germany, political sciences, environmental studies, and business and development studies
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    • Honorable Mention, 2018 Warren Dean Memorial Prize for the Best Book in Brazilian History, Conference on Latin American History

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Acker tells a fascinating story about the rise and fall of Cristalino, Volkswagen's cattle ranch in the Brazilian jungle. He masterfully demonstrates how changing political pressures, cultural misconceptions, a questionable social agenda, and environmental ignorance resulted in the failure of this project. This is a highly topical book, and international environmental history at its very best.' Christof Mauch, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

    'Acker's book opens new avenues for the historical understanding of the 'decades of destruction' in the Amazon Rainforest. The unusual entry of a company such as Volkswagen into that complex frontier of deforestation and ranching reveals in a concrete way all the arrogance, irresponsibility and ignorance of the local biocultural context that marked the whole process.' José-Augusto Pádua, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

    'Moving seamlessly between the perspectives of local workers, trade unionists and priests, Brazilian national politicians, German managers, and Third World solidarity activists, Antoine Acker provides a powerful analysis of VW's cattle ranch in Brazil and the modern exploitation of the Amazon. Original, insightful, and a fascinating contribution to global history.' Kiran Klaus Patel, Universiteit Maastricht, The Netherlands

    'At last, readers have a fine-tuned historical monograph focused on the Brazilian Amazon during the military era, one that links the region's economic development and environmentalist resonance to the political economy of capitalist globalization … Our understanding of the Amazon's recent history, nevertheless, is immeasurably enriched by Acker's study.' Seth Garfield, H-LatAm

    'In articulating new conceptual lines that make the work so rich and original, Volkswagen in the Amazon fits well into a new wave of recent studies (including my own) that demonstrate how the very notion of development, far from being a clear and constant signifier, is rather a polysemic conduit for different and competing meanings among different social actors situated in concrete historical junctures.' Rafael R. Ioris, The American Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316647776
    • length: 328 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.48kg
    • contains: 8 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Setting the stage: the Amazon as a horizon
    2. The making of a model ranch (1973–1976)
    3. Development in the age of scarcity (1976–1983)
    4. Out-of-date modernity: forced labor at Cristalino (1983–1986)
    5. Cristalino's unhappy ending.

  • Author

    Antoine Acker, Universität Zürich - Historisches Seminar
    Antoine Acker earned his Ph.D. at the European University Institute, Florence and has extensively researched and taught in seven different countries on a broad range of topics including environmental and Brazilian history, German culture and language, as well as political sciences. He was a lecturer at the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris (2013–2014), at the Université de La Rochelle, France (2014–2015) and a guest scholar at Universität Bielefeld, Germany, Universiteit Maastricht, The Netherlands and Universität Bern, Switzerland (2015–2016). He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy in affiliation with the Marie Curie Excellence Fellowships program co-funded by the European Commission.


    • Honorable Mention, 2018 Warren Dean Memorial Prize for the Best Book in Brazilian History, Conference on Latin American History

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