Grad Student Spotlight: Marina Segatti (Feminist Studies)

February 15, 2024

Hi Marina! To start, please give us a general overview of your dissertation project and current research. 

My doctoral research focuses on exploring the strategies employed by Brazilian feminists, queer and trans politicians, and activists through social media platforms. I aim to understand how they have responded to the challenges posed by social and political exclusion and the escalating violence within prevailing authoritarianism and anti-gender campaigns. More specifically, I pay close attention to how language and practice overlap and subvert norms of gender and sexuality upheld by neoconservatism. I explore the innovative ways activists and politicians craft memes, develop hashtags, and create new lexicons, among other strategies, employing language as a potent instrument to forge new political meaning and counter disinformation.

In my dissertation, I analyze four distinct case studies of significant political events that unfolded in Brazil from 2013 to 2023. My analysis sheds light on the rise of the far right within Brazil's unique historical, social, and political landscape, focusing on how the advent of digital politics and the gender dynamics surrounding the removal of Brazil's first female president has played a critical role. Additionally, I examine the impact of Marielle Franco, a Black and queer politician who has become a national and transnational symbol of the struggle against social inequalities, especially gender, race, and class. The work of the #EleNão Movement also forms a core part of my study, where I scrutinize its various coalitional strategies for garnering support, increasing awareness, and countering the far-right's advance. Lastly, my research extends to the political engagement of Brazilian Black trans women and travestis, highlighting how three Afro-Brazilian travesti have forged political candidacies that go against the dominant political logic.

You have been doing fieldwork in Brazil for the past two years; what has been the most challenging aspect of completing your fieldwork? What about the most rewarding? 

For 2021 to 2023, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the FMST Department, the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas, and The Humanities Institute, I conducted fieldwork for my project amidst Brazil's volatile political landscape under Bolsonaro's administration, which was characterized by its overt hostility towards queer and trans communities. Significant challenges, violence, and sadness marked four years of Bolsonaro's government amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite Brazil's history of profound inequality, shaped by centuries of slavery and exploitation, the Bolsonaro administration deliberately exacerbated these disparities. The most challenging aspect of my fieldwork was navigating the heightened political unrest and polarization atmosphere, coupled with widespread desolation and hardship. 

On the other hand, being in Brazil during the presidential runoff and election in 2022 served to rekindle hope. Participating in the intensity of protests and marches advocating for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's (Lula) victory against a backdrop of disinformation, political machinery, and corruption leveraged by Bolsonaro highlighted the critical importance of the election. It has been inspiring to be part of the incredible strength, creativity, and solidarity of queer and trans activists. Being in conversation with so many people on the ground provided invaluable insights and perspectives, enriching my understanding of the complex dynamics at play and complementing the research I had conducted on social media. 

What was it like being in Brazil for Lula's win?

The inauguration day was special. Although the atmosphere was of vigilance, as mobilizations by the most radical wing of Bolsonarism were being articulated, with the threat of a coup hanging over Brazil, there was a lot of joy and excitement. It was a day filled with political rituals and a music festival, reflecting the vibrant culture of Brazil. In the presidential inauguration tradition, the former president transfers the presidential sash to the new officeholder. Bolsonaro left the country on December 30th before ending his mandate as an act of "protest." Although the ritual of giving the sash is merely symbolic and has no impact on the transition of power or legal implications, the uncertainty of what would happen led to many expectations and speculation. Lula and his partner Rosângela Lula da Silva, known as Janja, walked up the ramp of the Palácio do Planalto (the Government's headquarters) alongside several other guests, all members of the civil society: notorious Indigenous Chief Raoni Metuktire, the garbage collector Aline Souza, the metal worker Weslley Rodrigues, the ten years old and swim competitor Francisco Silva, the professor Murilo de Quadros Jesus, the cook Jucimara Fausto dos Santos, the craftsperson Flávio Pereira and the militant Ivan Baron, a reference in the disability rights struggle, who is a young man who had cerebral palsy caused by meningitis in childhood. The act symbolized Lula receiving the presidential sash from the hands of representatives of the diversity of the Brazilian people: Black and indigenous people, people from various regions of the country, people from the LGBTQIA+ community, children and adults, working-class people, and people with disability. It is significant to note that those people had been previously framed as internal enemies during Bolsonaro's government. Bolsonaro's government was a direct and often violent attack on the plurality and diversity of the Brazilian people. That was a symbolic moment that sparked tears of hope and joy. Now, whether Lula will fulfill his promise remains to be seen.

Much of your research has considered how Queer and Trans activists in Brazil have mobilized on social media to respond to conservative politicians and politics. Has there been a shift in your research since Jair Bolsonaro was ousted from the presidency by Lula?

Despite the shift in political power from Jair Bolsonaro to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, my research focus remains the same. During Bolsonaro's presidency, it was urgent to document and analyze resistance strategies against overtly anti-gender ideology as they became the grammar of public policies and societal attitudes. With Lula's presidency, there's cautious optimism among activists, at least at the federal level, as the political climate seems more amenable to LGBTQIA+ rights. However, there's been a noticeable uptick in the targeting of queer and trans communities at the municipal level, with 77 anti-trans laws currently active across 18 jurisdictions, over a third of which were implemented in the past year. According to a recent report by the Brazilian National Association of Travesti and Transgender People (ANTRA), Brazil still faces a distressingly high rate of transgender murders, highlighting the ongoing challenges despite the political shift. Despite Bolsonaro's departure from office, the ideologies he represented are far from extinguished. The far-right ideologies continue to resonate with a significant segment of the Brazilian population, manifesting in both public discourse and private attitudes. Gender equality and sexual diversity are still viewed by many as threats to national values, while notions of traditional family structures are frequently leveraged as mechanisms for social regulation.

While much of my research has focused on examining the digital violence faced by queer and trans activists, including harassment, misinformation, and coordinated attacks that have even led to exile, I've been equally inspired by the innovative and creative strategies these activists employ. Their playful yet powerful political projects skillfully counter the surge of conservatism, demonstrate resilience, and imagine new modes of intersectional and collective politics that center on those who have been historically marginalized. Following the work of Erika Hilton, Duda Salabert, and Daiana Santos at Congress, along with a few other LGBTIQA+ politicians at their local city halls, has provided rich examples of how visibility and representation can drive significant change. While recognizing that mere increases in representation do not automatically change systemic inequalities, it's crucial to note how these figures actively disrupt Brazil's political status quo and forge paths toward inclusivity. By advocating for the rights and dignity of queer and trans communities, they do more than just fill seats—they catalyze meaningful dialogue and action, laying the groundwork for a more inclusive society. These politicians have effectively utilized social media to amplify their message, engage with the community, and mobilize support for LGBTQIA+ rights. They have also been involved in direct actions, such as protests and public speaking events, to challenge conservative policies and politicians directly. Their presence and advocacy challenge entrenched norms and practices, demonstrating the potential for representation to contribute to broader efforts aimed at systemic change when coupled with dedicated activism and policy initiatives.

Finally, How has CRES informed your interdisciplinary research about social media responses by Queer and Trans experiences to conservatism and far-right politics in Brazil? Has CRES shaped your research questions, methods, or reading practices?

The framework of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) has been instrumental in shaping my interdisciplinary analysis of social media, offering a crucial lens through which to examine the complex intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and power within Brazil's bio-necropolitical governance and its renewed attack on queer and trans population. My work weaves together insights from transnational trans and queer critiques of color, decolonial and transnational feminisms articulated by Black women and women of color, alongside Brazilian critical race theory. Despite the diverse geographical and geopolitical origins of these scholarly traditions, they converge in their critical examination of power disparities, utilizing a race-conscious feminist lens to unearth the entangled systems of oppression that historically and presently dominate and marginalize communities. This comprehensive theoretical foundation allows me to carefully attend to the differential and uneven ways individuals and communities experience vulnerability, precariousness, and violence. By positioning my research within this interdisciplinary framework, I aim to contribute to the body of knowledge that challenges the renewed global wave of anti-blackness, anti-LGBTQIA+, and anti-feminism. I engage in a scholarship that critiques and envisions pathways toward liberation and equity.