Bethania Assy | The Concrete Experiences of the Subject of Social Injustice: Engendering Collective Resistance, Empowerment, and Knowledge

By Bethania Assy (Puc-Rio)

Author’s note:

This is a preliminary draft, please do not quote. It is part of a work-in-progress book written by Rafael Rolo and I with the collaboration of Allan Hillani to be published by Routledge. It is also part of the Spheres of Citizenship project developed between Puc-Rio and Humboldt University, under the financial support of Capes/DAAD agencies. For this preliminary account of the four Mother’s movements experiences of social injustice, we rely on a variety of sources already published, particularly the interview made by Maria de Deus Brito, a work already commercially published in 2018 as a book entitled “Não. Ele não está” (which translates roughly to: “No. He is not here”). I have hardly quoted any of the two years of interviews with the mothers made by the participants of The Sphere of Citizenship Project carried out by Fernanda Pradal and I, because we are still in a crucial process of constructing with the mothers all the aspects of this research for a responsible and ethical methodology, such as discussing their epistemic protagonism and safeness. All the final academic production will be previously discussed and built with them. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that the main elements of this draft have been already shared with them.

Thank you to all the social movements enrolled in this research we have been engaged with during the last two years. They constantly transform me and the way I see philosophy.

* * *


In very general terms, a theoretical neo-normative approach on injustice starts at the gap left open by the two conceptions of justice that have dominated and, indeed, defined, modern thought, namely Kantian universalism and Aristotelian-Hegelian particularism. On the one hand, the mainly (neo)Kantian normative grammar of legal theories of justice privileges moral principles and proceduralist approaches, presumably universal from the viewpoint of representing the subject.

One of the prices of this abstraction is the lack of problematization of the theoretical impact of the concrete experiences of injustices. On the other hand, there is the identitarian quest for justice which is mainly the result of identity politics. This latter narrows the scope of self-determination by value relativism and its ethical community (Sittlichkeit). Both define justice either as abstraction or as community belonging, and in terms either of universal reason or of particular identity. In general, as one of the dominant vocabularies of late modernity, they are prime representatives of norma-lized justice, either by absorbing the multiplicity of humans into a unified humanity, or by classifying each one in terms of pre-defined individualities of minority identity. In both cases, the archetypal morphology of the rule of law mainly reproduces the same representational schema, where concrete experiences of social injustice are simply not accounted for.

This presentation rather offers a theoretical approach to injustice. To recover what is lost between these two dichotomic normativities and to articulate an alternative understanding of justice—one that flows from the simultaneous singularity and communality of self-(en)acting subjectivity resulting from the suffering of social injustice—I propose that we take the concrete experiences of the subjects of social injustice as our primary lens. This entails asking: how does the production of knowledge of the subjects of social injustice radicalize a certain philosophical grammar implicated in dealing with justice? By radicalizing I mean how does their production of knowledge mobilize/push/intercept/challenge a political philosophical grammar in dealing with the theorization of justice.

Of course, I do not intend to exhaust the topic, but rather to attempt to formulate a set of conceptions, notably the production of theoretical knowledge, that comes from the protagonism of those fighting against precarization and vulnerability. Such production of knowledge is usually described mainly as social practices. My suspicion (even though far beyond my discussion here) is that to a certain extent we have been intellectually biased to not seriously grasp the ethical-epistemic-political protagonism of those vis-à-vis upon whom utter vulnerability is imputed.

Nevertheless, before presenting the tempting framework I am trying to put together, I need briefly to run through some preliminary remarks which, however, I have, alas, no time to properly develop here.


Crucial for this theory of injustice is the conceptualization of the subject of injustice. I am not considering merely a subjective feeling of injustice. I am rather referring to the vulnerabilities produced by class, gender, race and disability that provide the main substances of the dispossessed, the socially, economically and politically invisibilized subjects from the suburbs and slums of the large peripheries, individuals marginalized from social movements, victims of state violence, homeless, illegal immigrants, subjects institutionalized in mental institutions, judicial asylums, or in the prison system, to name a few notorious examples of so many unrepresented national and supranational subjectivities, which are pushed to the margins of the universalist versus multiculturalist debate.

By naming the subject of injustice, however, I am not simply assuming a critical standpoint on social issues. Nancy Fraser (2003) is right when she affirms the necessity of establishing a normative framework for what I am naming the subject of social injustice. But this normative dimension cannot be determined by either the Kantian or the Aritotelean-Hegelian models. It must be thought in other terms, and intimately connected to the singular event of injustice as an imperative that compels a conceptualization of justice capable of activating an unlimited process of representation, beyond the mere repetition and unity that are based on the macro categories of the universality-identity axis. It values the epistemological status of the actual, factual, concrete experience of injustice. In this case, the very experience of socio-economic injustice to which the subjects are subjected namely marginalization, social death, and political invisibility.


The subject of injustice is violently produced and reproduced. This process has been called by many names: biopolitics (Foucault 2004; 1976), bare life (Agamben 2005), necropolitics (Mbembe 2018) precariousness (Butler 2004). It appears in several dimensions: State and international levels, affecting the subjects individually (mentally and physically), collectively, structurally, and institutionally.  It is a matter of fact that the current theoretical vocabulary of biopolitics, bare life, and necropolitics already permits us to confront either the well-known Kantian normative terminology of proceduralist justice or the mere identification of bare life of identity politics. In terms of developing a grammar on biopolitical captures of the vulnerable lives in order to consider injustice, it has already been done, on a large scale by referring, among other authors, for example, to Agamben’s (2005) terminology on the biopolitical nomos of insignificant lives. Agamben’s sharp approach on the defeated subject denounces the historical mechanisms of the production of bare life and its juridical-political apparatus. Political invisibility (re)produced by the rule of law can reach a level beyond the social imaginary; it refers literally to the invisibility of the body itself, this last spot of resistance.

This research however aims to reach another dimension of the phenomenology of social injustice. The main claim here is that beyond biopolitical capture, concrete experiences of the subjects of social injustice can engender empowerment, knowledge, and resistance. This is attached with a process of political subjectivity in which it is entangled political existence, political resistance and political (co)resistance.


Injustice has a specific temporal dimension. The temporality of injustice is the time of urgency. An analysis of concrete experiences of social injustice need to take heed of time and space. The temporality of injustice is the temporality of urgent necessities. Who suffers social injustice, suffers now, and urges for reparation. The time of the now (Jetztzeit) is entirely related to the concrete phenomenon of injustice. The time of injustice, the breaking instant of its happing, is an urgent time, the urgency of the vulnerable, of the dispossessed; the urgency of the oppressed. (Benjamin 1985) We argue that injustice is a matter of eschatological urgency rather than teleological accomplishment.  Here the distinction between historical time and factual time of urgency (chronos versus kairos) is crucial. The notion of rupture as the antinomy of the means-end process is the historical temporality of the phenomenon of injustice. (Bennjamin 2002) [1] The refusal to adhere to the linear pattern of conceiving history, one of the fundamental aspects of Franz Rosenzweig’s philosophy, is based on what Emmanuel Levinas called Rosenzweig’s “operative gesture” in the preface to Star of Redemption. (Rosenzweig 2005) In the vocabulary of the time of injustice as urgency, what is relevant to Hegelian criticism is to highlight the pedagogical ambitions of the 18th century ideology of progress capable of equating a purely formal dialectic with a historical dialectic, so as to equate universal judgment and universal history, and in theoretical terms, more particularly, the rational and the real.   In Rosenzweig’s own words, “It is only because universal history is universal judgment pronouncing its irrevocable sentences in the name of the law of reason that the real is rational.” (Rosenzweig 2000; Mosés 2009) In this matrix, the very time of reparation for injury is the regular time of the process, with its relationship of cost and benefit, for as long as it operates according to the same progressive logic.

As Walter Benjamin (2002) put it, history is constantly and abruptly updated, transforming the present into a conscious and urgent present. This impatience qualifies the present. The qualified present does not satisfy itself with its mere substantial and immanent totalization. The present is the hyper-temporalization of time itself. Amalgamated in the present instant of action, the past-present-future is thrown into the immediate instant. The messianic present precisely denotes this ever-new instant, capable of maintaining an in-between time (entre-temps). (Benjamin 1984, p. 265) [2] The concrete event of injustice is a matter of eschatological urgency, not procedural teleological realization. (Mate, 2011, 2008) The gap between the normative procedures of justice and the facticity of those who suffer injustice “here and now” also demands a temporality of hope and action in the face of concrete demands against injustice. Here, the promise of justice operates because of the very fracture that the event of injustice promotes in time.


Besides its temporality, the concrete experiences of social injustice have a particular spatiality, the topos or factuality itself in which vulnerability takes place. I distinguish at least three layers of factuality. Firstly, the historical, geopolitical, and cultural-structural background of the experience of social injustice, such as the legacy of slavery heritage, coloniality, structural racism, patriarchy, epistemic violence, cannibal capitalism, ecocide, and so on. On a second layer, the actual vulnerabilities such as with who, where, how, under which conditions and background the experiences of social injustice take place. This, in turn, leads us to a third layer, to corporeality itself, the intersectionality of the factual body of the subject of social injustice, such as race, gender, social class, disabilities, territoriality, and so on. Those three layers allow us to perceive the concrete (physical and mental) suffering of those injured. Here, some of the main references are Brazilian theories of coloniality (Gonzalez 2020; Freire 2011) and Critical Race Theory (Fanon 2003; Carneiro 2023; Flauzina 2019, 2006), and new approaches on materialism.


Let me come back to the main part of the research: to bring to the fore the production of knowledge starting from the subjects of social injustice towards certain notions of a philosophical grammar that is implicated in dealing with justice. In other words, to develop a theorization of justice that takes into account concrete experiences of injustice, as well as to theoretically consider how the production of knowledge by the subjects of social injustice themselves takes place, that is, how those engaged on social movements and political collectives mobilize, push, intercept, and challenge a certain philosophical grammar. (Fassin 2023) Let me begin by very briefly introducing a preliminary and multi-layered theoretical framework. According to preliminary research, the subjects of injustice who become protagonists in the struggle against the very injustice which has befallen them develop strategies and actions that implicate (a) different dimensions of social existence and (b) different levels and contexts of social organization.




The dimensions which at first would be expected to adequately represent a comprehensive facet of some impacts of knowledge production by the subjects of social injustice are the dimensions of (a.1) the ethical, (a.2) the epistemological, and (a.3) the political.

For the ethical dimension, one could consider the categories of (a.1.1) suffering (one’s own and another’s suffering) (Flauzina 2017) and of (a.1.2) responsibility (Butler 2020), according to natural causation and according to legal imputation. This ethical suffering and responsibility are intermingled in what it might be deemed an ethical appeal, or a “call to action”, which engages these protagonists in individual, collective and structural levels of political organization.

Both subdimensions of the ethical, be it the ethical suffering or the ethical responsibility, draw directly from the Levinasian notion of the “visage” (the face). As that which appeals to each and every one inexorably, that which is either the most fragile and ephemeral, as well as utterly resilient, the Levinasian face precedes every ontology. It is to be understood as an index of the radical alterity which shall never be wholly suspended or assimilated to a proper self. If before ontology we find ethics, the real question is not why there is something rather than nothing, but how is being justified (Levinas, 2015, p. 100). The subject of social injustice whose radical impact on the liberal grammar has this fundamental question at the very core of its political being.

The epistemological dimension (a.2) is thematized from the perspective of the categories of (a.2.1) epistemic protagonism and of (a.2.2) ontological de-hierarchization of the practices, which take place whenever the subjects of injustice arise from the early stages of mourning and grief (Butler 2004), after realizing the perils of being solely hetero-determined either as the victim or, as is constantly the case in political and institutional environments, as criminals. Both categories of the epistemological dimension presuppose a perspectivist ontology engaged in the discourse and action of reseizing rights (a.2.3) and engendering micro forms and new narratives and practices in fighting for justice (a.2.4).

The epistemological dimension of this grammar aims at providing, for instance, a sufficient answer to the racial dipositif and its most prominent element: epistemicide (Carneiro, 2023). Intermingling knowledge and power, the notion of dispositif proposes to name a major structure of defining how subjectivities are molded and developed. A racial dispositif is a structure that helps maintain the status quo of the racial contract (Mill 2022), by means of the affirmation of epistemic, ethical, esthetical, linguistic, behavioral thresholds which are considered white and, therefore more legitimate and desired than others. Drawing from the Foucauldian notion of “dispositif”, these “strategies of force relations” both support specific types of knowledge and are supported by the knowledge it helps advancing. A racial dispositif, as any dispositif, be it gender, class, “civilization”, or else, is responsive to the splitting of legitimacy between different forms of being and modes of subjectivity (humanity/inhumanity, legitimate/illegitimate, good/bad, civil/barbarian, progressive/anachronic) (Carneiro, 2023).  The epistemicide is perpetrated to systems of thoughts, languages, entire cultures, and different ways of expressing belonging to non-hegemonic/non-dominant groups. The epistemicide implies a persistent process of production of a cultural indigence, through the negation of access to formal education, the production of intellectual inferiorities, and the many ways of delegitimization of the ways of non-hegemonic/non-dominant groups (black, women, LGBTQIA, autochthone/indigenous, and so on).

The political dimension, at last, should consider the production of original ways of articulating political action (institutionalized or not) (a.3.1), as much as new uses of public space (a.3.2) as direct intervention of these subjectivities. We still need to consider their articulation in terms of building up not only new political representatives in legislative, executive and judiciary spheres (a.3.3), but also new public policies (a.3.4). The political dimension presupposes and engenders the ethical pathos as much as rogue epistemological point of views, in a strategy that comed full circle in terms of these dimensions.

These different dimensions overlap each other in relevant ways, for there is no pure ethical dimension that is not also political, nor could there be any relevant de-hierarchization or epistemic protagonism without pressing a wholly different and empowering ethical-political agenda than that of liberal legal institutions. Nevertheless, even though this overlapping quality should not be forgotten, the differences that give sense to the highlighted dimensions should be understood not as qualitative or extensive differences.

By that it is meant, firstly, the fact that the analysis of these dimensions depends much on point of view. Drawing inspiration from Viveiros de Castro’s anthropology (2015), a perspective is not an offshoot of a totality, but every perspective is itself a totality. There are multiple totalities instead of only a Unique Total from which everything else derives[3]. Nothing “lacks” a perspective. A perspective is nonetheless a political stance, which should account for the fact that some perspectives act upon others, legitimately or not, so that specific points of view might be considered more “universal” than others. This acting upon other perspectives, which, at a bare ontological level, is inevitable (after all, existing means nothing else than affecting and being affected by circumstances), can become violent and colonizing after a certain threshold. A perspectivist approach, as a decolonial practice, makes sense of this colonization of the mind as much as of political (r)existing practices. By recurring to perspectivism it is important not to fall prey of a naïf epistemic relativism. (Viveiros de Castro 2013)

At the same time, the interplay between perspectives is inherently productive rather than strictly bounded from the outside, which do not mean that one dimension follows the other, but that they are all trespassing on each other as much as possible, either cancelling or strengthening each other’s tendencies, establishing a condition of a meta-equilibrium between them, characterized by precarity and circumstantiality.


 These different and differential dimensions take place on different levels of social organization. By social organization we mean roughly the context of strategies and obstacles faced on the levels (b.1) of individual existence and subjectivation, (b.2) of collective co-existence and struggles and (b.3) of institutional-structural.

On the individual level, it will be considered processes of political subjectivity implying both empowerment and suffering (mental and bodily illnesses).  Following a Fanonian (2009) diagnostics of the revolutionary persona, oppression is certainly cause of mental and physical illnesses, but so is the militant stance. Here the deep implication between existence and resistance is the key. (Mbembe 2018)

In terms of empowerment, under the experiences of precarization, some subjects of social injustice constitute their own political subjectivity, a kind of second existence, a political existence made possible through resistance, through fighting vulnerability. In another words, situations in which one resists in order to exist, (one fights as a form of survives). Based on that, one can suggest a (re)existence as a form of existence,  On the other hand, following Hannah Arendt’s (2005) political philosophy that no individual can secure power alone (power, different from force, is no individual trait, but an intersubjective condition), the individual is relatively empowered (after all no individual empowerment is absolute) by its openness to political action and collective collaboration. Empowerment is, therefore, conjunctural, indicating a threshold between the individual level and the collective level of resistance. Thus, on the collective level, (r)existence implicates acting with and upon political communities, establishing forms of co-(r)existence and addressing collective struggles, articulating new ways of togetherness, actions and hopes. (Harcourt 2023) At this level, one realizes that the vocabulary of (re)existence has always been a vocabulary of collective resistance, a collective mobilizing and gaining strength. In many circumstances, each individual victory is celebrated as a collective one, based on the strength of the collective.

On the third and last level, lies the institutional-structural level. By institutional we mean specifically the justice system and juridical discourse as an analogy to broader structural conditions that reflect upon (r)existing subjectivities. It is relevant to point out that not all forms of collective resistances aim at the destruction of the rule of law.  They do not necessarily aim at the breaking point of the rule of law or at the institution of a rogue parallel state, but, sometimes, at stretching and suspending the conservative liberal perspective according to which the victim is criminalized (Flauzina, 2019, 66).


Our research covers a variety of political and cultural experiences of the merger of injustice, resistance, and knowledge production on the basis of some social moments in Rio de Janeiro which this project has been involved with. Four movements of mothers from favelas and peripheries of Rio de Janeiro who had their sons and daughters killed by state violence: Mothers of Manguinhos, Mothers of Baixada, Mothers of Maré, Mothers of Jacarezinho. Maré Museum (Museu da Maré), a museum projected and structured by the residents of the Maré favela under the coordination of Claudia Rose and Luiz Antonio de Oliveira. Conexão G, a collective of transgender activists from Maré favela coordinated by Gilmara Cunha; Ocupação Benjamin Filho, a cultural and educational urban squatting settlement only with women and children coordinated by Queli Ambrosio Munis, formerly from MTST. The epistemic protagonism of this research belongs entirely to them. In addition, two more cooperation are in the pipeline: a MST organization and an indigenous Guarani community in the State of Rio de Janeiro.

Let me bring back again my main question: how does the production of knowledge of the subjects of social injustice impact a certain philosophical grammar implicated in dealing with justice? It is my claim that throughout the experiences of social injustice, the protagonists of struggles against precarity and vulnerability inevitably produce knowledge, political empowerment, and collective (r)existence and co(re)existence along their militant form of life[4].

Such (r)existing stances have a significant impact on a certain western political-philosophical grammar, according to which vulnerable bodies have none or minor political agency, that they produce nothing but precarity and need, that “proper politics” is a matter left to those secured from the necessities of bare survival. These protagonists reveal through their (r)existing, co(re)existence strategies and actions the very need to radicalize a conservative political-philosophical grammar. To “radicalize” means here literally to unravel the very root of the issue, to destabilize certain presuppositions, instating a new set of elements that directly rearrange the whole frame of thought conceived to keep things according to a certain status quo.


Mothers’ Movements: “Do Luto à Luta” (“From Mourning to a Coming to fight”)

For lack of time, I will highlight a few dimensions of this framework by considering only the four Mothers’ Movements, those who had their children killed by state violence: Mothers of Manguinhos, with Ana Paula Oliveira who had his Nineteen-year-old Johnatha killed in May 2014 with a gunshot at the back. Mothers of the Baixada with Nivea do Carmo Rapouso, who had her son Rodrigo killed by state police in October 2015. Mothers of Maré with Bruna Silva, who had her 14 years old son Marcus Vinicius executed by the police walking to school in June 2018. Mothers of Jacarezinho with Sandra Gomes, who had her son Matheus killed by the police in May 6 2021 in the chacina de Jacarezinho.[5]

The framework here proposed should begin by mentioning  the effects of the psychic-corporeal movement of the Mothers Movement’s moto “do luto à luta” (“from mourning to fight”) on the individual, which involves not only the understanding of the causes and consequences of illnesses and of discomfort taking over body and mind, but also the comprehension of the elements that constitute this unsettling  which paves the way to an adoption of what we called “co(r)existing” practices and collective empowerment by communitarian interaction and public recognition. Co(r)existing strategies and initiatives, such as the ones conducted by the Mothers’Movement, victims of police violence in Rio de Janeiro, are constantly struggling in favour of a radical questioning of the human condition and to their right to dully mourn their sons and loved ones. Being the tragic survivors of the deadly police violence committed against their own, the Mother’s Movements aim at resignifying life and death of the victims as much as their own (a) from the melancholic derealization and retraction from the common world of they are a part , as well as (b) from the hegemonic account produced by racism (Beatriz Nascimento 2022; Carneiro 2023; Abdias Nascimento 1978) and necropolitical bias against the very possibility of their grief. (Mbembe 2018)

Ana Paula has since become an important community leader for the “Mothers of Manguinhos” initiative, whose main objective is to develop a support network around the families of the victims of police violence, including the provision of psychological, institutional and legal assistance to these families. Ana Paula has wholeheartedly taken a leading role in the fight for the resignification of the life of her son (since after his murder, media and public institutions started a defamation campaign against him). According to a pivotal statement given by Ana Paula (Brito 2018, 49-50)

There is something that they [the police, the State, society] will never take away from me: I am always going to be the mother of Jhonata. It is not because he is not here physically that I am not his mother. It is nice to say that I am his mother. Everywhere I go, I bring with me a picture of him. I don’t even want to be the centre of attention. I just want everyone to see his dear face. Of course, I want the officer who took away my son’s life to face justice, but today, more important than that is to maintain the memory of my son alive. I want to bring his image and history to other mothers. When I open a space so I can talk, like the one I am occupying while talking to you, it is because I know that you will spread the word. You will speak to others and will bring with you the experience of talking to me now. That is what is in my mind right now, while talking to you. To be able to touch other mothers with this message of a passage from grief to a coming to grips [do luto à luta].

Ana Paula is a community leader at the Manguinhos’ favela, in Rio de Janeiro. Since her son’s murder she has taken part in the personal and collective struggle to keep the memory of her son alive, to defend his reputation from racist and aporophobic attacks (Cortina 2017) from state officials, the media and society as a whole, but also in order to build a support network around other mothers from Manguinhos and other favelas and peripheric communities who go through the same pain as she does.  According to Ana Paula, her activism was felt as a necessary reaction after the defamation campaign against her son started immediately after his death, for the police was not eager to simply apologize for the heinous crime they have committed. Instead, they wanted to criminalize the victim (Brito 2018, 84).

Ana Paula, among other mothers who have been tragically affected by the killing of their sons by exactly those officials who according to official discourse were supposed to protect their very lives, are engaged in a deeply political endeavour. Their motto is in plain Portuguese is “do luto à luta”, which was translated in the excerpt above as “from grief to fight”. Do luto à luta means that their grief, their private and intimate pain is nothing but the beginning of a process which continues with the passage towards political action, with the gathering of others in public space so that the memories of their loved ones and of the brutal crimes committed against them is not forgotten. Do luto à luta means the refusal to be subjected to melancholic derealization and dehumanization, it means the refusal to be ashamed to express grief and publicly mourn the murder of a loved one. But even more than grieving, do luto à luta expresses the desire for the maintenance of a public sphere in which the very boundaries (the law, the nomos) between what is worthy of public consideration and what is not is put to the test of public discourse and deliberation.

The mothers who, like Ana Paula, Nivia, Bruna and Sandra, have lost their sons to police violence and are engaged in fighting for justice, in struggling for dignity and recognition, for the maintenance of their memory and visibility and of the public image of their loved ones are what should be called (re)existing political subjectivities. In a society the institutions of which are designed to maintain their exclusion, their political project is the continuous refoundation of the political arena through their coming together in the public arena, not as mere victims but as mothers able to shout and resist against the absolute injustice they suffered, to remember and honor the memory of their loved ones.

But this continuous refoundation is not simply anarchical or placed outside the realm of legal institutionality. These mothers, through their (re)existing experiences, are indicating the very “right to liberty”, as Christian Volk puts it (2022). Their struggle is not radical in the sense of aiming at enuncianting a sort of Benjaminian “divine violence” (göttliche Gewalt) that would automatically and bloodlessly set things straight. Their struggle is to find a political and legal institutionality whose very normative character depends on the recognition of plurality, in Arendt’s conception. They do not simply strive for a refoundation ex nihilo of the social realm, but for the right to be perceived and treated as beings worthy of the same consideration and respect as any other.

The traditional alternative between revolution and reform does not serve these movements and does not do them due justice, for they are not aiming directly for neither of those possibilities. Between the naïveté of either a reform program or of a revolutionary moment, the co(re)existing experience of those mothers is that of those who fight with the very weapons of those who seek to keep them quiet and politically irrelevant. It is a struggle from within the very discourse and practice of law and human rights, and perhaps this very fact does not diminish whatsoever the radicality of their approach. On the contrary. It is, to sum it up, a demonstration of the effectiveness of a struggle carried out on the same level of established axioms, therefore necessarily presupposing a legal order to be relied upon, even though this order is recognized as flawed, as it aims at taking the already available normative order to the cynical limits of its own discourse… and beyond.

The experiences of those mothers, and many others, help us understand a little bit of their struggle and of the different strategies these women have developed in order to simply help each other and carry on with their lives in the mode of “co(r)existence”. In other words, their “coming to fight” means the introduction of an empowering device at the heart of a discriminatorily codified and institutionalized law, where mutual assistance and support between the mothers themselves enables them to handle the structural racism, aporophobia and negligence of public authorities over the disclosure of the context and of the general facts pertaining to their sons’ assassinations.

In a preliminary attempt to present a theory of protagonist subjectivities in the context of social injustice as knowledge producers, the experiences of these mothers are very instructive and, as stated earlier, though no one else besides themselves will ever achieve an in depth take on their struggle, their experiences should nevertheless be considered our index pointing us to a phenomenon that might be out of  the each of our senses. (which is properly that of injustice in its particularity), but that has nevertheless rather concrete effects on our comprehensible actuality and context.


The words in yellow are precisely articulated concerting the Mothers’ Movement


While considering the Mother’s Movements, we can distinguish a set of different actions and strategies of co(r)existence such as: (i) the continuity between their resistance struggles and their very being, inspiring the notion of “(re)existence”; (ii) the disruption of the traditional grammar of rights, trying to make use of legal institutions’ ambiguity toward minorities in such conditions of State violence; (iii) the unsettling of the unjust divide between which narratives should be construed as true and which should be defined as not-true, especially when the victims of police violence in Brazil are often regarded as criminals themselves; (iv) the pressing for an emancipatory politization of their very aesthetic performance, be it by their continuous recourse to public spaces where they are able to promote the recollection of the crimes committed against them, be it by their sheer “being together” so that their collective mobilization shows that even though their grief is a personal and private issue, public grieving is necessary in order to honor the memory of their sons, while resisting a disseminated discourse of criminalization directed against them, and to press for political, social and institutional changes; and (v) the superseding of a conservative view on the difference between generating and recovering historical facts through memory and re-enactment of the crime committed against their sons, and, thus, inexorably, against themselves.

The analysis of these different strategies and actions, which constitute the very possibility of a co(r)existing subjectivity against social injustice in the context of the mother’s movements such as the ones considered here, is not so simple, since the different backgrounds and contexts in which they can take place, signifying different things to different people at the same time, are nothing short of infinite.

An ontological de-hierarchization of the practices developed by the mother’s movement can take place whenever the subjects of injustice arise from the early stages of mourning, after realizing the perils of being solely hetero-determined either as the victim or, as is constantly the case in Brazil’s political and institutional environments, as criminals. Here it is crucial the discussions on epistemic protagonism against epistemecide (Carneiro 2023), through the notions of aquilombamento  (Dealdina 2020; Santos 2023), ancestralidade  and AfroLatinoAmericano feminism (Gonzales 2020) articulated by some of the own mothers. The political dimension, at last, should consider a variety of uses of the public space and public action. The mothers develop different political strategies such as: using the court room as a political perfomative spaces; engendering a performative politics I named as political mothering.

These different dimensions adjust differently to different levels of organization allowing for a richer set of perspectives that lead to more interesting insights on the actions and strategies of the protagonists of social injustice. For example, the analysis of a particular (re)existing action or strategy, such as the anesthetization of a political message through the hanging of the blood-stained clothes of the victims of police violence in front of the Office of the Governor of Rio de Janeiro could be conducted on different levels of individual, collective and structural organization while, at the same time, thematizing the political, ethical and epistemological dimensions differently, and thus creating at least nine different analytical pairings such as: (i) individual-ethical, (ii) individual-epistemic, (iii) individual-political, (iv) collective-ethical, (v) collective-epistemic, (vi) collective-political, (vii) structural-ethical, (viii) structural-epistemic, and (ix) structural-political. These analytical pairs can also be entangled in infinitely different ways, depending on different research objectives and agendas, allowing for a multi-layered and multi-dimensional analysis of such complex phenomena as the unravelling of different (re)existing subjectivities.

It is worth arguing that even though this preliminary framework is geared to attend to analytical and methodological purposes, each analytical unit encompassed in these simple pairings consists of an intensive perspective within the context of our research. Each unit is not extensively separated from the others, but each highlights an intensity, a sort of quanta which might slip away in every direction given the circumstances. An individual-ethical action may slip into a sort of structural-political organization, a collective-epistemic initiative may give rise to an individual-political becoming, a structural-ethical set of institutional practices may give rise to a collective-political movement.

Since a (re)existing subjectivity tends to unfold its own performance in a multidimensional and multi-layered fashion, every individual act is at least virtually inserted in the context of collective performance and structural contestation as much as the dimensions of the ethical, the epistemological, and the political tend to be potentially entangled. Which is to say that, to argue for a different narrative on the deaths caused by police violence, the mothers’ movements intend to alter not only an epistemic feature of social discourse, but also to decisively alter its ethical presuppositions and its political consequences. Such (re)existing subjectivities are neither “heroic”, nor “super-human”, but, on the contrary, are “human, all too human”, following the most Arendtian of perspectives, since they relate directly to those very conditions of human existence, such as life itself, natality and mortality, worldliness, plurality, and the earth, which nevertheless never condition human actions in an absolute fashion (Arendt 1958, 11). A co(r)existing subjectivity, therefore, accepts the responsibility it bears for the developing of a common world in which human deeds are remembered, in which human interaction is consequential to the lives of others around it.

This synthesis is expressed in every manifestation of Ana Paula which are documented in Brito’s (2018) research and shall be considered here as an example of the rich theoretical implications of the preliminary framework we are here considering. Take for instance this excerpt which tells the story of how Ana Paula agreed to be an important part of Brito’s (2018, 29) academic research:

Maíra, I accept to be interviewed. Decisively because I opted and felt the need, even though going through such great PAIN, to be the VOICE of my son. [I have decided] to show my face, to show that my son has a MOTHER and that his story has not ended with him, because today I am the one to continue to write it. […] We have faces, we have stories to build and share, and through the act of telling it to others, to involve more and more people in our STRUGGLE for the RIGHT of the BLACK, POOR, GHETTOED, PERIPHERIC YOUTH to LIFE! We just do NOT want our PAIN to be MERELY appropriated by the Academic discourse [as a mere object of investigation]. When we decide to expose ourselves and talk about our PAIN and STRUGGLE, it is because we want these issues over the annihilation of black youth to be discussed in spaces where many of its participants do not face our reality. When we decide to talk it is because we want to inspire critical thinking and questioning on others, such as to the reasons why they are killing us, for when they kill our sons, they kill the whole family, which NEVER again will be the same as before.

Ana Paula, in this brief response to a simple question, while deciding to take part in Brito’s research, engages every dimension described above. From the individual grief to the collective struggle, ending with the questioning of the structural preconditions for the maintenance of the violence which kills them and their loved ones. Ana Paula is not interested in being considered the mere epistemological object of another, but to be able to mobilize political change, to infuse ethical responsibilities in everyone who comes across her message. The epistemic dimension needs to connect with the ethical and political contexts in order to make sense for her, as much as the ethical and political dimensions should take the epistemic revelation immanent to her narrative into consideration in order to engage not only those who have previous understanding of her and of the conditions under which she lives, but more particularly those relatively alien to those very conditions of constant and imminent violence caused by state officials.



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[1] We are referring to the temporal schema of Central European intellectuals from the 1920s. Mainly: (Benjamin 2002, 1985; Rosenzweig 2000, 2005).

[2] Michael Löwy calls attention to the fact that in his PhD dissertation, Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (1919), Benjamin opposes a qualitative conception of infinite time (qualitative zeitlich Unendlichkeit) attributed to romantic messianism, to an infinite emptiness of time (leeren Unendlichkeit der Zeit), characteristic of the modern ideology of progress. (Löwy 2001).

[3] God’s gaze is but anthropomorphism directed to God. It is a token (one of many) of humanity’s finitude.

[4] By privileging those exposed to social injustice, it does not imply that only under precarization they are able to produce political empowerment, resistance, and knowledge.

[5] The Jacarezinho massacre, also known as the Jacarezinho slaughter, took place on May 6, 2021 in the favela of the same name, in Rio de Janeiro, during a Civil Police operation that resulted in at least 29 people being shot or killed with cutting objects. It was the deadliest police operation in the city of Rio de Janeiro.