Pandemic, Solidarity and Community Care in Brazil


Solidarity campaigns in Brazil during the Covid-19 pandemic, which focused on essential needs like food and hygiene products, highlighted the critical role of collective efforts in providing care. Based on these experiences, this investigation aimed to contribute to the debate on community care in Latin America.

During the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, as reports of escalating case numbers and fatalities flooded the media, a plethora of information and pleas for assistance regarding acts of solidarity proliferated across various media platforms. These endeavors ranged from individual, spontaneous efforts to organized initiatives spearheaded by social movements, associations, and businesses, drawing in a diverse array of actions, collaborations, and stakeholders. Among this diversity, the most impactful and enduring efforts centered on food donations, shedding light on specific facets of the pandemic crisis in Brazil, hunger. According to PENSSAN Network (2021), 58.7% of the population lived in hunger and food insecurity in 2020.

In this context, associations, NGOs, existing social movements, and collectives stepped up to ensure collective responses to the emerging urgencies since the onset of the pandemic, despite lacking experience with solidarity campaigns. These stakeholders frequently invoked the concept of “by us for us” to reinforce their actions and highlight the lack of state support for the poorest and most vulnerable populations. Although the types and scales of the organizations, the circulated goods, donation formats, distribution frequencies, and beneficiary selection varied, they all shared a common principle: providing collective responses to the risks and impoverishment resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic crisis in Brazil.

While these solidarity campaigns did not explicitly label themselves as care providers, they played a pivotal role in sustaining people’s lives and well-being. In this scenario, we move beyond the traditional beneficiaries and caregivers commonly discussed in the literature. This collective dimension revealed other stakeholders, demands, and solutions. While the dichotomies proposed by the literature on care – such as direct/indirect, paid/unpaid, beneficiary/provider – can provide insights and shed light on the debate, they fail to fully grasp the relationships forged in the collective sphere. The concern for others, the intent to produce well-being, and the various forms of work (material, emotional, etc.) leave no doubt that we are indeed discussing care. However, the collective nature of this experience poses challenges to the existing literature.

In this regard, solidarity campaigns serve as an insightful starting point for addressing the issue at hand. On one hand, they highlight the shortcomings of the state, the market, and the family in providing essential resources for sustaining life during crises, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable populations. On the other hand, they open avenues to explore unconventional forms of collective care that have received limited attention thus far.

I analyzed 627 campaigns compiled in the “Care and Community: Collective Actions during the Covid-19 Pandemic” database. The database is part of the research project “Who Cares? Rebuilding Care in a Post-Pandemic World” (TAP-Fapesp/CNPq/Arymax Foundation/FJLES), led by Professor Nadya A. Guimarães and based at Cebrap, Brazil. The main criterion for selecting these cases was the associative nature of the organizations involved. Given the exploratory nature of our research, we opted for non-probabilistic sampling.

To conduct a more in-depth analysis, I concentrated on two key aspects essential to the study of care: (i) the nature of care and its methods, and (ii) the caregivers and recipients involved. Although the data available in the database does not allow for a comprehensive exploration of certain topics, it does provide valuable insights into critical characteristics associated with these two analytical elements.

Regarding the nature of care and its methods, I found that the initiatives focused on distributing food and essential hygiene and protective items. Furthermore, a closer examination of the distribution methods revealed varying degrees of complexity in implementing care practices and recognizing and addressing demands. On the other hand, regarding the actors involved in caregiving, particularly from the perspective of the providers, politically and socially oriented associations, as well as NGOs, emerged as the primary entities organizing these initiatives. The pivotal role played by political and identity-based movements and collectives in delivering care through solidarity campaigns underscores the importance of collective identities.

In this regard, we can argue that solidarity, as carried out through these campaigns, serves as a way to acknowledge, and label the collective dimension of care. Rooted in identities such as gender, race, class, generation, territory, or even ideologies, these acts of solidarity served as instruments in forging collective bonds, free from strict or predefined boundaries. This form of care unveils a distinctly political dimension, as it is through associative ties that individuals build bonds of protection and recognition, identifying care demands and devising strategies to address them.

In this context, I argue that categorizing this dimension of care as “community care” might narrow our understanding of this arena. I am not disregarding the significance of a sense of community in shaping this type of care. However, the notion of community could restrict our understanding of these relationships by suggesting an image of a fixed group, whether defined by location (neighborhood) or identity (LGBT+, women, Black individuals, etc.). Instead, solidarity campaigns demonstrate that groups do not necessarily require rigid boundaries of belonging to carry out care practices (exogenous actions). In my perspective, designating this dimension as “collective” offers at least two advantages: Firstly, it avoids confining the concept to a predefined community based solely on identity. Secondly, it enables a more comprehensive analysis in two keyways. On one hand, it encompasses various forms of collectives (such as political associations, NGOs, volunteer groups), and on the other hand, it acknowledges that care practices themselves have the potential to contribute to the formation of collectives and identities.

Contact: University of São Paulo, Brazil

Picture by the author. Licensed under Creative Commons

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