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‘Not falling for that’: law's detraction and legal consciousness in the lives of Brazilian anti-torture activists

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 April 2020

Fabio de Sa e Silva*
Assistant Professor of International Studies & Wick Cary Professor of Brazilian Studies and Brazil Studies Program Co-Director, David L. Boren College of International Studies, University of Oklahoma
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Legalised accountability – the definition of torture as an illicit behaviour and the mobilisation of law-enforcement agencies, prosecutorial offices and courts to gather evidence, prosecute and convict torture perpetrators – has become central to anti-torture policies around the world, including Brazil. Based on legal-consciousness scholarship and in-depth interviews, this paper investigates the place and meaning of law in the everyday lives of Brazilian anti-torture activists. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, interviewees articulated an account in which law's authority is largely rejected, while non-legal tools against torture look much more preferable – even if they residually and cynically engage with the law. While exploring the discursive roots of such account, this paper highlights the role of law and justice institutions, particularly those in the criminal justice system, in the of building social support for – or rejection of – the law. These findings add to our knowledge of law's hegemony, while providing valuable insights for future legal-consciousness studies.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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