There is growing interest in how activist bureaucrats change policies; however, it remains unclear how bureaucrats become activists. This article develops a framework for the emergence of bureaucratic activism using the case of Brazilian prosecutors in the Belo Monte dam, a project that drew attention due to its social and environmental impacts. I show that two different types of prosecutors were involved in this case: activist prosecutors, who were committed to the proactive defense of affected communities, and conventional prosecutors, neutral agents that resorted to traditional tactics. Based on 82 interviews, document analysis, and participant observation, I argue that rather than being self-selected, prosecutors within conducive settings engaged in activism after they joined the state by developing long-term ties with local groups. By discovering the problems faced by affected communities and mediating their struggles with other policy actors, prosecutors internalized the grievances of these groups, building commitments to defend their causes.

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