Course Description

Course Name

Race, Ethnicity and Society in Brazil

Session: VFPS1120

Hours & Credits

54 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level


  • Prior to enrolling in courses at this language level, students must have completed or tested out of a minimum of four semesters (or six quarters) at the college level.



This course introduces discussions about race, ethnicity and nationhood in Brazil. Looking back on historical moments, this course will cover Portuguese colonization and first contacts with Brazilian indigenous peoples, the transatlantic slave trade, projects of nation-building in the 19th-century, the democratic turn and multicultural politics of the late 20th century, and the global reconfigurations of ethnicity and race in the 21st century.
A) Understanding the historical formation of the Brazilian nation;
B) Understanding key sociological-anthropological interpretations of Brazilian society and culture;
C) Learning about pressing issues in current Brazilian politics;
D) Acquiring a comparative perspective on the nexus between race, ethnicity, culture and nationhood on a global scale.
To be suggested along the lectures in order to reach the course aims. Articles, textbooks and different book chapters are provided to students as a rule.
Part I - Theoretical landscape: Race, Culture, Ethnicity, Ethnocentrism
Class 1: Race, ethnicity and nationhood in Brazil: anthropological considerations
Introduction: students present their impressions of Brazil, Brazilians and the topics addressed by the course.
  • Objectives - Have students reflect critically on common sense imageries and imaginaries of both their home country and Brazil, introducing them to the analytical perspectives of the course.
  • Activities - Round of introductions; presentation of course outline: literature, aims, problems, activities and methods of assessment.
Class 2: Race, History and Culture
The rise of Evolutionism in European thought; the Indian race at the European gaze: Amerindians in the evolutionary scheme of mankind; the relationship between human universality and cultural difference; the concept of ethnocentrism.
  • Objectives - Mastering the course's conceptual backdrop: "race" in relation to "history" and "culture" through the prism of European evolutionism. Understanding these concepts in light of the Brazilian historical process.
  • Activities - Lecture
  • Reading - Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Race, History and Culture, UNESCO Courier, March 1996.
Part II - Historical Foundations
Class 3: Discovering the Noble Savages: Images of Indians in the XVI Century
The "Discovery" and its unfolding; Pero Vaz de Caminha historical letter to the King of Portugal Dom Manuel I: the wording of a New World; the Amerindian image on European thought on the XVI century.
  • Objectives - Understanding the context of the discovery of the Americas and the Portuguese model of colonization.
  • Activities - Lecture. Screening of fragment Tupi Roots from the documentary series The Brazilian People, based on the work of Darcy Ribeiro.
  • Reading - Ribeiro, Darcy (2000). Preface and Introduction of The Brazilian People: The Formation and Meanings of Brazil.
Class 4: Students will visit the Marque Museum of Ethnology and Archeology of the Federal University of Santa Catarina. Students will learn about the pre-colonial occupation of the state: from the ancient Sambaquis to the Guarani and Jê indigenous peoples.
Class 5: Under the Sign of the Cross: Jesuit Catechesis and the directions of Portuguese Colonization
Bartering alliances: the Portuguese securing of colonial borders via gift-exchanges with Tupi peoples; "Cunhadismo" and the springing of mameluco villages; Compania de Jesus in Brazil: Jesuit Catechization and its directions; the quest for labor and Indian slavery.
  • Objectives - Understanding the ethnic configuration and political economy of colonial Brazil.
  • Activities - Regular Lecture. Screening of fragment Lusitanian Roots from the documentary series The Brazilian People, based on the work of Darcy Ribeiro.
  • Reading - Ribeiro, Darcy (2000). "Part I. The New World." In The Brazilian People: The Formation and Meaning of Brazil
Class 6: The Sugar Civilization: Transatlantic Slavery System and the Foundations of Colonial Brazil
Origins of African slavery in Brazil in the Portuguese maritime expansion; sugarcane monoculture, mining and coffee: the political economy of Brazil under colonial rule.
  • Objectives - Understanding the transatlantic slavery system and Afro-Brazilian diaspora during the colonial era; identifying and comprehending the African cultural matrix in the Brazilian socio-historical formation.
  • Activities - Lecture; screening of fragment from the film Na Rota dos Orixás; group discussion: students are invited to present their thoughts on the African diaspora through the transatlantic slavery system in Brazil and the U.S.
  • Reading - Skidmore, Thomas (1999) "Birth and Growth of Colonial Brazil: 1500-1750." In Brazil. Five Centuries of Change. Complementary reading: Ribeiro, Darcy (2000). "Human Gristmills" In: The Brazilian People: The Formation and Meaning of Brazil
Class 7: Crisis of the Colonial System, Independence and Nation-Building in Brazil
The Royal Family in Brazil; Independence from Portugal and the Empire of Brazil; Envisioning the Brazilian polity: Colonial Politics of "Indian integration"; the question of slavery abolition; the prospect of "whitening" the nation via European immigration; the Proclamation of the Republic.
  • Objectives - Understanding the rise of Brazilian Nationhood along the XIX century
  • Activities - Regular lecture; discussion: comparison between the Brazilian and other historical contexts of independence and nation-building.
  • Reading - Skidmore, Thomas (1999) "Crisis of the Colonial System and Emergence of an Independent Brazil: 1750-1830" In: Brazil. Five Centuries of Change.
Part III - Interpretations of Brazil and Brazilian Culture
Class 8: Across the "Casa Grande" and the "Senzala": the Brazil of Gilberto Freyre
The work of Gilberto Freyre; race, gender and hierarchical relations in Brazil; the "racial democracy" paradigm: Brazil as racial/cultural "melting pot."
  • Objectives - Understanding Brazilian social thought via the work of Gilberto Freyre. Grasping key sociological/ anthropological interpretations of Brazil.
  • Activities - Regular lecture; seminar presentation and debate: what is your experience of racial relations in Brazil? How would you compare it to your home country?
  • Reading - Needel, Jeffrey (1995) "Identity, Race, Gender and Modernity in the Origins of Gilberto Freyre's oeuvre" American Historical Review 100:1, 51-77.
Class 9: The Cordial Man: "the Brazilian" of Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda
The rendering of "Brazilianness" in Buarque de Hollanda's "Raízes do Brasil"; Intersections of the Public and the Private in O Homem Cordial.
  • Objectives - Understanding Brazilian social thought via the work of Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda. Grasping key sociological/ anthropological interpretations of Brazil.
  • Activities - Lecture; seminar presentation and debate: What is your experience with the socalled "jeitinho Brasileiro" (the "Brazilian way")?
  • Reading - BARBOSA, Lívia. (1995) "The Brazilian Jeitinho: An Exercise in Nacional Identity." In: The Brazilian Puzzle: Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World, edited by David J. Hess and Roberto A DaMatta. New York: Columbia University Press, pages 35-48.
Class 10: Brazilian Tropes and Rituals: Carnival and Football
Images and Imaginations of brasilidade: Sociological/anthropological takes on carnival, football and Brazilian sociality.
  • Objectives - To reflect critically on assented images of Brazil and Brazilians; to understand the anthropological/sociological perspectives on Carnival and football as key tropes and rituals of national identity.
  • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and discussion.
  • Reading - Da Matta, Roberto. "An Interpretation of 'Carnaval'." SubStance Vol. 11, no. 4 - Vol. 12, no. 1, Issue 37-38: A Special Issue from the Center for Twentieth Century Studies (1982/1983), pp. 162-170. Da Matta, Roberto. "Sport in Society: An Essay on Brazilian Football" in Vibrant - Virtual Brazilian Anthropology, v. 6, n. 2. July to December 2009. Brasília, ABA.
Class 11: Brazilian Aesthetics: Body Culture in Brazil
The connection between aesthetics and national identity; the Brazilian body in historical perspective; the Brazilian habitus: ways of talking, feeling, greeting, moving and displaying the body; sexuality, body culture and the recent outburst of the plastic surgery industry in Brazil;
  • Objectives - Understanding key dimensions of Brazilian sociality through an assessment of its body culture.
  • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and debate: what is your experience of "body culture" in Brazil? What contrasts and convergences can you identify in relation to your native country?
  • Reading - Goldernberg, Mirian (2010) "The Body as Capital. Understanding Brazilian Culture." Vibrant, vol. 7, n. 1.
Part IV - Multiculturalist Horizons: Pressing issues in current Brazilian politics

Class 12: The "children of Nature": the Ideology of Indian Tutorship in Brazil
The quest for "pacification": Marshall Rondon and the "first contacts" in the Amazon in the early XX century; the Villas-Boas brothers and the demarcation of the Xingú National Park in the midcentury; FUNAI and the "Indian Statute" in the 1970's.
  • Objectives - Comprehending the rise and development of the state ideology of "tutorship" over the Brazilian Indians. Understanding the role of state institutions such as the SPI and FUNAI and their horizon of a progressive and smooth "assimilation" of Brazilian Indians as citizens-tobe.
  • Activities - Lecture, screening of fragments from "Rondon and the Brazilian Indians" and "Xingú", seminar presentation and discussion.
  • Reading - Ramos, Alcida (2008) "Neither Here nor There: On the Ambiguity of Being Indian in Brazil", Vibrant v.5 n.1 p. 7-19
Class 13: Fieldtrip 2: Visit to the indigenous village of the Guarani-Mbyá in Biguaçú, Santa Catarina.1
"Being Indian" today: how do Indigenous people live in contemporary Brazil? How do they deal with expectations of authenticity upon them? How do they relate to modern mass media technologies? What is their familiar, religious and political life like nowadays?
  • Objectives - Have students experience the life-world of a contemporary indigenous people in Brazil.
  • Activities - Ethnographic exercise: students are instructed to observe, investigate and elaborate upon the topic of cultural transformation and continuity: what does it mean to be an Indian today? Students will write an essay based on that ethnographic experience.
Class 14: "Becoming Indians": Ethnogenesis in Brazil
The multicultural turn of the 1988 Constitution: culture/racial/ethnic-based access to particular rights and entitlements. "Ethnogenesis" phenomenon in the Brazilian Northeast: the rise of "new" ethnic groups and identities as from the 1980s.
  • Objectives - Understanding the political process of redemocratization in the 1980s and the rise of multiculturalism as a political ideology in Brazil. Assessing the movement of "reinvention" of ethnic identities via two ethnographic case studies: the Pataxó and the Xocó Indians.
  • Activities - Lecture, Seminar Presentation and discussion.
  • Reading - Bakker, André (2013) "Grounding Culture: Heterotopia and Aesthetic Formation among the Pataxó Indians at the Jaqueira Reserve". English version of Bakker, A. (2013) "De l'emplacement de la culture : hétérotopie et formation esthétique dans la réserve pataxó de la Jaqueira." Brésil(s). Sciences humaines et sociales, no 3, mai, p. 69-88. French, Jan (2008) "Mestizaje and Law Making in Indigenous Identity Formation in Northeastern Brazil" American Anthropologist, Vol. 106, Issue 4, pp. 663 - 674
Class 15: Racial democracy or veiled racism? The meanings of race in Brazil
Brazilian racial relations seen from an historical perspective: the modernist reading of the foundations of Brazilian society on hybridity and miscegenation; the UNESCO research projects in the 1950's; Affirmative Action policies and current debates on racism in Brazil
  • Objectives - Understanding current contestations of the racial democracy paradigm of national identity and the meanings of race in contemporary Brazil.
  • Activities - Lecture, Seminar Presentation and discussion
  • Reading - Fry, Peter (2000) "Politics, Nationality and the Meanings of 'Race' in Brazil" Daedalus, vol. 129, No. 2, pp. 83-118. Maggie, Yvonne. "Does Mario de Andrade Live On? Debating the Brazilian Modernist Ideological Repertory." Vibrant 5: 34-64.
Part V - Comparative Scopes: Race, Ethnicity and Culture in the age of globalization

Class 16: Racial relations in comparative perspective: Brazil and United States
How racial classification evolved in Brazil and United States; how Brazilian and North-American racial relations became patterned as contrastive models: racial democracy vs. one-drop rule; current developments and debates surrounding race, social inequality and
affirmative action in Brazil and USA.
  • Objectives - Comparing and understanding the contrasts and convergences between racial relations and affirmative action policies in Brazil and USA.
  • Activities - Lecture, Seminar Presentation and discussion.
  • Reading - Andrews, George. "Brazilian Racial Democracy, 1900-90: An American Counterpoint;" and Skidmore, Thomas. "Racial Mixture and Affirmative Action: The Cases of Brazil and the United States."
Class 17: Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America
Ethnic groups and their boundaries; the relationship between Amerindians and Afro-Latins in the strife for public recognition and citizenship; the "caboclo" and the "landless": faulty categories in the struggle for ethnic-based rights; the variations and reverberations of
historical trajectories and current political contexts in Latin American countries.
  • Objectives - Comparing and understanding multicultural forms of citizenship in Latin America.
  • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and review of course content.
  • Reading - Hooker, Juliet. "Indigenous Inclusion/Black Exclusion: Race, Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America;" and Arocena, Felipe (2008) "Multiculturalism in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru."
Class 18: Final Paper Writing Workshop
This last class is intended to aid students in the process of writing their individual papers. Each student will be asked to send his/her draft to a colleague in advance. Working in pairs, students will read and comment on each other's papers, articulating doubts they may find concerning the theories and concepts discussed, and helping each other in formulating their arguments and interpretations.
Attendance and participation are essential to the objectives of this course. Participation in class discussions and oral presentations is an integral part of the course methods of assessment, as are written assignments and evaluations. Students will be expected to submit a written paper on a chosen topic by the end of the semester as well as give one presentation on one of the topics covered.
The final course grade is constructed as follows:
Attendance: 10%
The student´s full attendance and his/her punctuality in both class and extra-class activities are essential to the learning objectives of the course and will be evaluated, amounting to 10% of his/her final mark.
Participation in class: 25%
This course privileges dialogic classes over the classic lecture model. Students are therefore expected to have an active participation in class - asking questions, making comments on the texts and overall materials analyzed in the course, and partaking in the proposed discussions. Every student's participation will be evaluated, amounting to 25% of his/her final mark
Presentation: 25%
Students are required to prepare an oral presentation on one of the topics covered by the course. Although this is not mandatory, it is advisable that students present on the same topic they will address in their written paper (so they can receive feedback from class and incorporate it in their writing). Students may elaborate on topics of their own choice - insofar as it be relatable to the course literature, themes and class discussions. The presentation will amount to 25% of the student´s final mark.
Final Paper: 40%
The paper will be assessed according to the following criteria:
a) Writing style: the paper is clearly written, arguments are well defined and built in an articulate manner.
b) Analysis: the paper presents a well-formulated problem, and addresses it in relation to the course material and discussions.
c) Creativity: the paper presents original thoughts, articulates interesting questions and relations between concepts/theories.
d) Reflection: the paper demonstrates the student's capacity to reflect on his/her earlier assumptions about Brazil and Brazilian culture and to evaluate his/her own (cultural) learning process.
To be approved, the student must have a minimum of 70% of improvement and 75% of class frequency. The student cannot be absent on up to 25% of classes.In case of injury or sickness the absence of the student will not count if he presents a medical certificate. In this context, the classroom assignments shall be sent via e-mail to him. When the student joins back his group, the professor is instructed to pay extra attention to him/her in the process of catching up with the class.

*Course content subject to change