Cultural Transformation: the remaking of Brazilian Society


Join us in celebrating the launch of one of the most recent, up-to-date books on Brazil, its society, culture, and people. This book contains over 300 references from the English, Portuguese, and Spanish bodies of literature and features some of the most authoritative social scientists on the subject. References by writers and researchers such as Harris, Landes, Skidmore, Telles, Wagley, Amaral, Arriagada, Bastide, Batista, Braga, Carneiro, Cardoso, Costa Pinto, DaMatta, Esteves, Fernandes, Freyre, Guimarães, Holanda, Ianni, Lacerda, Nascimento, Osório, Ribeiro, Santos, Seidl-de-Moura, Soares, Souza, Hasenbalg, and Vieira are featured.

Also, we would like to thank Amazon for providing a platform and circulation in the US, United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan. Brasilians that read English can order directly from the following book stores: Saraiva and Livraria Cultura.  Stay tuned for Amazon promotions and discounts such as free e-books, countdown deals, and sample chapter promotions coming soon.

Chapter Preview: Introduction

This book focuses on the society and culture of Brazil and its transformation by the forces of industrialization, migration, urbanization, and globalization. It is written in conjunction with existing literature on Brazilian society and the anthropological debate concerning the transformation that is taking place. It is the aim of this work to further an understanding of Brazilian society and its people by following the cultural and developmental trajectory of Brazil and to highlight its material, cultural, educational, social and economic structure. However, of greater immediate concern is the importance of describing the development of Brazilian life that is under-represented and to isolate its elements, specify its relationships and characterize its systems. The scope of this work covers a wide area of issues and concerns and is designed to be of interest to those studying Latin American cultural studies.

A good deal of ethnographic research about Brazil conducted by foreign researchers remains partial in scope. Some of the earliest writings were similar to the extent that very few foreigners contributed to the literature. Perhaps, some of the earliest contributions by foreign scholars is the work of Wagley (1952) and Harris (1964). However, between 1960 and the late 1970s, most of the writing on Brazil was done by Brazilian scholars and focused on history, religion, and literature. There were some significant contributions by a few foreign researchers such as Klein (1969), Leacock (1972), and Leal (1977). By far, one of the largest contributors was Skidmore (1972). By the 1980s, effective participation by foreigners emerged more consistently in the literature with important contributions by Evans (1983) and Wood (1988). The majority of these studies were conducted in the areas of politics, indigenous peoples, cultural identity, land and property issues, environment and sociology. However, it was not until the 1990s that studies effectively investigating the impacts of modernization processes including migration, urbanization, and economic development on Brazilian culture and society began to appear with work from scholars such as Telles (1998). Since that time, a considerable amount of research has been conducted on these issues and particularly in the areas of education, childhood development, and health. However, many of these studies neglect a primary element of ethnographic research – social discourse.

Ethnographic writing is more than passively writing down facts about an occurrence or event, it involves other significant processes that occur during social discourse. Geertz (1973:19) wrote “the ethnographer inscribes social discourse; he writes it down. In so doing, he turns it from a passing event, which exists only in its own moment of occurrence, into an account, which exists in its inscription and can be reconsulted.” Since the concept of culture includes material, linguistic, and customs elements, (Cole, 1998) a knowledge of the local language enhances the ethnographer’s attempt to inscribe the participatory experience. For language is the portal by which the realm of cultural investigation and analysis is opened to the ethnographer. In order to accomplish this, it sometimes takes years. Even with fluency in a language, it can still take a considerable amount of time to understand the context or meaning that is latent within a particular linguistic expression. Some field researchers, for example, observe the activities of others accompanied by linguistic translators. Indeed, this has been a common practice in ethnographic fieldwork for decades. However, the importance of knowing the language can affect the field research in a number of ways – even to the extent that – without it whatever is ascertained can sometimes be mistakenly simplified or naïvely assumed.

This presents an interesting problem because an essential role in ethnographic research and the ability to transform an inscribed event into a more meaningful account of an event is limited. A knowledge of the native language can help to explain levels of meaningful structures that are produced and perceived and not just structures of inference and implication which ethnographers continually struggle to sort out. More important, including discourse can assist in sorting out the structures of signification that may not be so clearly evident from a particular observable event. Clearly, ethnographic description consists of as a personal experience a certain degree of interpretation. But what is largely interpretive in any particular event is the flow of discourse that transpires and represents symbolically not what the action is but the signification of the action. It is through this method of communicating that we all attempt to explain to others why we do or not do a certain thing.

To proceed, we need to understand there are several reasons why many foreigners avoid discourse when writing about Brazil. To begin with, most studies are more ethnology than ethnography – that is, they encompass an analytical and comparative approach in general. Many studies are quantitative and use levels of measurement, variables, samples, validity testing, and conditions of experimentation in their descriptions and analysis of specific social and cultural issues. Also, many research studies seem to focus on more theoretically driven (i.e., explanation and prediction) approaches rather than revealing specific personal data. For this reason, it is sometimes difficult for students or scholars to make connections between impersonal data and what is significant about the social or cultural processes of lived experiences. Although there is a significant amount of good qualitative research conducted by native Brazilians, such as Arriagada, Azevedo, Freyre, Guimarães, DaMatta, Fernandes, Ianni, and Vieira, most of the research on Brazil by foreigners tends to focus on quantitative approaches. Although quantitative approaches may reliably record data and can reduce flaws that threaten internal validity, unobtrusive observation can only tell what happens in a specific event not why it happens. For this reason, some foreign scholars conducting research in Brazil find investigating and revealing personal data undesirable particularly because it requires participation in an unfamiliar social setting in a somewhat intimate way. In contrast, ethnographic research relies on close, systematic attention about things you see and hear in natural settings.

Also, it is well known that even today foreign researchers conducting ethnographic work still make errors in their interpretations. A major critical factor that contributes to systematic errors is their lack of native language familiarity. On a practical, methodological level, it is sometimes imperative to understand the language of a people before one can make a meaningful interpretation. R.S. Rattray (1927) recognized the importance of knowing the aesthetics of language. He stated that a culture’s identity to a very significant extent is contained in its linguistic reality. As a result, many presuppositions can become embedded in work when the researcher is not familiar with aesthetic value or other facets of the linguistic system. On the other hand, field researchers that show an interest in obtaining proficiency in the local language can sometimes inspire confidence and affection among the people they are studying. In turn, this has a tendency to earn trust from key informants and those that are willing to contribute to the field researcher’s task. Over the years, ethnographers have devised various means for dealing with such problems but almost all acknowledge the importance of knowing local languages.

On another level, many foreigners studying Brazil have a tendency to avoid researching issues that involve deep immersion within the communities or neighborhoods (bairros or favelas). They tend to observe the activities of others, their actions, and reflections from a “safe” distance. However, in order to take up positions in the midst of other’s lives in order to observe and understand them, a deeper immersion is required. With this type of immersion, the ethnographer is able to see from the inside how people live, how they carry out their daily routines, what they find meaningful and why. Some researchers believe that deep immersion can dissolve initial impressions and deadens sensitivities to subtle patterns causing the ethnographer to lose insight into experiences, meanings, and concerns. Many believe this compromises objective data rather than provide insight into significant processes. In contrast to such views, deep immersion can provide the field researcher with a method to assimilate more profoundly into the lifestyle because the researcher does not learn all at once but in a constant, continuing process in which one builds an insight and understanding of other’s lives over an extended period of time.

To sort out the apparent inconsistency about why some scholars believe that immersion over an extended period causes the researcher to lose objectivity and in effect “go native,” Bernard (2002) asks the question does going native mean loss of objectivity? His response is perhaps, but not necessarily. He makes the point that many field researchers begin as participant observers and later find themselves drawn completely into the lives of the people they are studying. He cites, for example, the lives of anthropologists Kenneth Good and the Yanomami (1975), Marlene Dobkin de Rios in Peru (1981), and Jean Gearing and her research on the Island of St. Vincent (1995). He states that the process of participant observation involves daily immersion but it also involves removing oneself each day from that immersion to think about what you have seen, heard and discussed, put it into perspective, and write about it. Furthermore, he contends that in industrialized countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, England, and France, immigrants are expected to essentially go native all the time. They are expected to become fully acculturated, learn the language, and participate in the economics and politics of their host countries. Moreover, he makes the point that some fully assimilated immigrants become anthropologists themselves, make groundbreaking contributions to the field, and the question of their lack of objectivity never becomes an issue. Thus, issues concerning objectivity are at best quixotic…


Neil Turner’s Cultural Transformation: The Remaking of Brazilian Society is an excellent comprehensive analysis of factors that have transformed Brazil into a world power. Turner precisely dissects contemporary Brazil’s cultural values from their historic origins. He takes the reader deep into the lives of every day citizens facing the many complex cultural transformations that are taking place in Brazil. The changes are results of factors such as migration, rapid economic growth, globalization, changes in the structure and functions of family, the rapid growth of Evangelical Protestant Christianity, scarce educational opportunities, women in the work place, endemic race and inequality issues stemming from historic economic and political processes resulting from early colonization. Well versed in both social science literature and social indicators on Brazil, Turner’s thought provoking text is enjoyable reading that at the same time illuminates Brazil’s journey to become a major power that faces systemic institutional corruption as the single greatest impediment to firmly establishing itself as a successful democracy.

Dr. Kenneth Dossar
Temple University

Cultural Transformation: the remaking of Brazilian Society

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