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Racialized Bodies, Naturalized Classes: Moving through the City of Salvador da Bahia

Author(s): Cecilia McCallum

Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp. 100-117
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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Instituto de Saude Coletiva, Universidade Federal da Bahia

Racialized bodies, naturalized classes:

Moving through the city of Salvador da Bahia

Racialization takes place when differences between human beings are


In this article, I describe racialization processes in

BraziL's third-largest urban center, Salvador da

simplified and transformed into Difference, overvaluing particular bodily

differences by imbuing them with lasting meaning of social, political,
cultural, economic, even psychological significance. Racialization is pro-

Bahia, focusing on a broadly defined field of social

duced and reproduced through ideological, institutional, interactive, and

practice. In a cross-class ethnographic portrait of

linguistic practices that support a particular construction of Difference.

the city, I examine the situated, embodied

Virginia R. Dominguez, 1994

production of meanings about the body, as

subjects move through urban space and time. I

The rift in the subject is paradoxically its capacity to move beyond itself, a

trace the emergence of racialization from residents'

movement that does not return to where it always was, identit,v as

microhistorical passages through the metropolis as

movement in the promising sense.

these sediment into a shared, if partial, knowledge

-Judith Butler, 1995

about difference and identity. I argue that it is

such knowledge, borne by subjects as they

acialization is the product of embodied experience, occurring

ceaselessly reconstruct themselves, that grounds

over time and through space. This is apparent from the essays

the mutual constitution of whiteness and of

and novels of many, mainly black, writers and intellectuals. But

anthropological studies of race have not addressed all of the

blackness in the city. Further, these processes

generate knowledge of the naturalization of class.

_implications of the embodied production of racialization. Two

Thus, if a uniting factor underlies the diversity of

questions, in particular, invite further exploration: How do embodied

discourses circulating in the city, it is the

practices reproduce entrenched society-vvide inequalities while both pro-

embodied by-product of subjective experience.

ducing and contesting the differences that underlie them? And how are

[racialization, class, subjectivity, identity,

such inequalities naturalized, for instance, as class? Such questions pose a

experience, Brazil, Salvador da Bahia]

methodological challenge to anthropology, one that I take up here in the

form of an ethnographic exploration of city dwellers' journeys across an
urban landscape, in time and space, constituted intersubjectively.
Ethnography as the movement of subjects also offers a fresh angle on
the study of race in Brazil. Two analytic traditions stand out in anthropological approaches to this topic: first, an emphasis on language analysis;
second, the recurrent problem of how language informs social difference.
This problem is often expressed, in sociological idiom, as a question about
the relation of race to class, a reflection of the powerful influence of
sociology on the anthropology of urban Brazil, which, I argue in what

AMERICANETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 100-117, ISSN 0094-0496, electronic

ISSN 1548-1425. t3 2005 by the Axnerican Anthropological Association. All rights reserved
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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

follows, has caused something of a methodological im-

sition between "us" as negro (black) and "them" as

passe when it comes to discussing racialization.

branco (white) in contexts of talk about class. In what

In studies of Salvador, the metropolis in focus here,

follows, I show that this negro-branco contrast, which

the articulation of the two traditions is evident. Race and

may be named (but often is not), is not best described as

class inequality there has long been described as extreme

a system of racial classification; further, it is more than

and entrenched (Azevedo 1959; Guimaraes 2002).1 More

evidence of a social order governed by a hegemonic

than 80 percent of the population is both poor and visibly

discourse. Sheriff's ethnography is rich in discussion of

Afro-descendant and most of the upper and upper-middle

all manner of social practice, not just discursive, so lifting

classes look European. Yet "Soteropolitans," as the city's

the above quotes from her work is somewhat unfair. But

natives are called, do not readily think of class position as

they do help my own purpose in highlighting the need to

determined by a racial identity. Indeed, one often hears

look beyond the role of language in creating the bounds of

claims that all Brazilians are a mixture of races. As else-

what people mean by "race." Thus, I follow the lead

where in Brazil, naming race is not straightforward. In

provided by Sheriff and others in emphasizing context

practice, a roomful of people have difficulty agreeing on

and practice, but I step beyond the methodological scope

each other's color. Interminable discussions occur in the

of in situ language analysis.

course of deciding which of many descriptive terms is

most appropriate for each person.

Sheriff shows that the processes affecting particular

subjectivities directly set up the naturalization of social

In the past, some scholars took the plethora of color

difference. Subjective experience, for example, of discrimi-

terms as evidence of a multipolar racial classification

nation and of poverty, informs racialization. She accesses

system and argued that Brazilians did not have clear racial

this experience, however, at secondhand, so to speak, de-

categories, which resulted in "racial harmony."2 In recent

scribing her subjects' stories about encounters outside

years, a heated debate has raged about whether Brazil's

the favela but offering few direct observations of cross-

racial system is unique or whether bipolarity like that in

class interaction in downtown Rio, at workplaces, schools,

the United States sustains a particularly perfidious, be-

clinics, and places of leisure.6 Indeed, community-based

cause disguised, form of racism.3 Those involved in the

ethnographies are not well adapted for studying the class

debate have tended to appeal to overarching categories

relations that span different localities in large urban cen-

such as "society" and "culture," at the expense of regional

ters. In effect, most anthropologists working on race in

differences. But as the debate unfolded, anthropologists

Brazil (myself included) find it hard not to think of "class,"

continued to provide fine-grained ethnographies of spe-

which is identified by demographers, theorized by sociolo-

cific groups, localities, and social movements.4 Further

gists, and experienced as oppression by informants, as an

work examined terminology. In Salvador, for example,

objective category. Although the effect is unintended, class

studies documented changes in use of racial terms, sig-

outside the favela comes across as a thing, rather than a

naling shifts in the social configuration of inequality (San-

social relation.

sone 1993; Silva 1993). Ethnographers focused more on

This observation is not meant as a criticism. Ethnog-

language in use than on classiElcation systems in isolation

raphy requires that the anthropologist embody a limited

(Maggie and Rezende 2001). Robin Sheriff's (2001) study of

set of subjective standpoints, which are best absorbed

a favela (low-income settlement) in Rio de Janeiro exam-

through extensive, empathetic coresidence. Embracing

ines the conscious manipulation of language and the

antagonistic views at the same time is hard, and being in

creative use of terminology in day-to-day life. She high-

two places at once impossible. Nevertheless, the problem

lights how speakers shift between a descriptive discourse

of hwow to study class ethnographically remains. The natu-

of race and a pragmatic discourse, depending on context,

ralization of difference in this kind of highly divided setting

and argues that these discourses neither regulate subjects'

involves the constant interaction of opposing standpoints

understandings of their own identities nor link to any more

in intersubjective encounters. Ideally, an ethnographer

profound set of multipolar categories. Opposing the +iiew

must find a way to appreciate the subtleties of a}l sides of

that racial identity in Brazil is fuzzy, however, she insists

these encounters.

that a third discourse the discourse of race, based on

Social practice theorists insist on the importance of

a black-white contrast operates at a deeper level. This,

unconscious dispositions embedded in habitus, said to

she suggests, emerges as "the only true system of racial

structure and be structured by social living (Bourdieu

classification in Brazil" (Sheriff 2001:57). This system both

1977, 1990, 1998). Importantly, all practice carries these

sets up "an essentialist, naturalized notion of racial being"

dispositions and does this symbolizing work. Therefore,

and allows a conscious awareness that blackness is "a

one must embrace a wide definition of social practice that

product of oppression" (Sheriff 2001:57).

includes but does not foreground discursive practice

The claims about underlying essentialism aside, this is

as exceptional. Wade makes a similar point in his discus-

an important point.5 Residents of the favela use an oppo-

sion of the problem of materialist-symbolist dualism:

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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

"Post-structuralist approaches to society and culture made

events and shape the processes of racialization in Salvador

a bid to resolve the problem by focusing on the discursive

more generally and (from an analyst's perspective) in a

constitution of material realities and the materiality of

more abstract sense?

discourse" (1999:451). He notes that often this endeavor

In short, I tackle racialization in what follows as it is

resulted in a retreat into discourse. His solution is to

constituted and experienced daily. The ethnography

expose the fusion of the symbolic and the material in

shows how meanings are produced intersubjectively in

embodied practice, taking embodiment as the existential

specific contexts that are connected to other such con-

grounds of culture (Csordas 1993). Racialization processes

texts as subjects move between them in real time and

may be taken as driven by the body in action.

space. By shifting the perspective on the constitution of

Wade makes his point through a discussion of a black

race in two directions away from a mainly cultural

rap group in Cali, Columbia, and its engagement in cul-

conception of the body and away from methodological

tural politics. His argument is pitched against those who

emphasis on analysis of discourse or linguistic data-the

would abstract off a reified culture or a detachable repre-

ethnography illuminates how meanings and values are

sentation about race. I explore a rather different object of

attached to urban spaces, how these meanings rebound

analysis, one constituted by a focus on subjectivity. What

on the significance of bodies, and how movement through

follows is an exercise in writing ethnography out of the

the spaces effects changes in the racial signification at-

bounds of particular communities or social groups and

tached to both bodies and spaces. I argue, in short, that

across race and class lines. I set off from the realization

the dynamic signifying interaction occurring in real time

that, in pursuing subjective experience, one is inevitably

between body and space constitutes the specific features

led across the city and through the frontiers separating

of race and, thereby, of class.

such categories as the "shantytown dwellers" or the

"elite." My argument is that racialization follows on such
journeys rather more closely than we, as anthropologists,

Methodology of research and writing

have heretofore been able to describe, not least because

I adopt a particular form of writing ethnography here:

of our need for rooted, localized ethnography of "groups

This article takes the form of a Elctionlike description of

of natives" "poor blacks," "rich whites," "confused

an event and the movements of some participants after

browns" with their associated "native points of view"

they leave it. The characters, who are based on real

(see Gupta and Ferguson 1997).

persons or who are composites created for the purpose

The ethnography of social practice I develop below

of the narrative, move to and through different places in

aims to unravel the symbolic processes informing the day-

the city over the course of one evening. The description is

to-day racialization processes that distinct subjects expe-

ethnographic, that is, although the events are storylike

rience as they move at different tempos across the city.

the actions, thoughts, and words of the subjects, and the

I eschew an abstracted or timeless body, of the sort pos-

settings in which they take place, are taken from material

ited in racial classification systems. Rather, I show bodies

collected during extensive participant-observation in Sal-

as constituted in social interaction, within the field of

vador and research involving both informal discussions

meanings conferred by places.7 So, rather than the body

and formal interviews.

in itself, I consider the ever-changing relationships be-

Writing ethnography as if it were fiction- not as

tween bodies and spaces. Thus, I seek to apprehend the

fiction is useful in this case for several reasons. First,

relationship between what is said about social differences

it is a solution to the methodological dilemma faced by

and what "goes without saying" (Bloch 1992) for the city's

ethnographers of interracial and cross-class urban life,

inhabitants, or the nondiscursive practices that structure

noted above, in which one "native" point of view (usu-

apprehension of social difference. I consider the cognitive

ally that of the oppressed) imposes itself more than an-

baggage that subjects bring to and take from specific social

other. Through the story, I am able to analyze different

interactions the effects of embodied and remembered

subjective standpoints simultaneously, in the different

experiences, understood as the sediments of repeated

settings, situations, and events described, in a fashion

passage through and toward other urban spatial contexts.

that is rarely possible in verbatim descriptions, even

Such experiences and memories, I show, confer both

when enriched by after-the-fact interviews with partici-

structuring weight and dynamism to social encounters.

pants of actual events. I can conjugate all that I as

Where do subjects in such interactions come from and

ethnographer know in both conscious and embodied

where do they proceed? How does their memory of these

fashion (Hastrup 1994) about real subjects, speech, and

transitions, embodied as knowledge that may or may not

settings to present this knowledge in an ordered and

be accessible through words, shape their participation in

meaningful fashion appropriate to the purpose here.

these events? More specifically, I ask, how might this

Moreover, writing the ethnography as a story allows the

knowledge mold the constitution of race during such

reader to follow the journeys of distinct subjects through


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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

different urban spaces in the course of an imagined day

because it faces the rising sun, not the sunset, and because

in real time, rather than in the ethnographic present of

the material used in the acabamento (finishing), such as

classic Malinowskian anthropology. For this reason, too, I

the floor tiles and bathroom fittings, is of the finest quality.

have set the story precisely, in the year 1997. Many of the

The apartment is located in a fashionable and sought-after

details in the text refer to fashions of the day and to events

area, Alto das Flores, where just one old mansion bears

that took place that year.

witness to the vicinity's recent rural past.l When it be-

Michael Carrithers, in his critique of Clifford Geertz's

came a gym academy, however, the mansion gained a new

Works and Lives (1988), noted important differences be-

appearance, modernized with a tile facade in brilliant

tween fiction and ethnography, emphasizing that "where-

colors on which its name is written in large letters: ACA-

as the canon of a fictional realist might be to achieve


verisimilitude, ethnographers adhere to quite a different

In Alto das Flores many new high-rise buildings are

standard. In their writing the touchstone must be fidelity

ostentatiously alto nivel. They are replete with luxury

to what they experienced and learned about others, and

material, such as granite, and have pretty verandas, stylish

much of what they write has to be verifiably true"

garden patches, and, in the public areas, acres of tiling,

(1988:22). I am in agreement with this statement. It

communal swimming pools, party halls, asphalt sports

clarifies the seriousness of the ethnographic enterprise,

areas, and small, boxlike tiled constructions to shelter

to which this study contributes. As already stated, my

the porters at their desks. They have several stories of

story is based on deep anthropological knowledge. Be-

garages. The apartments themselves are cramped, no

cause writing ethnography as if fiction, however, is an

doubt because of construction costs. But in the eyes of

unusual and potentially problematic strategy (although

the residents, the lack of space is compensated for by the

not without precedents in ethnographic writing), I need

agreeable sensation that those living there belong to a new

to detail research methods and empirical foundations.8

world: modern, hygienic, privileged, stable, secure- in

The ethnography derives from both formal research

short, of a "high level."

and informal participant-observation in Salvador. I have

Outside the buildings, however, the chaos of the old

lived in the city since 1991 (bar a few periods spent in

world still appears. An empty lot has become a rubbish

Britain) working on different research projects, including a

dump, feeding a colony of large, chubby rats. An enormous

study of a low-income settlement and another of social

hole has appeared in the new tarmac of the road and no

networks encompassing middle-class and working-class

one knows when it might be fixed. Sewer water of un-

persons, focusing on race, class, and gender. I can claim

known origin runs ceaselessly into a small stream, its

a special familiarity with the city because of my personal

banks rank with a flourishing growth of tall grass and

circumstances. Married since 1993 to a Soteropolitan, I

weeds. An open area, clearly planned as a public square,

have affines on both sides of the socioeconomic divide.

shows signs of neglect. Uncut grass, paper and other items

My Bahian family is cross-class and has been "interracial,"

of rubbish strewn about, it seems to hold promise for a

too, ever since my daughter was born. I have lived both

better future. The road is narrow, and the guests arriving

in poor neighborhoods and at upscale addresses. In short,

in polished new cars have difficulty parking. Some small,

the description that follows is well grounded. One addi-

dusty boys, posing as car minders, hand signal directions

tional fact is important: It is based on my own participa-

to the newcomers with vigorous gestures and shouts of

tion in more than 30 children's birthday parties over

"Aqui, Tia, vem, vem, vem!" [Here, Auntie, come on, come

the 1990s.

on!] They are residents of a small local "resistance," as

those influenced by the Movimento Negro call such
pockets of low-income settlements, made up of a mixture

All Bahians together?

of tiny, old-fashioned tiled houses, painted in flaking

A family party is beginning in Itaigara, a new bairro nobre

blues, pinks, and greens; precarious shacks; and never-

("noble" district) in Salvador. A young couple is celebrat-

finished brick constructions.ll

ing their son Rogerio's second birthday in the salao de

Inside Rogerio's building, the party is a fine affair. A

festas (party hall) of the Palazzo Veneziano, the recently

row of tables covered in white cloths offers a feast to the

built high-rise building in which they live.9 This building is

eye. On them are many trays laden with salgadinhos-

considered alto nivel (high level) for a number of reasons:

mouth-sized patties, cheese tartlets, chicken rissoles,

Each apartment has three en suite bedrooms, "complete

kibbes, Bolivian meat pies, prawn alla milanesa, and other

dependencies" (a maid's room adjoining a laundry area),

such salty delicacies. There are piles of the pao delicia a

and two spaces in the garage. There are two sets of ele-

soft, pale, bread roll sprinkled with cheese that is indis-

vators: social for the residents and servi,co for servicemen

pensable in any party. On another table is a display of cold

and the maids. In addition, there are only two apartments

cuts: An entire roast turkey, ready sliced on the bone, is

on each floor. Rogerio's apartment is especially valuable

an island in a sea of platters bearing ham, capon, roast


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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

pork, salami, and pates, ornamented with elaborate ar-

ance. They are the rebels, family members drawn to

rangements of tropical fruits. But the main table, located

alternative lifestyles, the hippies, the surfers, the artists,

in the large, glass-walled salon at the center of the build-

and others disenchanted with the status quo. They inter-

ing's area social (public area for events), is for the sweets.

mingle freely, at ease like the other guests, drinking, eating,

At its center is the cake, or rather, the cake box, an elabo-

chatting, and laughing, enjoying the opportunity to see so

rate construction imitating Mount Olympia, the home of

many family members gathered together.

the gods as depicted in Disney's recent film Hercules

All of the generations are present. Elderly women sit

(1997). The cake itself, sliced in rectangular pieces, each

at the tables, waiting for kin and friends to greet them.

individually wrapped, is hidden within, ready for distri-

New faces appear regularly, exuding bonhomie. "All OK,

bution after the singing of "Happy Birthday" at the end of

Auntie? How good to see yout" Warm hugs, swift kisses on

the party. On the wall above, a brightly colored panel

each cheek, and the new face drifts off or sits down at

depicts the Disney-animated Hercules as a baby and

the table for a few minutes. Gendered groups form in a

various characters and scenes from the film, as do a num-

spontaneous fashion, but the homogeneity is regularly

ber of polystyrene models placed on the table, amid the

interrupted when a woman goes to talk to her partner or

display of hundreds of handmade doces (sweets) in conve-

a relative, or when a man takes a seat briefly with the

nient mouth-sized shapes and individually wrapped boiled

women. Mixed groups occupy some tables, at which there

sweets. These include the children's favorite, brigadeiros

is less coming and going. Couples sit together, sometimes

(small balls of chocolate fondant made with condensed

holding hands or touching each other.

milk) and also more sophisticated concoctions prunes,

The children run and shout ceaselessly, dodging be-

grapes, strawberries, coconut, and other such ingredients

tween the adults' legs and playing on the toys specially

enveloped in milk toffees, fudges, or sugar shells. Occa-

rented for the occasion. These are of U.S. manufacture: a

sionally, children swoop past to pocket a sweet or gulp

plastic castle, a fully equipped Wendy House, a large air-

down a brigadeiro. For now, they obey an unspoken rule:

inflated trampoline. The youngest children are shadowed

No one touches the main displays of food until invited.

Balloons decorate the main salon and the external

closely by their babas. Some babas are dressed fashionably, in new clothes, generally body-hugging gear of the

area, which is full of rented plastic tables, each draped

sort bought in the Baixa de Sapateiros, a working-class

with a pink tablecloth, surrounded by four plastic chairs

shopping area. They wear cheap but modish new shoes,

(similarly clad in pink) and decorated with a floral display

paid for in several installments out of their limited sala-

and a plate of salgadinhos. Later, a waiter will distribute

ries. Others, recently eontracted, do not yet possess party

plates of doces. In another, smaller, salon a sound system

clothes of their own choice and wear hand-me-downs

plays Xuxa's latest record of children's music.l2 A small

given them by their patroas (female employers), the

group of children play at dancing. Behind a tiled bar at the

mothers of their charges. A little dark-skinned girl, in

end of the external area, under the supervision of Rogerio's

a white frilly dress ornamented with pink bows, her 'shard"

young mother, servants put the finishing touches to trays

hair tied in many small plats, plays with the smooth-

laden with the first round of drinks: ice-cold beer; Guarana

haired children. She is Rogerio's mother's goddaughter,

(the Brazilian soft drink) and Coca-Cola, and, because this

the child of a maid of long-standing service in the family

is a chic event, white wine (a national liebfraumilch) and

who "fell pregnant" and refused to name the father. She

Johnny Walker Red Label, served neat over ice. The maids

is being brought up alongside Rogerio and his cousins.

are all negras or morenas escuras (dark tans), except for

Her mother also takes part in the festivities, almost as

Rogerio's baba (nanny), whose pale skin, smooth and

an honorary member of the family.

mousy brown hair, and country accent bear witness

The bigger girls, of age about seven or eight, are

to her origin in the sertao, the interior of Bahia state.

already in the salon, where the sound system is set up.

Rogerio's mother, elegant and sexy in a new, dark-toned

They change the Xuxa CD, which they consider infantile,

silk dress, high heels, and gold jewelry, smoothes her long,

for one by E o Tchan, a Bahian pagode samba group.l3 The

blond hair, and sends out the laden trays. The waiters,

girls dance the sexually suggestive movements of pagode

overheated in their white jackets, dark faces slightly moist

admirably. The music and the dance style, once associated

with sweat, circulate among the crowds of expensively

with low-income black Soteropolitans, were fashionable

perfumed adults, offering the drinks. Most of the women

in middle-class circles by 1997, in large part because of

are dressed in chic clothes, which cling to their mostly

the national success of E o Tchan, in particular its blond

well-toned bodies (shaped by diet, programmed exercise,

star dancer, Carla Peres, featured regularly on TV Globo.

or liposuction). The men are elegant in well-pressed in-

Peres's popularity symbolized as it enacted the whitening

formal social wear, of the category "esporte." They wear

of Bahian pagode.l4

leather moccasins with white socks. A few, mainly youn-

But the girls at the party are unaware of this. As the

ger, people stand out because of their less-formal appear-

girls dance, the babas, most of whom are expert pagodeiras


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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

themselves (and spend hours dancing and singing pagode

embrace her and exclaims with pleasure, "Dona Alice, how

with their charges), glance occasionally at them, concen-

good that you have come!" adding, in a joking tone, "Did

trating on following the little ones. Their tense postures

you bring me my coconut and pineapple jam?" "Of course,

suggest that they feel out of place.l5 They speak little,

my son!" she replies, "How could your aunt forget?" She

limiting themselves to the task of controlling or pacifying

feels at home in this milieu, as long as she does not spend

the toddlers. Sometimes a guest addresses one by name,

too much time.l8 At a certain point, she begins to miss the

asking, "Tudo bem?" [X1 well?], but mostly they are ig-

quiet and normality of her little one-roomed house in an

nored. They do not participate in the frequent exchanges

alleyway in Plataforma (a low-income area of town). Her

of kisses and hugs. Meanwhile, Rogerio, in his Hercules

sister, by contrast, who has also been invited to Rogerio's

outfit, rushes from one parent to another and back again to party, feels less at ease among the brancos. She prefers to
sit behind the bar with the maids who are serving drinks

the toys.

Some members of Rogerio's family also bear traces of

and preparing the trays for the waiters.l9

African or indigenous American ancestry. One aunt could

Dona Alice's son sits among his old friends, com-

be classified as mulata of the sarara variety (pale skin,

pletely at home, his dark color unimportant, a mere fact

freckles, reddish, very curly African hair, although she

about his appearance, only worthy of commentary at

wears it escovado, i.e., brushed straight using a blow-

moments of joking. His cell phone rings, and he covers

dryer). His grandfather seems to have a mixed racial

an ear to be able to hear the caller. It is his wife, telling

background, too. He is a typical coronel do sertao a

him that she is arriving. She parks her brand new Fiat Tipo

"colonel," or rancher-landowner, from the backlands.

(a chic car in 1997) and climbs the stairs to the entrance-

He has thick, curly, white hair and moustache, an upright

way. The porter, himself black, immediately recognizes

posture, and a well-tanned complexion, at present slightly

her as a guest. She is a negra, cor deformiga (ant-colored),

reddened with the whisky and bonhomie. And the hus-

extremely elegant in high-heeled pumps and a white linen

band of one of Rogerio's mother's cousins, with his light-

suit, of the sort bought in an upscale shopping center or in

colored skin, is clearly a mulato of the "Branco da Bahia"

Sao Paulo. Her long, smooth, brown hair conjures up an

(Bahian White) type. All three of the couple's children

expensive beauty salon. She vanishes among her friends

inherited his "bad hair," although no one in the family

and former faculty colleagues, telling stories of her day's

comments on the fact, beyond occasionally suggesting

work as a judge in Salvador's Forum.

ways that the hair might be treated to improve it. The

At the party, hosts and guests are all Bahian together.

cousin's husband is an excellent member of the family,

They meet in a harmonious and convivial atmosphere,

a successful professional, serious and a high earner-a

seeming to demonstrate not only the absence of racial

good pai defamilia (father of family; family man). Another

prejudice that Brazilians (and especially Bahians) some-

young uncle (blond like his sister, Rogerio's mother)

times claim as their distinctive feature (Wade 1997;

arrives with a new girlfriend, whom he met at law school.

Winant 1992) but also a lack of friction between mem-

She is morena cor-de-canela (cinnamon-colored tan), or (if

bers of distinct economic classes and between genders.

less precision is required) she could be described as

All share the same language, communicating not just with

morena clara (light tan). Slightly African features and

words and silences but also with gestures, postures,

curly hair make it difficult for her to attribute her skin

and body movements, in the flow of changing bodily

color to an indigenous American great-grandmother, as

juxtapositions and separations between the guests and

people with her coloring sometimes do. If a recent such

the family. Talking about Bahian identity, such people

relationship in the family is anything to go by, this one

may contrast themselves with other Brazilians such as

will not reach the stage of marriage. In the earlier case,

the Paulistas, people from the more European and (so it

the couple moved in together but suffered barely con-

is sometimes said) the more racist city of Sao Paulo. But

cealed hostility from key members of the family and

if they all feel a temporary unitary identity in some

separated after an unhappy few years.l6

sense if they are all Bahians together then they are so

But the new girlfriend, like other black guests, is made

in a time and space in which the hegemonic aesthetic

quite welcome. The hosts make a special fuss of "Aunt"

elevates whiteness and all that is associated with it to

Alice, for example, who is a blue-black negra and might be

higher social value. E^ren black guests incorporate some

described as morena escura (dark tan). She is the mother of

degree of white identity here, if only by inhabiting it

Rogerio's father's compadre, his business partner of many

momentarily, in a metonymic sense. And the servants'

years' standing.l7 Dona Alice is a skilled cook and, al-

muted presence reinforces the sense that to belong is

though she is a domestic servant, in this environment she

to be white. But the party is, after all, just a transitory

is considered a friend. On arrival she sits at a table with

everyday moment. When it is all over, when all have

other women of her generation, alongside Rogerio's grand-

finished singing and clapping "tIappy Birthday" for the

mother. The latter's husband, standing nearby, goes to

by now exhausted Rogerio, each guest or servant will


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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

head off to another place, one that is distinct not only

Portuguese-built district of Pelourinho. The Lower City is

in the geographic ordering of the city but also on the

the long, narrow strip of flat land beneath it, stretching

social map.

from the port area and commercial district to the residential area of Bonfim. The area of inclusion expanded as the
city grew. In the late l9th and early 20th centuries, new

Social maps of Salvador

avenues, replete with imposing mansions, were built fur-

Land settlement in Salvador reflects and reinforces its

ther along the escarpment, in Vitoria and Grac,a, districts

extreme social and economic divisions. Dramatic popula-

that were also included under the rubric "Upper City."

tion growth after 1940 resulted in expansion to the north,

Subsequently, most of the mansions were demolished as

far beyond the old divided city of the 1930s, with its ridges

luxurious skyscrapers took their place. With this high-

occupied by the wealthy and its valleys by slums (see

rise architecture (Figure 1), the middle and upper classes

Landes 1947; Pierson 1942). In general, the upper and

formed the modernist skylines of many new districts fur-

middle classes are progressively occupying the Atlantic

ther afield, such as Pituba along the Atlantic seafront.

coast and the eastern region of the city, whereas the

Recently there has been a spurt of interest in the construc-

povao (the masses) are expanding into the Cidade Baixa

tion of a "fortress city," as developers offer lots in as yet

(Lower City) along the Bay of All Saints to the west.20 The

unbuilt protected and serviced condominiums.2l Most

Cidade Alta (Upper City) is the area high above the sea

middle-class people no longer live along the escarpment,

on the escarpment. The term originally designated the

then. But the notion of upper and lower cities still has

Figure 1. The Upper City: High-rises along the Corredor de Vitoria with the port and the Lower City in the distance. Photograph by Edmilson Costa Teixeira.


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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

dense symbolic relevance, for it captures the social and

spatial division that cuts across the modern city.

In contrast, the internal differentiations on the other

side of the divide are often only dimly grasped. This can be

Some Soteropolitans, such as the architect and urban

attributed to the lack of mutual representation of the

planner Angela Gordilha Souza, are acutely concerned

accumulated understandings afforded by day-to-day expe-

with this division.22 Souza documents the development

riences. Thus, residents of the bairros nobres have a far

of the "socio-spatial segregation of poverty" in the city's

subtler understanding of the gradations in value attributed

configuration, showing that in the latter half of the 20th

to distinct spaces and dwellings within these prestigious

century, during the formation of the modern metropolis,

zones than do poorer people. Many middle-class people

this process has intensified. Rich and poor are increasingly

suffered the consequences of stagnation in the property

separated in two "differentiated and juxtaposed cities"

market during the 1990s as they struggled to make good

(Souza 2000:167). This separation, one might add, has

and move to better, higher-status homes. Knowledge of

helped to fw the syrnbolic contrast between upper and

value gradations is class specific, so that poorer people

lower cities in residents' embodied understanding of

only have a vague notion of the distinctions made by

the city.

upper- and middle-class people and vice versa.24 In gen-

City dwellers acquire a cognitive social map of their

eral, the longest-settled working-class districts, closest to

environment, knowledge sedimented over years of resi-

the center of town, are highly valued for their comparative

dence and constant movement through and across it.

safety and functioning urban infrastructure paved roads,

Experiences of the urban landscape vary dramatically.

street lights, water, sewerage, and electricity. People also

One can circulate in the central swathe of Salvador on its

value those familiar areas populated with kin, affines and

fast-moving highways by air-conditioned car without com-

ritual kin. Hence, low-income neighborhoods may be

ing into direct contact with the poor areas of town. One

semiendogamous (McCallum 1997).25

passes by kilometers of densely settled poor districts, their

Residents' cognitive maps populate the streets and

unfinished red-brick dwellings endlessly growing upward

dwellings with distinct kinds of people. Color is a crucial

as floor is added onto concrete floor, their untidy jumble

component of this mapping. For example, working-class

faintly resembling some Mediterranean hill town. Yet one

informants may refer to the residents of Grac,a or Pituba

never need drive through their narrow streets. These

interchangeably as os brancos or os ricos (the rich). The

images, streaming past on the other side of the car win-

latter may talk either of o povao (the plebs) or os pretos (the

dow, may be the closest physical contact children like

blacks).26 But sight more than talk is important here or,

Rogerio have ever had with the "other" city, the contours

rather, the accumulated memories of sight. Euro-Brazilian

of which they may draw most clearly from stories told by

whiteness is visually hegemonic in the districts of the

maids and porters.23 Many of the latter's neighbors, by

city where the better off live and work. Blackness and

contrast, spend their entire lives in a low-income neigh-

brownness are patently normal, unmarked, elsewhere, a

borhood, rarely venturing beyond the ambit of a few

visual effect of the multiplication of bodies seen in pub-

streets and alleyways, often too poor to buy a bus ticket.

lic spaces. Crowds are colored distinctly and, thus, the

Such was the case of Dona Bianca, a grandmother and

spaces that they inhabit acquire their own hues. So the

retired school cook. At the age of 60 she took a bus ride

social maps of the city that residents embody come to

to the city airport for the first time, at the invitation of

be color coded.

a sociologist who had been conducting research in her

neighborhood. When she saw the planes, Dona Bianca
burst into tears, overcome, she said, by happiness at finally seeing with her own eyes what she had only seen

The body in space

Yet these maps will not hold still, for the symbolic pro-

cess is refractory. The meanings that attach to spaces

on television.

Despite such radical diversity in experiences of the

feed back on the inhabitants as they move through

city, residents have important conceptual overlaps about

these spaces. Thus, when bodies of all sorts move through

relations between the areas. The contrast between presti-

a space that situates them in relationship to a hege-

gious bairros nobres and the vast expanses of bairros

monic Euro-Brazilian whiteness, they are engulfed in

populares (working-class neighborhoods) is clearly de-

some sense by the signifying force of that space. The

limited in the general social map that most share. In talk,

form of encompassment depends on the messages con-

this contrast is often expressed with clarity, although the

veyed by body presentation and the language of their

terms of description vary depending on the standpoint of

bodily accoutrements. For example, a person may be

the speaker (McCallum 1996). The meanings that individ-

whitened and placed higher up along the social scale, as

uals ascribe to the contrast also vary, but, whether rich or

is the case for the black guests (but also the lighter

poor, and however they express it and experience it, all

and whiter guests) at Rogerio's partr, or may come to

residents share knowledge of the divided city.

stand as outside the social scale, as Other, like the


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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

servants at the party and the boys who would take care
of the guests' cars.27

For Dona Alice, then, the bus journey home is not

simply a trip from whiteness to blackness. Certainly this

The power of the visual presence of bodies to alter the

aspect is self-evident, and the presence of the students on

meaning of spaces is constant. Bus stops and the interiors

their way to the gig serve to remind her of the color-coded

of buses are a case in point. As buses speed through the

starting point of her journey, as does the point where

city, the symbolizing process takes a fluctuating or cyclical

they jump off the bus (just before it takes the dip down

form. Although bus riding "darkens" passengers, bus stops

the Contorno into the Lower City). But many more sto-

and buses in the central areas of the city are associated

ries than that about race and class are told to her by

with whiteness at certain times of the day. Many high

the other passengers and passersby as the bus hurtles

school and university students, ofElce workers, and middle-

through the night. For example, generational differences,

class matrons ride the buses for relatively short distances.

told by the scanty garb of the noisy youth; social de-

But in the early mornings or at 6:00 p.m., bus stops are

generation ("The young have no respect for their elders

filled with poorer and distinctly darker people going to or

any more," Dona Alice might say); and the rise of crimi-

from work. At the end of the line, most passengers are

nalit,v ("There are vagabundos everywhere now").30 As she

darker skinned, and they alight in bairros where normality

returns to her own neighborhood, the important tale that

is brown or black in color. Thus, the presence of bodies of

the sights around her tell is that she is within a space of

one type or other within the bus or within a city district

familiarity. Each door and entrance to an alleyway evokes

seems to sustain, by a metonymic process, a racial sym-

named persons, some of whom are kin or ritual kin, many

bolism that is already carried by the values attributed to

of whom she has known for a ver,v long time. That the

spaces themselves.28

familiar faces and voices she encounters as she arrives at

I return now to the subject's engagement with this

her own doorstep are in the main black or brown might

effervescent symbolism. The relationship between race

only come to her as an afterthought, an effect, perhaps,

and class is lived intensely as subjects move through the

of her evening spent in Alto das Flores. Thus does racial-

city. Dona Alice, for example, takes a bus after the party,

ization wane or, rather, the simple form of racialization

telling her son and daughter-in-law that they need not

that occurs in everyday time and space and impresses

worry about giving her a lift. "Stay here with your friends,

itself on a subject's consciousness. But, of course, the

your mum knows how to look after herself!" she says. Well

buildup of impressions over time is fundamental to racial-

kissed, having taken her leave of the other guests, carrying

izing processes as a whole.

her bag with a large piece of cake (larger than most, a sign

If asked directly, Dona Alice probably would not say

that she is well liked by Rogerio's mother and family), she

that her bairro is black. She might claim that real racial

waits patiently at the bus stop with two white students

democracy is only found in the bairros populares, where a

who are going to an Asa de Aguia gig at the Clube Espanhol

mixture of colors and phenotypes live together and inter-

and a black porter who is going home to Uruguai at the

marry, in contrast to the elitist exclusivity evident among

end of his shift.29 During the half-hour journey, she feels

residents of the bairros nobres (McCallum 1996). In mak-

relieved to return to the neighborhood where she lives

ing such statements, she will be appealing creatively to the

(and where she was born). A group of unruly young people

discourses available to her. But the foundations of her

are drumming on the sides of the hard seats, singing and

positioning with regard to them will be the depth of her

cracking jokes in loud voices, but she pays them no heed,

own accumulated experience, to which she makes refer-

nor they her, although she clasps her bag more tightly out

ence as she thinks and speaks.

of instinct and checks that her cash is hidden in her

waistband. The lads are dressed in long Bermuda shorts

barely held up at the hips, the girls in tight-fitting tank tops

and minuscule shorts cut high at the buttocks. As she

The wavering embodiment of racial identity

From the perspective of the subject, racial and other

climbs down off the bus, Dona Alice looks carefully around

meanings stick to bodies as they populate the urban

before walking on, away from the relative safety of the

landscape, as they move through it, and racial meanings

corner bar by the bus stop. She looks for the vagabazndos

conferred by bodies also attach to the landscape. Bodies

(ruffians, good-for-nothings) who hang out on the street

do not simply stand for themselves, for the meanings of a

opposite. She is almost home, but things are not as they

particular location help define the meanings attached to

were when she was young. At that time, everyone knew

a body. This semiotic interaction is apparent to Sotero-

everyone, the young people respected their elders, and

politans, too, who may comment on it. Early on in my re-

men respected women. A group of men sitting at the bar

search, a Bahian friend, a white university lecturer (he

joke with her: "Come over here, Auntie, and have a drink

is what might be described as swarthy, of southern Medi-

with us!" She laughs and says, "Another day." She is

terranean appearance) helped me to understand this. I

among neighbors and friends.

asked him, "Is there an identifiable black middle class in

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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

Salvador?" At once, he said no. Then he added that, to him,

20th century. The development of social spaces associated

middle-class people are branco, even if individuals may be

with blackness were crucial to this process.

described as negro, preto, or moreno (brown, tan, or

Michel Agier, a leading student of l990s Salvador,

brunette). For example, he said, he never thought of a

shows how delimited social spaces are important to the

black colleague as negro. The negros live in poor areas of

construction of distinct social identities.32 His studies of Ile

town. His colleague, he felt, was "like me." This unmarked

Aiye, the Afro-Brazilian bloco (carnival association) based

category denominating "us" refers, of course, to white-

in the district of Liberdade, an old, relatively central low-

ness, if only by the logic of opposition, although it may also

income area, include a detailed examination of the work

stand opposed to morenidade, in the sense evocative of

done by its members in constructing and successfully

that emblematic suntanned Brazilian identity.3l

disseminating a positively valued black identity. Such

These comments are not part of any identifiable

blocos provide a space, available for most of the year, in

discourse, although the failure to name a black middle

which Soteropolitans and tourists can participate in mu-

class could conceivably be held to express a racism by

sical and other cultural events. "Ile," as it is affectionately

omission or the effects of a ubiquitous silence about ra-

known, has been an important force in the negritude

cial inequality in Brazil (Sheriff 2001). But my friend, no

movement and, indeed, it is iconic of these associations'

fool and something of a radical, might name such a group

success in refiguring attitudes to blackness. In events such

in another context. In this instance, he was merely

as an annual black beauty festival, they promote pride in

being honest to me about his own day-to-day subjectivity.

African heritage and awareness of black Brazilian history,

His reply was an expression of a normally unstated knowl-

especially resistance to slavery. The discourse elaborated

edge that conditions and impinges on the elaboration

in the public speech of the leaders of the blocos and in the

of many kinds of discourse. For example, if he were to

lyrics of songs inverts a once openly expressed devalua-

agree in a political meeting that the black middle class

tion of black culture and people in Salvador (Agier 2000).

should be consolidated and strengthened (as he might), he

Ile's effect on the city has been multifaceted, both help-

would be running counter, consciously and deliberately, to

ing reshape political rhetoric about culture and establish-

his own intuitions. I think my friend was expressing a

ing paths of self-discovery along which individuals may

sense shared by those who live and work in the more

travel (Figure 2).

affluent areas of Salvador. But this sense forms part of

Ile and other such blocos appeal directly to Afro-

knowledge shared by all longer-term dwellers in the city,

Brazilian subjectivities but also to nonblacks. Their success

whatever their class affiliation, although it is uncomfort-

in attracting members, however, is varied. Most of Ile's

able to put into words.

members are from Liberdade and are working class; a

My friend's black colleague, by contrast, was unequiv-

majority are female. Middle-class blacks figure among its

ocal in claiming for himself an identity as a negro and as a

directors. Some intellectuals and professionals, like Dona

member of a black middle class. In claiming for himself an

Alice's daughter-in-law, are also attracted by Ile. I return to

identity drawn from the discourse elaborated within the

Dona Alice's son and daughter-in-law, at the point when

Movimento Negro, which challenges and denounces any

the party ends.

claims to the absence of blackness in Brazil, he did not

reject whiteness in his day-to-day life or feel the need to
engage in problack militancy. Like Rogerio's godfather
(Dona Alice's son), he spent much time in symbolically
white spaces or with white people, in the natural course of
middle-class social living. Moreover, he felt perfectly at
ease in these circles. When he was among such friends
and colleagues, his sense of self was not perturbed by
his identification with blackness. He did not feel out of
place or Othered, whether by the subjects with whom he
interacted or by any inward-looking feeling of bodily
difference from those around him. One might say that
his identity as negro is just one of several that he might
claim for himself (among them, a Christian activist, a
Bahian, a successful academic, a father, etc.). I cannot say
what personal experiences lay behind his self-knowledge
as black. But the ease with which he lay claim to a negro
identity speaks of important historical changes in the

Figure 2. Afro-Bahian style: A couple at Ile Aiye's Night of Beleza

public discourses on race circulating in Bahia in the late

Negra. Photograph by the author.


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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

As the couple leave Alto das Flores, they begin a

So Dona Alice's daughter-in-law may make her own

sociogeographic transition that differs from Dona Alice's.

sense of black identity uppermost. Her French guests

From the Alto they drive home to their two-bedroom flat in

luxuriate, perhaps, in a temporary connection with the

the older but still sought-after bairro of Grac,a to change

wonderfully exotic and sensual (and thereby know them-

their clothes. They are going out with two French friends

selves as antiracists). And Dona Alice's son is content to let

they met on a trip through Europe, whom they had

his body take over, as he sambas to rhythms that he has

promised to take to the ensaio (rehearsal) o$ Ile Aiye at

known since he first came to consciousness.35

Fort Santo Antonio. They explained, "It's a povao thing. It

In spaces such as Alto das Flores, by contrast, guests

won't do to go dressed chic or as a barao.33 It's better to

and employees are willy-nilly put into contact withzan

wear simple clothes." They have already warned their

aesthetic system in which Euro-Brazilian whiteness is

friends (who insist on going about the town on ordinary

hypervaluated. That this takes place in an upper-middle-

buses) to keep their jewels and watches in the hotel, not to

class setting is no coincidence. Spend a night at home in

carry large bags, and to wear T-shirts, shorts, and sneakers,

Brazil watching the television and one is left in no doubt as

to avoid calling attention to themselves in the street. For

to the hegemonic aesthetics of color. Whiteness, in the

each space in the city, they explained, there is an appro-

form of fashionably clad blond or smooth-haired, sun-

priate dress code, a body language (one that gringos usu-

tanned young men and women, stands for the normal

ally ignore). On this occasion, though, Dona Alice's son

(normal), the modern, and the socially valued. Flick

and daughter-in-law choose different styles of clothes.

through studies of the media or of the "image of the

He prefers to wear smartly pressed jeans and a T-shirt.

negro" in Brazil and this impression confirms itself (see,

He puts his wallet in the back pocket and leaves his

e.g., Fonseca 2000 and Sodre 1999). On occasions such as

wristwatch on he will be among "his people," just like

Rogerio's party, the dominant aesthetic seems to parallel

those among whom he grew up. She takes from the

or imitate representations of race in the media. Thus does

wardrobe a dress in Afro-Bahian style, with a geometric

the visual and sensory production of meanings in the flow

design in strong colors. She loves these moments, and

of day-to-day life ensure that the normative and valued

she can feel at ease, beautiful in her African disguise,

nature of whiteness takes a thoroughly embodied form.

together with people who resemble her. She feels nos-

The space where the party takes place upscale Alto das

talgic for the time in her youth when she used to go with

Flores encloses Rogerio's family's new, modern apart-

her mother to the candomble festas (parties; her mother

ment building. Access to the building's salao de festas

was an initiate).34 She cannot afford to go these days

itself may be read as a mark of white privilege; and, of

because her husband does not care for such things and

course, the guests and family who come to the party

because she has so many social engagements. The

exemplify or aspire to ideals of beauty that emphasize

two childhood friends from her home neighborhood who

blondness, smooth hair, and European or North American

also managed to get to university do not care to associate

styles and accoutrements.

put this in reprotai

themselves with the black cultural movement. They

In Ile's ensaios, a black identity is created and given

prefer new, modern social spaces dominated by the aes-

value in opposition to the hypervaluation bestowed on the

thetics of whiteness. She has explained to her French

Euro-Brazilian body elsewhere in the city or in the media.

friends that this preference is not rooted in ideological

The conscious, discursive construction of blackness is a

motives and that her chil&ood friends are not prejudiced

vital component to Ile's activities, whereas the construc-

against dark-colored people like themselves but, rather,

tion of whiteness is implicit and unspoken in events like

they feel a greater affinity with persons who work, like

Rogerio's party and refers only indirectly to its public

themselves, in the liberal professions. She herself always

hypervaluation. Whiteness is a semiotic subtext, an effect

feels a surge of excitement when she hears the powerful

of what is done, not what is said. A similar effect operates

rhythms and melodic songs of Ile.

Most of the people present at Ile Aiye's ensaios are

at the ensaios. Much of the force of Ile Aiye's message

is generated in the stunning imagery of performers and

black and low income in origin. On such occasions, the

participants and in their rhythm and lyricism. The ex-

aesthetics constructed by the black cultural movement

periences of subjects in both contexts is total, a sensory

prevail. White or light mulatto people are welcome, but

immersion in a profusion of racializing symbols. So one

they do not set the tone. Black faces and bodies, dressed

should hardly be surprised that messages about difference

in a variety of fashions, are resplendently prevalent.

are absorbed as embodied knowledge that holds as natural

Everywhere Afro-Bahian styles are present. Blackness is

the class-color configuration experienced in the city. In

hegemonic in a total sense, not just as an effect of a

this sense is class naturalized.

consciously articulated discourse but also through sheer

The constitution of racial and class identity cannot be

copresence. Each person must then put her or his self

treated as epistemologically distinct from the processes

into a relationship with the identities that are offered.

operating particular subjectivities (Mama 1995). If one


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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

looks at these processes in more detail, one sees that

As I have described, the meanings that stick treach-

several simultaneous operations are at work. Subjects do

erously to space change the meanings generated by

not simply choose between available identities on their

bodies, and, thus, the subject's apprehension of self is also

personal journeys through the semiotic overproduction of

affected as he or she moves through the city. Martin

the world around them. Each bus passenger, party goer, or

Sokefeld (1999) argues that this sense of self is a steady-

participant in Ile's ensaios searches for his or her self's

ing force in such transitions.37 Racializing meanings arise

place in the newly entered semantic space but brings to

in constantly changing configurations as subjects move

this self-placing the weight of past experience. The knowl-

through time and space. Thus, from the perspective of

edge embodied over a lifetime is a key factor and much is

intersubjectivity, progress from difference to Difference

already established beforehand, although the process is

is not simply one way. It also involves fluctuation and

also infinitely recursive. A two-way interchange takes place

(in many individual cases) a welcome lack of fixity. Stuart

with the world, in which agentive appropriation of mean-

Hall has made a similar point in his work on racial

ing for the self is always generated against meanings

identity (Morley and Chen 1996). The relations that

thrown back by others. Myriad cues and impositions

make identity and alterity in other words, that consti-

are encountered on the way, thrown up endlessly in

tute subjectivity are frequently unstable (Gupta and

intersubjective activity (especially intense during such

Ferguson 1997). One could describe a subject's relation

special events as the party or the ensaio). These may

with a particular identity as the temporary assumption

include direct racialization, that is, the imposition of

of a subject position within one of the competing dis-

a racial identity imbued with meanings and values (per-

courses on race circulating in the city. But this is not

haps unwanted) by one subject on another.

enough. As I have shown, some racializing meanings are

The cue for this form of racialization is usually the

simply not expressed in discourse. One also needs to

other's bodily appearance, although I point to a need for

describe how such work of identification takes place in

caution here. Dominguez refers to body differences as the

social interaction. This is because identities emerge

starting point for racialization. Speaking of a more inclu-

strongly or wane in real time, that is, in temporally

sive level than the simple intersubjective one I describe,

delimited spaces of intersubjectivity, or sociality.

she says that racialization takes place "when differences

Subjective transitions may involve the conscious

between human beings are simplified and transformed

transformation in outwardly projected identity when a

into Difference" and, she continues, through "overvaluing

person passes from one symbolizing Eleld to another, for

particular bodily differences by imbuing them with lasting

example, in the manipulation of clothing (Tarlo 1996) or

meaning" (Dominguez 1994:334). In Salvador, too, racial

in the consumption of food (Sokefeld 1999). Subjects like

alterity may arise out of certain readings of the body. But

Dona Alice's daughter-in-law can at some moments

what body is this?

identify themselves openly with the Afro-Bahian black

In general, in Salvador the body is not seen as a

identity offered by Ile. At other moments such identifi-

finished or closed entity. It is always in production, main-

cation is merely latent, as, for example, when an alter-

tenance, and transformation, changing its form and

native class-based identity, linked metonymically to

meaning, whether through spiritual or magical techno-

whiteness, comes to the forefront. Dona Alice's daughter-

logical intervention, through diet and exercise, or by medi-

in-law changes her clothes appropriately for each occa-

cal means. From a religious perspective, for example,

sion. Her self-knowledge flows effortlessly from one space

spirits may descend on a body and make use of it to

to another as long as she is able, bodily and otherwise, to

communicate with living beings, a point that may be made

dominate the hegemonic languages of the different

in relation to Afro-Brazilian religions, Pentecostalism, or

domains. She can sit in judgment at court, dance with

spiritism.36 The body must be kept "closed" against ill-

sazingue (swing) like any negona do Ile (black woman of

nesses or the evil eye by charms and prayers. Although

Ile), and make conversation and appropriate bodily ges-

proponents of biomedicine often clash with religious

tures with her friends, compadres, and colleagues at the

specialists who preach an unstable integration of spirit

party in Itaigara, like any other upper-middle-class person.

and flesh, they also take an active part in constructing a

It is this capability that underlies her ability to transfer

view of the body as mutable, through plastic surgery and

between spaces of intersubjectivity and to sequentially

other forms of intervention, such as hormone replace-

bring to the forefront one social identity after another.

ment therapy. The aesthetics industry dedicates itself to

Whereas a black judge enjoys considerable leeway to

corporeal transformation of skin and hair and figure,

shift assumed identities or to move between fields of

whether in beauty salons, gyms, or special clinics. So the

identification in this way, a person such as Dona Alice at

body is involved in a constant process of ensuring closure

first sight has more restricted possibilities open to her. I

and effecting or delaying change. Biology, although pres-

do not mean by this to imply that the judge would be

ent as a discourse, need not signify destiny.

immune to experiencing the imposition of unwanted


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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

identities. Most black people I have interviewed in Salva-

of shared knowledge achieved through past engagements

dor, including powerful figures such as judges, politicians,

with other people and places, to such encounters. This

and hospital administrators, are able to recall one episode

bears direct relevance to the naturalization of class, to

or situation in which they were subject to racism. Yet class

which I now return.

position must limit the exploratory possibilities for subjects such as Dona Alice to those spaces that are financially
and socially available. Many of these are black spaces, such


as the candomble centers that her daughter-in-law fre-

At first sight, an incident involving the person on whom

quented as a teenager. Others allow the construction of a

the Dona Alice character is based seems illustrative of the

nonracialized self-identity, for example, Pentecostalist

apparently naturalized state of class as racial difference

churches (Burdick 1998).38 As one might expect from the

in Salvador. Walking along a sidewalk in a residential area

literature on racial identity in Brazil, Soteropolitans do not

of the Upper C;ty, she stopped at the gates of the Baiano

respond to experiences of racialization in any simple way.

de Tenis (an upscale sports and social club) to allow a car

Growing numbers affirm a positively valued identity as

to exit across the pavement. The driver, a branca, think-

negro, rather than the disparaged preto of old (Sansone

ing the road to be clear of traffic, advanced into it and

1993), but many Afro-Brazilians prefer to term themselves

"Dona Alice" walked behind the car, continuing on her

moreno. So, too, do many Euro-Brazilians, to whom the

way. At this point, the driver spotted a bus hurtling down

term connotes an attractive Brazilian identity, which

the road and hastily backed up, without bothering to

branco does not.39 Although they are less mobile, often

check if anyone was behind her, missing "Dona Alice" by

conElned to the Lower City, poorer people in Salvador do

a hair's breadth. Later, "Dona Alice" told me this story

find ways to manipulate, counteract, or disrupt unwanted

with great indignation. I asked her, "Did she apologize?"

forms of racialization.

and she retorted, "Since when does a branca apologize to

Attention to the processes operating particular sub-

a preta?"

jectivities need not deflect one from the way that the

Other aspects of the naturalization of class are also

racialization of the subject is embedded in the structures

contained in this incident not least, the powerful sym-

of power. Judith Butler writes:

bolism of car ownership. White people walking along

the pavements of Salvador are also likely to be run over

To conceive of racism primarily as a problem of

psychic projection requires that dyadic structure by
which a dominant subject projects and a subordi-

by their peers. The incident brings to mind, moreover,

Sheriff's view that the bottom-line discourse governing
class relations in Brazil turns on a black-white opposition

nated Other is projected upon. But the complex dis-

"Dona Alice's" retort cold be read as bringing thi-s deep,

tribution of institutional processes of racialization and

hidden sense of the color coding of social difference to

racism are not simply matters of psychic projection;

the surface of speech. But I have tried to build beyond

the racialization of the subject requires an account of

this formulation of class as ultimately constituted in

subject formation through the terms of race (Omi and

language by looking at the embodied microhistory of

Winant 1986), but this account could not take place

within the terms of an analysis in which a subject
status were taken for granted as a "ground" or a
"presupposition." [1995:443]

creating meaning that each person brings to such fleeting relationships. The argument is not a rebuttal of discourse analysis or the investigation of classification
systems. Indeed, the ethnography developed here is only
possible because of this work. But by altering the angle

Indeed, I have argued that the process of conferring

of ethnographic vision to highlight the movement of

racial meanings is informed by psychic projection because

subjects through lived time and space, I am able to suggest

it is in the first instance an intersubjective one, occurring

a rephrasing of the analysis, away from terms that evoke

within the making of sociality (Toren 1996). Following

the debate about whether Brazil is or is not "different."

Christina Toren, whose theoretical approach is informed

From this perspective, language, in the form of concepts

by a social anthropological reading of phenomenology,

that may be linguistically formulated, is a constitutive

especially of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I understand that

aspect of experience. It is part of all social practice, but

the process whereby a subject makes sense of the lived-in

not in a uniform sense. "Dona Alice's" retort would

world is social that is, intersubjective and that it takes

certainly not be appropriate or necessary to describe

place over time. In this sense it is microhistorical (Toren

interactions in an event such as Rogerio's party, although,

1999).4 Throughout the ethnographic discussion above,

as I have described, subjects' experiences of such happy

my point has been that such psychic projection cannot

occasions are also not free of color codirlg.

take place on neutral ground, given that each subject

As Soteropolitans encounter each other in the

brings a particular microhistory, with important overlaps

city their common, often unspoken knowledge about


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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

difference about race, gender, and class although

processes. The argument then turned to the question of

emerging from different perspectives, enables events such

subjectivity and identity. People do not just learn race and

as the birthday party or the ensaio at Ile to take place. The

class, I argued, they constitute it intersubjectively.

various nuances of racial meanings and their attach-

The naturalization of class occurs as people experience

ment to class are often understood and acted on in such

fluctuations in identity while moving around in the

contexts in an unproblematic sense. Everyone knows

urban environment. One important aspect of this is

what to do and what their actions and speech mean.

the tension between racialization of bodies by space and

The embodied production of culture takes place in a social

racialization of space by bodies, described through eth-

mode, rather than being confined to the workings of

nography of different subjects' journeys through the

single subjectivities (Csordas 1993; Wade 1999). Interac-

city. This description showed that class is naturalized

tion seems effortless and natural. One consequence, in

as each subject's oft-unspoken hlowledge of how to act

Salvador, is that race relations may appear as harmonious

is put to use in endlessly repeated practice. But the

and conflict free.

focus on intersubjectivity highlighted that the process

But this is an illusion. In any local field of semantic

does not stop here. It is open-ended, even though the

production, the embodied knowledge borne by subjects

gaps in the web that binds class to race are at times hard

overlaps and communicates at many junctures, generating

to discern.

the content and style of intersubjective encounters. This

The events and practices that racialize bodies in

means that, as well as unspoken agreement, many gaps,

Salvador appear to be hardened and fixed over the years.

failures to connect, or points of dissonance and friction

As they are repeated daily and in many versions across the

are thrown up out of the disparity between the stand-

urban landscape, they gxve real content to the naturaliza-

points of engaging subjects. My point here is that social

tion of class difference. But time does not stand still. Thus,

differences matter. Both the points of encounter, fruit of

when Soteropolitans move through the city, they are

living together in one place and time, and the points of

engaged, both wittingly and unwittingly, in a process that

disjuncture may reflect and reproduce social inequalities.

operates at various levels. They constitute-their own

So class is not just naturalized because of "what goes

subjective identities, seated in the body; they mold the

without saying" or because of "what may be said." One

subjectivities of others; and they participate in the struc-

way to describe what else is at work is to say that the

turing, practical work that underlies the social and eco-

spaces of intersubjectivity are encompassed by a structural

nomic hierarchy. Yet, at the same time, they may also

level. This formulation (suggested to me by Butler's evo-

contest that hierarchy. Identity as movement is also

cation of "the complex distribution of institutional pro-

promising in this sense, offering not only a rift in the

cesses of racialization" in the above quote) is problematic,

subject but also glimmerings of a rupture in the unequal

however. If racially inflected class differences are experi-

social system.

enced as natural and as describable in a common set

of behaviors that people "know" and do, the practices

of which they are part (such as the birthday party) constitute structuring processes, in a wider sociological sense

Acknowledgments. Research was financed by the Research

(Bourdieu 1977, 1990, 1998). But care must be taken not

Institute for the Study of Man through an RISM Landes Award

to render class unnecessarily rigid. Note, in this regard

in 1993, and by the Economic and Social Research Council of

that, although the analysis developed in this article is

Great Britain from 1994 to 1997 (R000234961). I am grateful to

deeply marked by the theory of practice, it does not

both institutions. Thanks also to the Nuffield Foundation and to

support the adoption of a concept of "habitus," if by this

is meant a set of embodied "unconscious dispositions."
As critics remark, used in this sense, the notion does not

the British Academy for grants enabling further research. An

earlier version of this article was written while in receipt of the

ESRC award and was presented at the 22nd Encontro Anual de
ANPOCS in Brazil in 1998. I am grateful to Livio Sansone, the

leave space for subjective agency or for change (Gell 1992).

organizer, and all the participants who commented on that

The methodological focus developed in this article has

version. It was rewritten thanks to support from the Simon Fund

allowed an investigation of the dynamic and sequen-

of the University of Manchester, where I was a Simon Fellow

from 2001 to 2004. I gave a version as a seminar to the

tial intersubjective constitution of race and class. I have

Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester,

shown that racialization is enacted within social practice.

in the series "Anthropology of and in the City,'^ on November 12,

I wrote the ethnography to pay special attention to "non-

2001. Thanks to the organizers, Penny Harvey and Sarah Green. I

discursive" practice, counterbalancing the greater atten-

gratefully acknowledge the comments and the help given me on

tion to discourse in the available literature. This focus

on practice entailed semiotic analysis of spaces as well

that occasion by colleagues in the department. Special thanks to

Karen Sacks, Luisa Elvira Belaunde, Peter Gow, and Marcio

Goldman for their critical comments and encouragement as

as of bodies, which concluded that the interaction be-

the article neared completion. I also benefited from anonymous

tween the two provides the dynamic driving racialization

readers' comments and the excellent advice of the editor of this

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American Ethnologist * Volume 32 Number 1 February 2005

journal. My greatest debt is to informants, family, and friends in

Salvador. Final responsibility is my own.

1. Salvador is the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia and

5. I am in agreement with Wade (2002), who calls for a careful

examination of the applicability of the term essentialism in any

particular ethnographic context.

the third-largest city in Brazil. Its population expanded from ca.

6. Intent on thoroughness, Sheriff sought to understand multi-

348,000 in 1945 to nearly two and a half million by 2003 (see

ple points of view, interviewing black activists and also middle- By census classification, 80 percent of its resi-

class persons living in apartment blocks near the favela. She

dents are black or brown, making it the largest concentration of

discusses their narratives using techniques of discourse analysis.

visually marked Afro-descendants in Latin America. The newly in-

This works to enrich and contextualize the study of race in the

dustrialized economy, based on a petrochemical complex estab-

favela, but Sheriff's does not pretend to be an ethnography of

lished in the 1970s, acted as a pull factor for in-migration, rural

activism or of the middle classes. This reliance on discourse

stagnation as a push factor. Economic expansion fostered a new if

analysis, combined with the limits of the material on cross-class

small black working class, whose members earned on a par with

interaction, results in a skewed appreciation of class relations

the mainly white middle class, which expanded greatly at that

outside the favela.

time (Guimaraes 1998; Guimaraes and Castro 1990). Many women

7. See the work of phenomenological geographers and archae-

acquired higher employment qualifications and entered the

ologists, such as Yi-fu Tuan (1977) and Christopher Tilley (1996),

job market. An extended recession in the 1980s and 1990s

who explore "human engagement with the meanings of place"

led to severe job losses and an expansion of the informal sector

(Wade 1999:458). This focus on the symbolic constitution of place

(Guimaraes et al. 1995). Growth in the service sector gave

is one that has recently taken the foreground in critical anthro-

greater employment opportunities to women. Gender and racial

pology, offered as a solution to the collapse of the notion of

inequality persisted (Castro and Barreto 1998). In 2002, women

"spatially territorialized culture" as a theoretical tool (Gupta and

earned much less than men, and blacks and browns much less

Ferguson 1997).

than whites. Many women were employed as domestic servants,

8. See Poewe 1996:179 and Richardson 1996. McClusky 2001 is a

and over 25 percent of the lower-income female population

recent example of the use of memory and imagination in ethno-

were heads of households. Extreme and widespread poverty was

graphic writing.

a cruel and persistent feature of the system. Unemployment

9. Over the 1990s and up to 2004, new apartment buildings

stood at over 20 percent, ranking as the highest among Brazilian

usually received names evoking aristocratic themes and referring

major cities (Veja 2001).

to Europe.

2. Some claim that the Brazilian color classification system's

10. The name of the area and all personal names are fictitious.

distinctive feature is its multipolarity, whereby the plethora of

11. On the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) in Brazil there

terms describe color and phenotype differences on a scale from

is an extensive literature. On the Bahian movement, see, for

darker to lighter. See, for example, Harris 1970 and Harris and

example, Agier 1995, Butler 1998, and Cunha 1998.

Kottack 1963. Much critique and discussion have focused on the

12. Xuxa, a tall and charismatic blond, is a children's tele-

implications of this view; see, for example, Fry 2000, Goldstein

vision star and a sex symbol. On the Xuxa phenomenon, see

1999, Hanchard 1999, Maggie 1991, Reichmann 1999, Sanjek 1991,

Simpson 1993.

Sheriff 2001, and Twine 1998.

13. On Bahian popular music and pagode, see Guerreiro 2000.

3. For overviews of the extensive literature on race in Brazil

14. Peres was known as the "Loira do Tchan" (the blond of the

and comparison of the Brazilian and U.S. racial systems, see, for

Tchan). Deborah, the black female dancer who partnered her, was

example, Wade 1997 and Winant 1992. Denise Ferreira da Silva

known as the "Morena do Tchan," but she left the group a year

(1998) questioned the idea that a Brazilian "racial formation" is

after its first national hit album. TV Globo held a nationwide

a weaker version of the system operating in the United States, a

competition to replace her. The winner, Scheyla Carvalho, is an

point made by Peter Wade (1997) about Latin American racial

olive-skinned brunette with long, smooth hair. In effect, the public

systems, in general. In an irenic extension of the view that

face of samba-pagode was further whitened.

Brazil is different, the supposed national disposition toward

cordiality was said to lie behind "racial democracy" and har-

15. Conversations on a number of occasions with different

babas support this observation.

mony there (Freyre 1959; Pierson 1942). Marvin Harris (1970)

16. This portrait of an upper-middle-class family's rejection of

linked classificatory multipolarity to a supposed absence of clear

marriage between one of its members and a black person is based

racial categories, arguing that social difference was based on

on several actual cases. In a number of interviews, middle-class

class, not race. These views were widely accepted in Brazil, but

whites told me of their own or other families' hostility to accepting

critics demonstrated that dark-skinned Brazilians have little

a nonwhite member.

access to political power and consistently fall at the bottom in

terms of all the main socioeconomic indicators. They argued

17. A compadre relationship is constituted between a couple

and the person who becomes the godparent of their child.

that the myth of racial democracy is, in fact, a camouflage for

18. I have accompanied the person on whom this character is

racism. Michael Hanchard (1994), in particular, attacked the

based to many parties, witnessing such interactions. She often

idea of "racial exceptionalism" (see also Twine 1998). In a

expresses affection for her white friends, willingness to take part in

rebuttal, Peter Fry (2000) defended faithfulness to the canon

festivities, enjoyment during the proceedings, and a sentiment of

of ethnographic specificity. (On this debate, see also Goldstein

relief when the party is over.

1999.) The current consensus is that racial democracy, although

19. Members of the family of the person on whom this charac-

important as a founding myth and also as a project for the

ter is based comment on her preference for sitting in the kitchen

future (Sheriff 2001), cannot be considered descriptive of any

or an equivalent space on such occasions, attributing it to her lack

supposed overall racial formation in Brazil.

of ease in a more formal space.

4. See, for example, Agier 2000; Burdick 1998; Butler 1998;

Caldeira 2000; Cunha 2001; Goldstein 1999; Guerreiro 2000;
Lehmann 1996; McCallum 1996, 1999; Sansone 1992; Shapiro
1995; Sheriff 2001; Silva 1993; Twine 1998; Wafer 1991.

20. See Souza 2000 for a detailed analysis of this process over
the past decades.

21. For example, in 2002, lots in the projected Alphaville con-

dominio, located beside the Paralela, the main road through the


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Racialized bodies, naturalized classes * American Ethnologist

northern part of the city, went on sale. The lots sold out on the first

36. On Afro-Brazilian religion in SalvadorX see, for example,

day. Interest in living in such walled communities seems to be a

Shapiro 1995, Teles dos Santos 1992, and Wafer 1991; on Pente-

trend in much of Brazil. See Caldeira 2000 on the fortress city in

costalism, see, for example, Lehman 1996.

37. Sokefeld (1999) argues that a reflexive sense of self consti-

Sao Paulo.

22. Souza (2000: 157) quotes the 1997 National Household

Survey (Pesquisa Nacional Domicilar, or PNAD) to illustrate the

tuted in action is a stabilizing force, in the face of the pull of

multiple possible identities.

size of the divide. Residents of the symbolic Cidade Alta included

38. John Burdick's (1998) study in Rio de Janeiro found that

those 9.6 percent of people over ten years old who earned

black Protestant women sought subjective fulfillment through

between $600 and $2,000 and the 2.5 percent who earned more

religious practice, not through constructing a racial identity, but

than $2,000. By contrast, 43.8 percent of the population over ten

that their past experiences of racialization were an important

declared earnings of less than $200 and another 43 percent had

aspect of their searches. He also found that many women appre-

no earnings whatsoever these were the residents of the sym-

ciated the possibility for "whitening" afforded by their involvement in the church, including the availability of lighter-colored

bolic Cidade Baixa.

23. Antonio Riserio (1981) describes how, as a child on car rides

through the Cidade Baixa, he would shut the windows, pretending
that the "Indians" would attack.

marriage partners.

39. For a discussion of the increasing popularity of the term

moreno, see Guimaraes 2002.

24. For example, distinctions between districts in the bairros

40. The influence of phenomenology in the theoretical ap-

nobres take into account factors such as length of occupation and

proach espoused here is evident. Although certain notions

age of the buildings. The older the bairro, the less prestigious it is,

developed by sociologists such as Alfred Schutz and other phe-

unless some other factor intervenes, such as the proximity to one

nomenologists, for example, "stocks of knowledge," "indetermi-

of the main upper-middle-class shopping centers. In conse-

nacy," or "sedimentation," are relevant to the argument here, a

quence, new apartments, such as Rogerio's in Alto das Flores,

proper discussion must be left to another opportunity.

fetch high prices on the property market, whereas older, more

spacious ones are undervalued. Access by car is important to
buyers on middle-class incomes, whereas those on low incomes
value neighborhoods where there is good access by public transport to places of work and study.

25. On kinship and the social structure of low-income areas,

see, for example, Agier 1990, 2000; Woortman 1987.

26. Preto (black) is the color term used in the census and
sometimes in day-to-day discourse in Salvador. Overall, it has
negative connotations there. The black movement prefers the
term negro, said to refer to race, not color.

27. Olivia Gomes da Cunha (2001:122-123) makes a similar

point about residents leaving the favela Vigario Geral in Rio to
travel into the city.

28. Such values are also, on occasion, challenged or inverted

for example, during ritual events, such as carnival (Serra 1999),
or historical upheavals, such as the renovation of Pelourinho
(Butler 1998).

29. Asa de Aguia is a well-known band that plays a variant of

axe music. See Guerreiro 2000.

30. These quotes and musings are direct citations from the
person on whom the character is modeled.

31. The positively valued term moreno connotes Brazilianness.

Although it is used to denote persons of all kinds of racial types, it
acquires higher value when attached to the brancos of European
origin. When used to describe dark-skinned people with African
features, it works as a euphemism.

32. See Agier 1990, 1991, 1992a, 1992b, 2000. On the racialization of space and place in working-class Salvador, see also
Guimaraes et al. 1995, Sansone 1992, and Silva 1993.
33. The term barao (baron) is a popular euphemism for a
wealthy or simply middle-class person.

34. Candomble is an Afro-Brazilian religion. The terreiros

(religious centers) organize festas open to the public on certain occasions.

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