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Recently completed field studies and research from primary sources on Brazil constitute the main interest of this seminar. Brazilian, the U.S. and other visiting scholars participate, contributing their interpretations of recent events. Portuguese may be spoken whenever convenient.

Professor Diana Brown

Professor John F. Collins

Professor Sidney M. Greenfield

Professor Vania Penha-Lopes 

Fernanda Dias

Meeting Schedule

09/23/2021 Online Meeting
7:15 PM
Infrastructural Citizenship and Class Mobility in Recent Brazil
Université libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), Moisés Kopper


On the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, Brazil implemented its largest-ever public housing program, the Minha Casa, Minha Vida. Drawing on a five-year-long ethnography among city planners, architects, street-level bureaucrats, politicians, market and bank representatives, community leaders, and past, present, and future beneficiaries, I will examine how communal idealism, electoral politics, and consumer markets made first-time homeownership a reality for millions of low-income Brazilians over the last ten years. Between 2009 and 2016, Brazil’s Workers’ Party relied on financialized low-income housing to reduce poverty, promote democratic governance, and raise the country’s international profile. By showing how these efforts came together in the making a model community of housing activists, I will examine some of the value systems and novel arrangements of power and market that underlie Brazil’s post-neoliberal project of modern and inclusive development. I posit the concept of “material hope” to understand how practices of infrastructural citizenship and projects of upward social mobility coalesced to generate ambivalent political and economic subjectivities. By chronicling the making and remaking of material hope in the aftermath of Minha Casa Minha Vida’s public and private infrastructure, I reopen the future as a powerful venue for ethnographic inquiry and urban development.

10/21/2021 Online Meeting
7:15 PM
Ecoculturing the infant gut microbiome in urban Brazil: anthropological contributions to a burgeoning field of study
Barbara Piperata, The Ohio State University


The past decade has seen an explosion in research on the gut microbiome. Much attention has been given to infants, as it is argued that the first 2-3 years of life represent a critical window in the formation of the community structure of the gut microbiota, with implications for health over the life course. Largely missing from this ample literature are perspectives from the social sciences. In this talk I will focus on the use of anthropological theory and methods to understand how culture via beliefs, norms and everyday routines shape the gut microbiome. In addition to discussing the need for social science perspectives in human microbiome research, I will also share some of the challenges faced conducting a large, interdisciplinary and international study on human health during a pandemic.

03/17/2022 Online Meeting
7:15 PM
Ethnographic Incorporation: research, mediunity and (re)flexible(ive) ontology
Alberto Groisman, Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil)


Reflections on mediunity in the social sciences have often been constructed inconsistently. It seems that this inconsistency is linked to an epistemo-methodological conviction, that is: mediumship is a "phenomenon" of the "other", of the one who "believes in spirits". The "native" statement argues that the researcher is also a medium, whether he wants or admits to be, or not. An unwillingness to accept this theo-cosmological principle is often motivated by the implications of peer prestige. The purpose of this paper is to explore the analogy “medium-ethnographer”, particularly by addressing issues raised from a critical allusion to anthropologist "formation" and the experience of ethnographic incorporation.

Notes: Joint meeting with the seminars on Religion and Content and Methods of the Social Sciences
04/04/2022 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
To Keep the Sky from Falling: The Epic of Indigenous Environmentalism in Brazil
Tracy D. Guzman, University of Miami


Prior to taking office in January 2019, President Jair Bolsonaro affirmed his unwavering support for the interests of Brazilian agribusiness over the human and territorial rights of the “unproductive” Indigenous peoples who occupy approximately 13% of national territory. Comprising 0.4% of a national population that includes tens of millions of people living in poverty, Indigenous Brazilians have long been targeted by hateful rhetoric regarding “lots of land for just a few Indians” and the fierce territorial conflicts it inspires. Since the outset of Bolsonaro’s governance, these neocolonial discourses and practices have expanded and strengthened across the country, escalating into violent land invasions and human rights abuses that have been witnessed worldwide, largely due to the proliferation of first-hand accounts by Indigenous activists, attorneys, and their allies. Consequently, as Native peoples in Brazil have become increasingly vulnerable at home, their struggles to defend life and land play out on the world stage with unprecedented visibility—bringing global attention to their plight through international law, politics, education, and social media, but thus far doing little to change it. These struggles have culminated in the yet unresolved Supreme Court case over the highly controversial marco temporal or “temporal framework” legal thesis, which although currently on hold, places into question the future of all demarcated Indigenous lands.

Drawing on state documents, historical journalism, and testimonial narratives from the 20th century to the present, this presentation contextualizes this legal and political situation historically and considers the current movement for Indigenous rights and against bolsonarismo as part of a longer tale of Native-led initiatives to “keep the sky in place,” as Davi Kopenawa puts it—to protect the lands without which life as it is worth living becomes impossible.

Discussant: Rafael Ioris, University of Denver

Notes: Joint meeting with the seminar on Human Rights
04/21/2022 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Justiça Racial e Reparações – O Caminho para a Democracia no Brasil
Diva Moreira,


A palestrante vai abordar o tema da reparação da dívida decorrente do tráfico negreiro e do racismo estrutural, institucional e pessoal, contra os povos afrodescendentes e indígenas, como estratégia capaz de transformar radicalmente a sociedade e o estado brasileiro, fundados em seculares desigualdades e exclusões. Para isto, defende a construção de um debate político sólido que tenha como base a noção ética de que os danos infligidos a uma coletividade devem ser compensados, o que se perde na memória da humanidade. Para isto, vai se reportar a textos milenares da Bíblia, em um país em que ampla maioria se considera cristã. A ideia de reparação tem também respaldo internacional e integra declarações das Nações Unidas na III Conferência Contra o Racismo, que faz 20 anos e na resolução 2002/68, Item 8, na 58ª Sessão da Comissão de Direitos Humanos da ONU que criou um grupo de trabalho sobre os afrodescendentes da Diáspora, no ano seguinte a Durban. A ideia tem precedentes históricos: em favor dos judeus pelo genocídio durante o nazismo, e em favor dos japoneses expropriados de seus bens e aprisionados em campos de concentração, nos Estados Unidos, sob alegação de ameaça à segurança nacional, no decorrer da II guerra mundial. Finalmente, trata-se de um problema atual, como a produção acadêmica, sobretudo americana e europeia, demonstra, e como os movimentos sociais indígenas, afro-americanos, e governos africanos reivindicam, como recentemente aconteceu com os povos indígenas do Canadá, e o pagamento da dívida da Alemanha contra o genocídio dos grupos étnicos Herero e Nama na Namíbia.

Notes: Meeting will be held in Portuguese
05/12/2022 Online Meeting
7:15 PM
How One Group of Ayoreo On the Brazil/Paraguay Border Have Survived By Becoming Entrepreneurs
Leif Grünewal, Federal University of Pará (Brazil)

Sid Greenfield, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


The Ayoreo are a Zamucoan-speaking people who were roaming the Paraguayan Chaco when first encountered by Westerners. Today most are found in Paraguay and in Bolivia. The group we will be discussing separated from the others and is now living on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. We are focussing on this particular group because of the unusual way they have become a part of (or integrated into) the encompassing national societies of Brazil and Paraguay. In contrast with how most Amazonian peoples are absorbed into the ever-expanding national societies in which they become marginalized minorities, the Ayoreo became entrepreneurs. They have done so in the domains of religion and politics. Ayoreo shaman reconceptualized their traditional healing practices and they now perform rituals in which they serve as intermediaries between Brazilians and Paraguayans suffering from physical and emotional symptoms and Ayoreo supernaturals that “heal” them. While they do not accept payment for their services they do accept gifts that usually are commodities that they share with the members of the community. With respect to politics, office seekers, or their representatives, from both Brazil and Paraguay come to the homes of the Ayoreo and spend time speaking with them to solicit their votes. In exchange, the cojnõne, as they are referred to, bring gifts which also are shared with the community. Instead of being decimated, as have been so many other groups, this group of Ayoreo have been able to survive and remain independent, seemingly able to satisfy their needs by means of these entrepreneurial endeavours.