Accepted paper:

Stereotypes and the changing image of anthropology in Brazil


Gustavo Lins Ribeiro (University of Brasilia)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on images of Brazilian anthropology related to the myth of racial democracy, the hegemonic inter-ethnic ideology in Brazil. The role of the Brazilian Association of Anthropology is also considered as well as the role of anthropologists as professionals who struggle for human rights.

Paper long abstract:

Two main issues inform what Brazilians think about anthropology. Both are related to the myth of racial democracy, the hegemonic interethnic ideology in Brazil. First, the fact that anthropologists are seen as specialists on Indians gives them a lot of visibility. Although Indians are a tiny minority and the most vulnerable people in this country, they are seen as one of the three main contributors, together with "Whites" and "Africans", to the making of the Brazilian nation and culture. Indians are also seen as a problem. For instance, Indian lands are considered as a hindrance to the development of the country and, when located in border areas, as a "national security problem." Therefore, to be able to count on "specialists" on Indians is an asset for the state and the media. The relationships between "Whites" and "Afro-Brazilians" comprise the second issue, a rather visible one since "affirmative action" became a political banner of the Brazilian black movement. Anthropologists got engaged in this ongoing political struggle with two different positions. There are those who view affirmative action in the Brazilian university system as an import from the U.S. that will generate new types of racial conflicts. There are those who think that affirmative action is a mechanism that will help to diminish the huge inequalities between "Whites" and "Afro-Brazilians". The Brazilian Association of Anthropology (ABA) is a major player regarding the public image of anthropology in Brazil. The preferred self-image of Brazilian anthropologists is one of professionals who struggle for human rights and defend minorities. The Brazilian state has long-standing relationships with Brazilian anthropologists, either via ABA or by making use of their expertise in different state apparatuses. There are several public images of Brazilian anthropologists. The more traditional one is that of the university professor and public intellectual. Another image relates to a professional engaged in sociocultural, environmental, ethnic and land conflicts as an expert working for the state or for a NGO. As the number of graduates in anthropology increases, the public image of anthropology will certainly become more complex.

panel W095
A WCAA debate: the public image of anthropology