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American Dreams of Brazilian Racial Democracy


for Members

American Dreams of Brazilian Racial Democracy

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wenner-Gren Foundation

Presented By

Presented by the Anthropology Section


In this paper I examine popular and scholarly conceptions of race and inequality in Brazil and the United States. I argue that popular conceptions of class in the United States and popular conceptions of race in Brazil depoliticize inequality in closely parallel ways. This parallel has mostly gone unremarked in the large literature comparing race and inequality in the two countries because most scholars take either US or Brazilian conceptions for granted in their comparisons.

I develop this argument partially on the basis of ethnographic data on the land conflicts between quilombola (slave and maroon descended) villagers and the hub of Brazil’s space program in Alcântara, in Brazil’s northern state of Maranhão. This conflict was conceptualized in class terms two decades ago; today it is increasingly conceptualized in ethnoracial terms. My analysis of the racialization of this conflict allows me to examine the changing ways in which the links between race, class, and social inequality are imagined by Brazilian elites and non-elites. I use the framework that I develop in this ethnographic analysis to compare a wide variety of literature and data on Brazil and the United States.

By contributing to and critiquing the comparative literature on Brazil and the United States, this paper also aims to help to push forward a comparative anthropology of inequality and political identification.

Sean T. Mitchell is assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, Newark. His ethnographic work focuses on social inequality, ethnicity, violence, governance, citizenship, and technoscience in contemporary Brazil and the United States.


Sean T. Mitchell

Rutgers University

A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm