artigos e ensaios - 2005 / Mariza Peirano

A guide to anthropology in Brazil

For a long time anthropology was defined by the exoticism of its object of study and by the distance, conceived as cultural and geographical, which separated the researcher from his/her group. This situation has changed. Even (and perhaps mostly) in the socially legitimate centers of anthropological production, the ideal of an encounter with some sort of radical alterity is no longer considered an essential dimension of the anthropological perspective. Anthropology is not about an object, it is about difference.

Of course, this viewpoint has been present in the international scene since the 1960s, but it would not surface easily in the minds of anthropologists. Despite the fact that anthropology's interest had shifted from far away (the Trobrianders, the Azande, Kwakiutl, Bororo) to less exotic places (the Mediterranean countries, for example), and then to close-by settings and groups, when it really did reach "home" in some quarters it turned itself to an array of studies (cultural studies, science studies, feminist studies and so on).

In this context, by presenting the case of anthropology in Brazil I intend to indicate how difference may involve a plurality of notions which can be either chronological or simultaneous. In Brazil, though exoticism has never been an issue in itself, some dimension of alterity has and continues to be a basic trait of anthropology. Briefly, a notion of otherness involving indigenous peoples and their contact with the regional population dominated the scene up until the 1960s; in the following decades, these studies coexisted with "softer" alterities in which anthropologists turned their attention to the peasantry and then to urban contexts until, more recently, during the 1980s, their concerns began to include social scientists' intellectual careers and production. Otherness has thus shifted from a concept of distant to minimal alterity, many anthropologists having developed interests in several "alterities" over the course of their academic career. The result has been a steady incorporation of new topics and an enlargement of the discipline's research universe. Today, all these modes of conceiving alterity (indigenous peoples, urban population, peasantry, social scientists themselves and so on) live together in a pluralistic way. Leia na íntegra...