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Working with Fear

May 5, 2014 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

President’s Conference Rm 2, Rosenthal Library

Working with Fear in the Cacao Lands of Southern Bahia, Brazil

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Rural labor, southern Bahiaa, Brazil

Rural laborers in southern Bahia, Brazil

This lecture focuses on the ongoing, multigenerational struggle for emancipation among former plantation workers and other members of the rural underclass in Bahia, Brazil and their efforts to attain human equality and freedom. The experience of “fear” has often been recognized as one dimension in relations of domination and subordination. Overcoming “fear” has often been understood as a crucial step in undermining asymmetrical and pathological social relations. Drawing upon extensive ethnographic research in several squatter and land reform communities that emerged in Bahia’s cacao lands in the 1990s, this presentation focuses on the work that people do with “fear” as they engage with received social categories of “authority” and “respect.” Examining a range of evidence—including retrospective narratives about the limits of hierarchy, the work of imagining oneself acting and speaking as an equal, and refusals to participate in patriarchal and paternalistic relationships—this discussion explores the ways that members of the rural underclass seize upon and critically engage  with various dimensions of their own lives in order to transform what and who they are

Jonathan DeVore recently completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. He has been conducting long-term ethnographic and ethno-historical research in Bahia’s cacao lands since 2002. His research focuses on social inequalities and social movements; experiences of suffering, domination, and transgression; theories of “the good” and positive freedom; and problems of social and self-recognition.

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