Accepted paper:

The vanishing Soul of the Brazilian People ? Notes on the ritualization of identities.


Benoît de L' Estoile (CNRS, Ecole normale supérieure PSL)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the notion of « ritualization of identity" by looking at how practices once conceived as« Brazilian Popular Culture », embodiying the "Soul of the Brazilian People" are being rechristened in the language of cultural difference to mark off distinct collective identities.

Paper long abstract:

The paper explores the notion of « ritualization of identity" to account for processes of exoticization and self-exoticization. "Brazilian popular culture", has been during the 20th century an important vector in the ritualization of national identity, in museums, in national campaigns for folklore or in the promotion of immaterial heritage. The "Soul of the Brazilian People", was epitomized by spectacular cultural practices such as carnival and samba music in Rio de Janeiro, or artefacts like the Caruaru terracota figurines made in the Northeastern State of Pernambuco. Such practices, constructed as symbols of collective identities at various levels (local, regional, national), have been instrumental in processes of ritualization of identity, both in forms of identification first defined from the outside, and in their reappropriation by those involved. On the wake of the 1988 Constitution, « popular culture » have, by contrast, been identified as expressions of collective identities in the language of cultural difference,, associated with claims of new collective rights granted in virtue of difference. In Brazil, the ritualization of distinctive collective identities often leads to stress the more 'exotic' elements, that reinforce the distinctive character of a 'group' both for its members and for outsiders. Processes of ritualization of identity are associated to claims: of a sense of pride based on belonging or of collective identity opening up to entitlements. Anthropology has been involved in this process: in codifying specific cultural practices, in offering resources for identification, and sometimes in contributing to practices of official recognition of new identities.

panel G22
Exoticisation, self-exoticisation: agency, identity and transformation