Archaeology, Education and Brazilian Identity

By Funari, Pedro Paulo A. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Archaeology, Education and Brazilian Identity


Funari, Pedro Paulo A., Antiquity


Key-words: Brazil, Joinville, universities, schools

It is now well accepted that archaeology and education are inextricably linked (cf.MacKenzie & Stone 1994) and that the past is often represented as mirrored by the dominant groups in a given society. The late educator Paulo Freire warned that educators 'need to use their students' cultural universe as a point of departure, enabling students to recognise themselves as possessing a specific and important cultural identity' (interview in MacLaren 1988: 224). Both education and archaeology deal thus with the manipulation of present and past to forge identities useful for people in power and archaeologists and educators have been active promoters of critical approaches. Critical pedagogy has been concerned with student experience, taking the problems and needs of the students themselves as its starting point and fighting for pedagogical empowerment (Giroux & MacLaren 1986: 234--8). Archaeologists, acknowledging that history is written by the winners (Paynter 1990: 59), are now aware that archaeological research must shift from being conducted within a simple people-to-nature to a people-to-people perspective, as proposed by Mazel (1989: 25) and, as a consequence, archaeologists must monitor the use of material culture to forge identities (Mazel & Stewart 1987: 169).

Archaeologists have been pointing out that 'silent majorities' (Beaudry et al. 1991: 175) are reflected in the material record and that archaeologists must increasingly take into account the interests of native people (Trigger 1990: 785) and of ordinary people in general (Funari 1994a). There has been a call to dismantle the univocal architecture of discourse relating to the past (Shanks & Tilley 1987a: 7), favouring pluralism and the explosion of multiple discourses about the past, including in our presentation of the past a variety of excluded subjects, thus promoting multiculturalism and empowerment (Jones 1993: 203). The focus of archaeology has shifted from elite evidence to ordinary people's material culture (Orser 1988: 314), and the consumers of archaeological knowledge have been considered no longer as consumers of history but as possible producers of history (Baker 1991: 58). Identity and class interests are at the heart of archaeologists concerns (Leone 1983: 41) and people must be encourage to think about the past and its significance to present issues (Arestizabal 1991: 13). Archaeology and education intersect particularly in museums, classrooms and textbooks and this paper deals with the use of material culture in Brazil to forge local, state and national identities by studying several cases.

Educational archaeology and Brazilian society

Brazil is a country beset by contradictions. It now boasts the tenth largest economy, almost as big, in terms of GNP, as Canada and Spain. At the same time, it has one of the most appalling maldistributions of income: the richest 20% earn 32 times more than the poorest 20%. Social exclusion of the poor -- all those looked upon as expendable, such as indigenous peoples, homosexuals, landless peasants and street children -- goes hand-in-hand with discrimination against several minorities and Brazilians of African descent, who, despite accounting for roughly half the population, are conspicuously absent from positions of power and influence (Pinheiro 1996). This is due to several causes, not least a colonial heritage of patronage and patriarchal social relations. A most aristocratic setting, prevailing for the first centuries of the country, meant that capitalism and modernity, introduced since the mid 19th century, were absorbed by the dominating hierarchical ideology and habits. In this context, Brazilian identity is as fluid as any other (Jones 1997), varying according to different social groups, social contexts and specific situations. As identity is a situational, non-essential self-definition, it would be misleading to describe general features, as they would be contradicted by specific cases. …

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