Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Doctors, Social Scientists, and Backlands Peoples: Continuity and Change in Representations of Brazil's Rural World

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Doctors, Social Scientists, and Backlands Peoples: Continuity and Change in Representations of Brazil's Rural World

Article excerpt

Studies on the history of public health in Brazil have intensified in the past two decades, illuminating important aspects of the creation of professional groups, social representations of endemic and epidemic diseases, and the history of public health research and teaching institutions.1 One topic analyzed and still a challenge for these new studies is the role of intellectual traditions related to medical thinking and their importance in the development of the country's social and political imagination. Focusing on these traditions makes it possible to contribute simultaneously to the history of public health and the intellectual history of Latin America. This article is motivated by just such an approach. It proposes to assess changes and continuities in the construction of images of Brazil's rural population groups.

In order to do this I analyze texts composed in three distinct moments. The first group of texts was generated in the context of the movement for rural sanitation, which had a high profile in the 1910s. The second were composed during the 1930s as a part of the fieldwork promoted by the Yellow Fever Service of the Rockefeller Foundation. Finally, I look at the relationship of medical thought to one of the most recurring debates among social scientists during the 1940s and 1950s, revolving around the question of social change and development, and cultural resistance to such change. In examining key texts in Brazilian social thought, I try to reconstruct the route by which the medical representation of rural Brazil influenced subsequent texts written by social scientists that concentrated on studies of social change and the so-called "folk culture of the Brazilian backlander."

The article begins with the travel accounts by two medical doctors, Arthur Neiva and Belisario Penna, of a 1912 journey through locales in the North-east and Centre-west of Brazil. Studies of public health in the First Republic have underlined the repercussions of the ideas mobilized in these texts, especially in terms of their references to sanitation and its relevance to the process of building the nationstate (Castro Santos 1987, 2004; Hochman 1998; Lima and Hochman 1996; Lima 2007).2 The photographic images that illustrated the publications have also received the attention of historians, who have shown that they contain possibilities for multiple readings (Mello and Pires-Alves 2009; Stepan 2001; Thielen et al. 2002). Nevertheless, no systematic reading has been done of the textual contents, the nature of this source, or the style adopted by the scientists, and these are the questions I will focus on here. In terms of the perspective adopted, I relate the cognitive universe of tropical medicine to ideas of the nation--two domains generally considered in the historical literature to be unconnected. I seek to contribute in this way to a line of research oriented by similar concerns: the connections between the history of science and the history of social and political thought (Kropf 2009; Lima 1999, 2009).

As for the trips promoted by the Rockefeller Foundation, the article analyzes Julio Paternostro's book, Viagem ao Tocantins (A Trip to Tocantins; 1945). Few works mention the book, with the important exception of a 1940 analysis by sociologist Florestan Fernandes, Mudancas Sociais no Brasil (Social Change in Brazil; 1960). It is fair to say that Paternostro's text is practically unknown today, yet the ideas put forth in the book were a key element in Fernandes's first analyses of social change and what he called "cultural backwardness." Finally, I look at the theme of representations of the rural world among social scientists during the 1940s and 1950s, with an emphasis on the texts of Florestan Fernandes and Emilio Willems. This way of approaching their work reveals the constitution of a field of research characterized by the persistence of many of the same representations of rural populations that had informed the medical thinking of earlier decades. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.