Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology

By Sally Cole | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Fieldwork in Brazil

"WE HAD HEARD that the large Negro population lived with ease and freedom among the general population, and we wanted to know the details. We wanted also to know how the interracial situation differed from our own.” This was the way Landes later chose to explain the original motivation behind her Brazilian research (1947:1). Like other American social scientists, she had been attracted by Gilberto Freyre's description of Brazil as a racial democracy in his landmark book Casa grande e senzala (The Masters and the Slaves). Published in 1933, the book had made an extraordinary and immediate impact on scholarship and public opinion in both Brazil and the United States, and the idea that Brazil was a racial democracy was then widely accepted. African American activists such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois pointed to race relations in Brazil as a model for the United States. Anthropologists, who would later disclaim it as a myth, at that time hailed racial democracy as a fundamentally modern idea (Fry 2002; Wagley 1979:5—6).

Freyre (1901—87), a white sociologist from Recife, in the state of Pernambuco, whose elite family had strong links to Portugal and whose cousin had been the state governor, had studied with Franz Boas at Columbia University in the early 1920s. The distinction Boas made between race and culture had enabled Freyre to declare the emergence of a new society in Brazil based on what he saw as the harmonious mixing of African, European, and indigenous peoples. This new society signaled the eventual disappearance, through assimilation and "whitening, ” of African Brazil, which, Freyre suggested, could be studied by ethnologists as a "disappearing” culture—much like Native Americans were then studied by American anthropologists.

Following the remarkable success of The Masters and the Slaves,

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Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Ruth Landes - A Life in Anthropology *
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations *
  • Series Editors' Introduction *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction *
  • Part One - Beginnings *
  • Chapter One - Immigrant Daughter *
  • Chapter Two - New Woman *
  • Chapter Three - Student at Columbia *
  • Part Two - Apprenticeship in Native American Worlds *
  • Prologue *
  • Chapter Four - Maggie Wilson and Ojibwa Women's Stories *
  • Chapter Five - Lusty Shamans in the Midwest *
  • Part Three - She-Bull in Brazil's China Closet *
  • Prologue *
  • Chapter Six - Fieldwork in Brazil *
  • Chapter Seven - Writing Afro-Brazilian Culture in New York *
  • Chapter Eight - The Early Ethnography of Race and Gender *
  • Conclusion - Life and Career *
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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