by Jessica Chelekis


Using a Weberian taxonomy, Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira identified three distinct historical phases of anthropology in Brazil: the heroic period (1900s – 1940s-ish), the charismatic period (1940s-ish – 1970s) and the bureaucratic period (1970s – present) (Corrêa 1991).  Cardoso de Oliveira characterizes the heroic period as a time in which those anthropologists who were later revered and mythologized (Claude Levi-Strauss and Curt Nimuendaju, for example) were in their heyday, pioneering great ethnographic works in the anthropological frontier. In between the charismatic and bureaucratic periods came the formation of anthropology as a professional discipline in Brazil, marked by the establishment of graduate programs at the National Museum (at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Campinas State University, and at the University of Brasília (Corrêa 1991).

I will examine the trends in themes and theories in Brazilian anthropology in Cardoso de Oliveira’s bureaucratic period, from the 1970s to the present.  For the purposes of this discussion I define “Brazilian anthropology” as anthropology carried out by Brazilian scholars, excluding “Brazilianists” from other countries. While non-Brazilian anthropologists have exerted a great deal of influence over the establishment and ongoing formation of anthropology as a discipline in Brazil, I will leave the discussion on their contribution for the third assignment on social, political, and ideological processes. The sections of this work are organized by decade, and I identify the major trends in topics and theoretical approaches for each. In addition, I include a list of important authors and major works for that decade. Some of these works are included as the major influential publications for the decade; others represent particular manifestations of the trends for that particular period. All of the authors listed are prominent scholars in Brazilian anthropology.

The 1970s

Research on indigenous peoples in Brazil has been and continues to be a staple of Brazilian anthropology. Throughout the 1970s, the indigenous group of choice was the Gê, located in the states of Mato Grosso and São Paulo, in central Brazil. The main topics of consideration for those researching indigenous groups were various manifestations of contact: governmental relationships and policies with indigenous groups, the demarcation of Indian lands, and the role of the military in the frontier areas (Peirano 2005).Studies on peasant populations began to emerge in this decade, as did urban anthropology, spear- headed by Gilberto Velho. Initially, urban anthropology was greeted with remarkable resistance from more established and traditional anthropologists (Reis et al. 1997).

Levi-Strauss’s structuralism was the most popular theoretical approach at this time, as embodied by Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira’s theory of “inter-ethnic friction” in the 1960s—that is, contact between indigenous groups. In the 1970s he continued to elaborate upon this work, influencing other Brazilian anthropologists at this time by increasing the popularity of structuralist approaches (Corrêa 1991; Peirano 2005). Roberto DaMatta explored the general nature of fieldwork and put forth the concept of “anthropological blues” as a facet of anthropological research (1973). A theoretical debate on “researching the familiar” occurred among Brazilian anthropologists, while at the same time a discussion ensued with the international community on native anthropologists and the study of “one’s own society” (Peirano 2005)


Important authors and their influential/representative works for this decade:

Cardoso de Oliveira, Roberto

1978       A Sociologia do Brasil Indígena. Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro.

DaMatta, Roberto

1973a     Ensaios de Antropologia Estrutural. Petrópolis: Vozes.

1973b     O ofício de etnólogo ou como ter “anthropological blues.” Comunicações do PPGAS 1. Rio de Janeiro: MN/UFRJ.


Melatti, Julio Cezar

1970       Índios do Brasil. Brasília: Coordenada/INL.

Velho, Gilberto

1973       A Utopia Urbana: Um Estudo de Antropologia Social. Rio de Janeiro: J. Zahar.

1978       Observando o familiar. In A Aventura Sociológica. Edited by E. Nunes, Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, pp. 36-46.

The 1980s

In studies on indigenous populations, research among the Tupi increased after its disappearance in ethnology in the 1960s, and studies on the Gê continued with a new generation of researchers. Research among peasant communities also remained prominent, and urban anthropology overcame the resistance it met in the previous decade (Peirano 2005; Reis et al.1997; Corrêa 2003). In fact, during the 1980s, urban anthropology became the hot topic in Brazil, expanding to focus on themes such as the elderly, gender issues, poverty, prostitution, and popular music (Peirano 2005; Oliven 1989). In the 1980s there was an increasing trend in conducting research outside of Brazil, but most of this research took the form of studying Brazilian and Portuguese populations overseas, especially in the U.S., and among social groups within former colonies of Portugal (Peirano 2005).

Theoretical developments in the United States began to show a stronger influence in the 1980s, layering over the well-established French influence of structuralism in Brazilian anthropology. Gilberto Velho imported symbolic interactionism into his urban studies, and Clifford Geertz became immensely popular among this generation of anthropologists (Peirano 1997, 2005; DaMatta 1993). In keeping with international postmodernist trends, Brazilian anthropologists began to turn their research inquires on themselves, by way of investigating science as a “manifestation of modernity” (Peirano 2005; Oliven 1989). However, the postmodern crisis that caused a lot of hand-wringing among anthropologists in the northern hemisphere did not have the same effect in Brazil, where anthropologists remained essentially optimistic about the potential new directions for the discipline (Peirano 2005).

Important authors and their influential/representative works for this decade:

DaMatta, Roberto (again)

1984       O Que Faz o Brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara.

1985       A Casa e a Rua. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Brasiliense.


Lima, Roberto Kant

1985       A Antropologia da Academia: Quando os Índios Somos Nós. PetrópolisÇ Vozes.


Velho, Gilberto (again)

1981       Individualismo e Cultura. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar.

1986       Subjetividade e Sociedade: Uma Experiência de Geração. Rio de Janeiro: J. Zahar.

The 1990s

The new trend in indigenous studies for the 1990s was, curiously enough, kinship systems. Peirano (2005) explains that while kinship systems is a classic topic in anthropology, Brazilian anthropologists did not really become interested in this area until now (Peirano 2005). Research focusing on native’s perspectives of politics also grew in popularity at this time. Urban anthropology continued to thrive, in its multiple “modern” manifestations. Brazilian anthropologists were still enamored with themselves, producing a large number of works about the discipline and biographies on prominent scholars (DaMatta 1993; Peirano 2005; Corrêa 1991). Out of this trend, Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira and Guillermo Ruben began a large-scale research project in the mid-1990s on national styles of anthropology, focusing on “peripheral” anthropologies and their relationship with anthropology from the “center” (Corrêa 1991). A significant number of ruminations on teaching anthropology in Brazil were published in the 1990s as well (Peirano 2005).

Meanwhile, following DaMatta’s lead from the previous decade, Brazilian anthropologists increasingly conducted research outside of Brazil, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Cape Verde Islands, among others (Peirano 2005). These projects tended to focus on topics such as racial prejudice, comparative studies of colonial experiences, national projects for creole subgroups, and analyses of hierarchy and individualism. In 1980, the first female anthropologist was elected as president of the Brazilian Anthropological Association, which was also the first election held after the end of the military dictatorship, when the association was able to resume its normal role (Corrêa 1991).

Psychoanalysis theories infiltrated Brazilian anthropology around this time, resulting in a full-fledged research program pioneered by Luis Duarte (Peirano 2005; Oliven 1989). Language and power in nation-building and people-environmental relationships were two theoretical approaches deployed by those working outside of Brazil among those conducting research in the regions mentioned above. In the 1990s Brazilian anthropologists debated with non-Brazilian scholars (mostly French) on the political participation of anthropologists with the indigenous groups they studied, and the question, which remains to this day, was raised: Is our [Brazilians’] difference others’ exoticism?” (Peirano 2005) [emphasis in the original].

Important authors and their influential/representative works for this decade:

Fry, Peter

1991       Politicamente correto em um lugar, incorreto em outro. Estudos Afro-Asiáticos 21: 167-77.


Duarte, Luis F. Dias

1990       A representação do nervoso na cultura literária e sociológica. Anuário Antropológico/87: 93-116.


Montero, Paula

1995       Tendências da pesquisa antropológica no Brasil. In O Ensino da Antropologia. Rio de Janeiro: ABA.

Ramos, Alcida

1998       Indigenism: Ethnic Politics in Brazil. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo

1994       Une mauvaise querelle. L’Homme 34:181-91.

1995       Pensando o parentesco ameríndio. In Antropologia do Parentesco: Estudos Ameríndios. Edited by Eduardo Viveiros. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ.


Zaluar, Alba

1993       Relativismo cultural na cidade? Anuário Antropológico/90: 137-56.

The 2000s

Indigenous, rural, and urban anthropological topics are all still actively pursued to this day, while globalization, international and supra-national topics have become extremely popular (Peirano 2005). Gender issues, initially emerging in the 1990s, are now well-established topics in almost every area of study in Brazil, but particularly in urban and middle-class settings. Correspondingly, feminist theory appears more and more in Brazilian scholarly journals (Reis et al. 2003). The Brazilian penchant for reflexivity has culminated in turning sociological production into an anthropological problem (Peirano 2005).

Important and emerging authors and their works:

Bianco, Bela Feldman

2001       Brazilians in Portugal, Portuguese in Brazil: construction of sameness and difference. Identities 8 (4): 607-650.

Corrêa, Mariza

2003       Antropólogas e Antropologia. Belo Horizonte: Editoral UFMG.

Góes Filho, Paulo

2003       O Clube das Nações. A Missão do Brasil na ONU e o Mundo da Diplomacia Parlamentar. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará.

Grossi, Miriam

2003       Gênero e parentesco: famílias gays e lésbicas no Brasil. Cadernos Pagu 21: 261-280.

Leite Lopes, José Sérgio

2004       A Ambientalização dos Conflitos. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará.


Mariza Peirano (2005:18), in arguing for an anthropology that transcends all sorts of boundaries, states that “...while there is a living anthropology in Brazil, there is not of necessity a “Brazilian anthropology.’ ” Yet Peirano appears to have established herself as the resident historian of Brazilian anthropology; to deny the existence of the national tradition that she built her dissertation around may seem a bit odd.  However, Peirano’s assertion neatly sums up a current theoretical trend in Brazil, an approach that emphasizes an explicit understanding of difference among anthropologists in the international arena (Peirano 2005).

Appendices: Additional Snapshots into the History of Brazilian Anthropology

History of the Brazilian Anthropological Association: Biannual Meetings, Locations, and Board




President, Secretary and Treasurer



São Paulo


Não houve eleição de uma nova diretoria, por falta de quorum adequado.




December 1974

Thales de Azevedo, Yonne de Freitas Leite e Wagner Neves da Rocha.




February 1976

René Ribeiro, Yonne de Freitas Leite e Wagner Neves da Rocha.




May 1978

Luiz de Castro Faria, Yonne de Freitas Leite e Alba Zaluar.



Rio de Janeiro

July 1980

Eunice Ribeiro Durham, Antônio Augusto Arantes e Peter Fry.



São Paulo

Abril 1982

Gilberto Cardoso Alves Velho, Roque de Barros Laraia e Rosilene B. Alvim.




Abril 1984

Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, Pedro Agostinho e Marisa Veloso.




March 1986

Maria Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, Ruben George Oliven e Carmem C. Macedo.




March 1988

Antônio Augusto Arantes, Guita G. Debert e Márcia R. Costa.




April 1990

Roque Laraia, Lia Zanotta Machado e Luis Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira.



Belo Horizonte

April 1992

Silvio Coelho dos Santos, Claudia Fonseca e Cecília Vieira Helm.




March 1994

João Pacheco de Oliveira, Mariza Peirano, Rosilene B. Alvim e Eliane Cantarino O'Dwyer.




April 1996

Mariza Correa, Yonne de Freitas Leite, Marcio Ferreira da Silva e Fernanda Arêas Peixoto.




Abril 1998

Yonne de Freitas Leite, Ruben George Oliven, Regina Celia Reyes Novaes e Sandra Maria Correa de Sá Carneiro.

1998/ 2000



July 2000

Ruben George Oliven, Guita Grin Debert, Maria Eunice Maciel, Ceres Victora, Ari Pedro Oro e Ilka Boaventura Leite.




June 2002

Gustavo Lins Ribeiro, Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima, Henyo Trindade Barretto Filho, Carla Coelho Andrade, Carla Costa Teixeira e Manuel de Lima Filho.




June 2004

Miriam Pillar Grossi, Peter Fry, Cornelia Eckert


Source: ABA website,


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