Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Leaving Bahia (for now)

This year+ experience in Brazil has been extremely rewarding and important for me to revise and rethink previous notions I had regarding Brazilian academia and how to transit within it. Not only did I lack a theoretical foundation (which I will continue to build at the University of Michgan) but also practical experience as a “gringa” within this field. I had considered the power dynamics between myself as a researcher and my subjects, but not necessarily between my academic colleagues.

Throughout my classes at CEAO and research I have become a bit baffled by the concept of Feminist Anthropology, especially in Brazil. It appears to me that nobody knows exactly what it means, yet many are chasing after it, trying to find some sort of militant discussion of gender, of women, of sexuality in order to get past common sense notions of separation and difference between the “sexes”. Yet in this field I’ve encountered politics typical of any site of power and competition for career success that do not necessarily value the production of knowledge or consensus as linked to any sort of social movement/basis.

My relationship with fellow students however has been generally positive. I found it was easiest to connect with people from my own positioning (despite my foreign nationality), my own generation and I feel we have a common interest in treating each other with kindness and respect, to help one another in producing the best work possible. I am optimistic in this respect, and have faith in the possibilities for change as we grow and seek common goals to direct academia towards living subjects and think about the consequences of representation within an educated and diverse society.

As for my ethnography, I am still in the process of preparation. My M.A. project will stick closer to historical research utilizing letters and photos that explain Landes’ fieldwork experience in Brazil, and then place her legacy within the context of Brazilian anthropology. I believe this to be a feasible task, and will expand the project further as I develop my Ph.D. research, which as of now will probably include ethnography of gender and sexuality in Afro-American religions such as candomblé.

I’ve created significant relationships within the candomblé community, not as strictly informants, but academic students themselves, friends of friends, and new acquaintances.  However, the religion itself presents many difficulties as a field of study. I believe it to be extremely important to understand the history of academia within terreiros and how they have negotiated relationships with the public over the past century. Not only are these power dynamics important to consider, but the actual functioning of the spiritual forces within candomblé present different obstacles and considerations. It’s absolutely necessary to understand how the people in the religion interpret your presence and your possible place within their cosmology as a foreigner, as a researcher. This exercise is much more delicate and at times abstract, requiring sensitivity and time to consider various perspectives in relation to your specific research objectives. Having the luxury of time (about 15 months) has allowed me to dive into these methodological questions with the intention of creating and executing a worthwhile project in the near future.

As of now, I’m off to begin my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in a joint History and Anthropology program with advisor Paul C. Johnson. I’ll return to Bahia from May – August 2014 to finish up my M.A. research and plan on continuing with this blog whenever relevant.

Oh, I’ve also been published in Portuguese, if you’re interested take a look http://www.prp.ueg.br/revista/index.php/revistahistoria/article/view/1585 .  It’s a translated and revised version of my undergraduate History thesis regarding the relationship between Edison Carneiro and Ruth Landes.

Thank you to my readers, and please keep in touch!
Grande abraço,