Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor and Chair, Sociology and Anthropology, University of Richmond

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 1999
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Duke University
Rewards of Resistance: Legal Rights, Memory, and Ethnic Identity among Indians and Descendants of Fugitive Slaves in Northeastern Brazil

My project focuses on the struggle for new legally-guaranteed land rights by a community of descendants of fugitive slaves (quilombo) and a neighboring Indian community in the backlands (sertao) of the state of Sergipe on the banks of the Sao Francisco River. I have chosen Sergipe because it is home to Mocambo, one of the few recognized survivals of quilombo communities in Brazil, and its neighboring village, a community ofXoc6 Indians, who won tribal recognition in 1979 and land rights in 1991. I will move between these two communities, observe their boundary-marking practices and history, and attend to the ways in which they see each other as different and yet related. In this way, my project will improve our understanding of the layering of kinship ties and the folding together of old and new identities. It will ask how the operation of law inspires, and provides opportunities for, efforts by activists to pursue rights for landless peasants and rural workers. Why and with what consequences has the struggle for land become predicated upon the construction of ethnic identity? My working hypothesis is that even the instrumental use of law can have unanticipated consequences for people's self­representations about their identities, their positions within local communities, as well as vis-a-vis the larger Brazilian society; while at the same time changing the meaning of the law and the legal categories it creates. To what extent is the memory of the process of ethnic change itself being incorporated into life experience? Moreover, how can we assess the fit between the values and interests of a political regime, as concretized in administrative practice, with the laws and policies that are enunciated through legislative enactment? As we begin to understand how the meaning of law is molded and remolded, we can illuminate the tensions, both historical and current, that accompany Brazilian policy decisions concerning issues of pluralism, democracy, and the nature of citizenship.