Cultural Anthropology of Brazil

Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Cultural Anthropology of Brazil

  • Host University

    Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina

  • Location

    Florianópolis, Brazil

  • Area of Study

    Animal Science, Anthropology, Brazilian Culture, Gender Studies, History, International Studies, Latin American Studies, Sociology

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview


    The course seeks to introduce students to the study of Cultural Anthropology, discussing its main schools of thought and the conceptual and methodological frameworks that have marked the history of the discipline. Special emphasis will be given to the concept of culture and its bearing on Brazilian society.

    • To acquire a broad perspective on anthroplogy as a discipline in the field of the humanities.
    • Gain knowledge and insight into the diveresity of theoretical and methodological approaches in anthropology.
    • Understand central anthropological concepts of culture, society, relativism, ethnocentrism, structure, symbols, rituals.;
    • Relate the learning of anthroplogical perspectives to the understanding of Brazilian Culture and Society.


    Part I - Introduction to Anthropology

    Class 1: What is Anthropology?

    Introduction to the course: the approach of anthropology to human relations.

    • Objectives - Have students present their expectations, previous knowledge and impressions on the discipline.
    • Activities - Round of introductions; presentation of course outline: literature, aims, problems, activities and methods of assessment.

    Class 2: The idea of "mankind" and the concept of culture

    The idea of culture and the idea of mankind; nature and culture; universality and contingence in cultural configurations: content and form; the anthropological form of knowledge

    • Objectives - Understanding the concept of culture in relation to the concept of man.
    • Activities - Lecture
    • Reading - Geertz, Clifford. 1973. "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man." In: The Interpretation of Cultures. Pp. 33-54.

    Part II - Historical Foundations of Anthropological Theory

    Class 3: Nineteenth Century Evolutionism

    The rise of Evolutionism in European thought; the "laws" of history; anthropology and colonialism; the relationship between human universality and cultural difference in the XIX century.

    • Objectives - Understanding the historical context for the emergence of Anthropology as a scientific discipline.
    • Activities - Regular Lecture; Video exhibition: "Trance and Dance in Bali" (by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson); debate: body and mind, emotions and concepts: "trance" states from an anthropological perspective.
    • Reading - McGee & Warms (2008) "Introduction"; "Nineteen Century Evolutionism"; In: Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History. Pp. 8 - 11; 28 - 42. Complementary reading: Frazer, James (1925). Chapter 3: "Sympathetic Magic" In: The Golden Bough. A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: The Macmillan Company.

    Class 4: Fieldtrip to the Marque Museum of Ethnology and Archeology of the Federal University of Santa Catarina. Students will learn about the pre-colonial occupation of the state:from the ancient Sambaquis to the Guarani and Jê indigenous peoples.

    Class 5: Sociological Thought and its Impact in Anthropology

    The foundations of Sociology: the work of Emile Durkheim and its relation with XIX century evolutionary ideas; The synchronic paradigm: society is sui generis; the concept of social fact; the work of Marcel Mauss: gift-exchange as "total social fact."

    • Objectives - Understanding the fundaments of Sociological thought and its impact on the discipline of Anthropology.
    • Activities - Lecture
    • Reading - McGee & Warms (2008) "The Foundations of Sociological Thought"; Durkheim; Durkheim and Mauss; Mauss in McGee & Warms (2008) Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History. Pp. 69-102.

    Part III - Culture Theory in the Early XX Century

    Class 6: Historical Particularism: the work of Franz Boas
    The work of Franz Boas; historical diffusionism: culture's irreducibility to universal laws; the possibility of parallel institutional developments in different historical circumstances; multiple causalities in cultural formations.

    • Objectives - Comprehending shifts of paradigm in Anthropology: the critique to evolutionism's main premises and the Historical Particularism school.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and screening/discussion of "Strangers Abroad: Franz Boas."
    • Reading - McGee & Warms (2008) Historical Particularism; Boas; In: Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Pp. 116 - 128; 135-140.

    Class 7: American Cultural Anthropology: the "Culture and Personality" School

    Cultural and behavioral patterns; the types of personalities endorsed or constrained in cultural configurations; the work of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.

    • Objectives - Understanding and gaining insight into the perspective of cultural relativism.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and screening/discussion of Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa."
    • Reading - McGee & Warms (2008) Culture and Personality; Mead; Benedict. In Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Pp. 204 - 219.

    Class 8: British Social Anthropology and the Functionalist School

    Durkheimian echoes: the idea of "function" in Anthropology; social organization, social institutions; kinship; the method of fieldwork and the native's point of view. The work of Malinowski and Radcliff-Brown.

    • Objectives - Understanding and gaining insight into the formation of British Social Anthropology and the notion of "function" in anthropology.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and screening/discussion of BBC's "Tales from the Jungle: Malinowski."
    • Reading - McGee & Warms (2008) Functionalism; Malinowski; Radcliff-Brown in Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Pp. 159 - 190.

    Class 9: British Social Anthropology and the Functionalist School

    The work of Evans Pritchard; societies as holistic structures; culture as symbolic ordering; cosmologies and moralities: magic, witchcraft, politics, local ideas of causality and their internal logic.

    • Objectives - Understanding and gaining insight into the formation of British Social Anthropology; gaining familiarity with ethnographic texts and the anthropological interpretation of different symbolic systems.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and screening/discussion of "Strangers Abroad: Evans-Pritchard."
    • Reading - Evans-Pritchard, E. "Chapter II - The Notion of Witchcraft Explains Unfortunate Events", In: Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Pp. 18-32.

    Part IV - Anthropological Theory at the aftermath of WWII

    Class 10: Claude Lévi-Strauss and the School of Structuralism

    Structuralism: the unvarying principles of the human mind; the imperative for order and classification; Linguistics and Anthropology: the diachronic and the synchronic; myth and meaning; the nexus between society and culture from the structuralist perspective.

    • Objectives - Understanding structuralism and the critique to the functionalist paradigm: resettling the terms of the nature / culture, universal / particular equation.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and screening/discussion of "Claude Levi-Strauss in his own Worlds."
    • Reading - McGee and Warms (2008) Structuralism; Levi-Strauss Linguistics and Anthropology In Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Pp. 324 - 337.

    Class 11: Anthropology and Gender

    Gender as cultural category; gender and sexuality; gender and power relations; habitus: the cultural yielding of gender sensibilities.

    • Objectives - Understanding gender relations from an anthropological perspective.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and discussion.
    • Reading - McGee and Warms (2008) Anthropology and Gender; Ortner; Slocum In Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Pp. 346 - 359; 432 - 443.

    Class 12: Interpretive Anthropology: the question of Symbols and Meaning

    What is a symbol? How do symbols operate in culture? Symbols as vehicles of worldmaking; symbols and the senses; the anthropological analysis of symbols; sacred symbols, ethos and worldview.

    • Objectives - Understanding Interpretive Anthropology and its approach to symbols through the work of Clifford Geertz
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and debate: what key symbols can you identify in your native cultural context? How are these symbols articulated in meaningful systems?
    • Reading - Geertz, Clifford (1973). "Deep play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight." In Geertz, C. The Interpretation of Cultures, Pp. 412 - 453.

    Class 13: Fieldtrip 2: Visit to the indigenous village of the Guarani-Mbyá in Biguaçú, Santa Catarina

    "Being Indian" today: how do Indigenous people live in contemporary Brazil? How do they deal with expectations of authenticity upon them? How do they relate to modern mass media technologies? What is their familiar, religious and political life like nowadays?

    • Objectives - Have students experience the life-world of a contemporary indigenous people in Brazil.
    • Activities - Ethnographic exercise: students are instructed to observe, investigate and elaborate upon the topic of cultural transformation and continuity: what does it mean to be an Indian today? Students will write an essay based on that ethnographic experience.

    Class 14:  Interpretive Anthropology: Anthropological Perspectives on "Ritual"

    The work of Victor Turner. What is a ritual? What can rituals accomplish? Symbols in rituals; the notion of ritual performance; rituals effecting social-cultural transformation and the notion of "social drama."

    • Objectives - Understanding Interpretive Anthropology and the symbolic-performative approach to rituals through the work of Victor Turner.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and discussion.
    • Reading - Turner, Victor (1967). "Symbols in Ndembu Ritual", In McGee and Warms (2008) Anthropological Theory. An Introductory History, Pp. 493 - 510.

    Part V - Contemporary Anthropological Approaches to Culture, Power and Globalization

    Class 15: The post-modern critique to Anthropology: the Power-Knowledge Nexus

    The power-knowledge entanglement; anthropology and colonialism; the critique to culture as bounded, discrete entities; ethnographic authority and its perils; anthropologistnatives relations: the politics of knowledge-making.

    • Objectives - Comprehending the postmodern critique to traditional Anthropological methods and assertions.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation, and discussion.
    • Reading - Clifford, James. 1983. "On Ethnographic Authority", Representations, No. 2., pp. 118 - 146.

    Class 16: The Anthropology of Globalization

    Cultural dimensions of globalization; flow and closure: cultural massification vs. differentiation; electronic mass media, migration and the formation of supraterritorial forms of identity; imagination and subjectivity; the production of locality in global contexts.

    • Objectives - Understanding anthropological approaches to globalization dynamics
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and debate: is cultural massification the necessary fate of globalization processes?
    • Reading - Appadurai, Arjun (1996) "Here and Now"; "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy" In Appadurai, A., Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis: Minnesota. Pp. 1 - 47.

    Class 17: The Anthropology of Religion

    Religion, media and mediation; religious aesthetics: "grammars of sensing"; materiality in religious life-worlds; religion, politics and the public sphere: the secularization debate today; religious traditions in Brazil.

    • Objectives - Understanding current anthropological approaches to religion, the body and the senses.
    • Activities - Lecture, seminar presentation and review of course content.
    • Reading - Meyer, Birgit (2006) Religious sensations. Why Media, Aesthetics and Power Matter in the Study of Contemporary Religion. Inaugural lecture for the chair of Cultural Anthropology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Bakker, Andre (2013) "Shapes of Culture and the Sacred Surplus: Heritage Formation and Conversion to Pentecostal Christianity among the Pataxo Indians", Material Religion vol. 9 (3): 304-327.

    Class 18: Final Paper Writing Workshop

    This last class is intended to aid students in the process of writing their individual papers. Each student will be asked to send his/her draft to a colleague in advance. Working in pairs, students will read and comment on each other's papers, articulating doubts they may find concerning the theories and concepts discussed, and helping each other in formulating their arguments and interpretations.


    Attendance and participation are essential to the objectives of this course. Participation in class discussions and oral presentations is an integral part of the course methods of assessment, as are written assignments and evaluations. This course sets out to enable students to undergo a fieldwork research of their own choice during their stay in Florianópolis. Through such experience, students will be taught to reflect and elaborate upon central contrasts and convergences between their native cultural context and the Brazilian one, to identify and comprehend global dimensions of Brazilian identity and its manifold regional expressions, and to make sense of central anthropological concepts (such as culture, religion, ritual, kinship, symbols, etc.) via concrete living situations. Students will be expected to submit a written paper on a chosen topic by the end of the semester as well as give one presentation on one of the topics covered.


    The final course grade is constructed as follows:
    Attendance: 10%
    The student´s full attendance and his/her punctuality in both class and extra-class activities are essential to the learning objectives of the course and will be evaluated, amounting to 10% of his/her final mark.
    Participation in class: 25%
    This course privileges dialogic classes over the classic lecture model. Students are therefore expected to have an active participation in class - asking questions, making comments on the texts and overall materials analyzed in the course, and partaking in the proposed discussions. Every student's participation will be evaluated, amounting to 25% of his/her final mark
    Presentation: 25%
    Students are required to prepare an oral presentation on one of the topics covered by the course. Although this is not mandatory, it is advisable that students present on the same topic they will address in their written paper (so they can receive feedback from class and incorporate it in their writing). Students may elaborate on topics of their own choice - insofar as it be relatable to the course literature, themes and class discussions. The presentation will amount to 25% of the student´s final mark.
    Final Paper: 40%
    The paper will be assessed according to the following criteria:
    • Writing style: the paper is clearly written, arguments are well defined and built in an articulate manner.
    • Analysis: the paper presents a well-formulated problem, and addresses it in relation to the course material and discussions.
    • Creativity: the paper presents original thoughts, articulates interesting questions and relations between concepts/theories.
    • Reflection: the paper demonstrates the student's capacity to reflect on his/her earlier assumptions about Brazil and Brazilian culture and to evaluate his/her own (cultural) learning process.

    75% of class attendance is required. In case of an injury or sickness the absence of the student will not count if he presents a medical certificate. In this context, the classroom assignments shall be sent via e-mail to him/her. When the student returns to class, the professor is instructed to pay extra attention to him/her in the process of catching up with the class.

    Possibility of dropping or adding classes: Please note that courses are determined prior to the student's arrival on-site.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations