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Level 7

7AASM038 Brazilian Populism, Culture and the State: Vargas and Beyond

Module Credits: 20 credits
Module Tutor: Professor David Treece
Assessment: 5,000 word essay (100%)
Teaching arrangements: 1 x 2hr weekly seminar

No knowledge of Portuguese is required to take this module, although for readers of Portuguese the English bibliography is supplemented with additional reading as appropriate.

Module description

Brazilian Populism, Culture and the State explores the relationship between cultural and artistic expression and the state as it developed during the 1930-45 regime of Getúlio Vargas. It therefore addresses a crucial, formative moment in Brazil’s modern cultural history, when most of today’s key assumptions about the relationship between popular culture, race and nation were forged.

The module begins by examining the incorporation of popular culture into the Estado Novo’s nationalist project, focusing particularly on the cases of samba and carnival. It then explores the revisionist approaches to racial thinking, in particular to the post-Abolition role of Afro-Brazilians and their cultures within the nation, as associated with Gilberto Freyre, and their relationship to emergent forms of autonomous black self-organisation. Alternative and conflicting representations of Afro-Brazilian identity and experience in the 1930s and 40s are examined through a variety of popular song recordings. Finally, the responses of literary writers to the populist project, in particular to the questions of class identity and struggle, the ideology of work, and the relationship between socially and politically committed art and dictatorship, are explored in the work of Jorge Amado, Patricia Galvão, Graciliano Ramos and Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Module aims

  • Provide an understanding of the cultural ramifications of Vargas’s New State and its modernising project.
  • Explore the relationship between populist ideology, national-populism as a political project, and the Brazilian state’s shifting attitude to popular culture from the 1930s onwards.
  • Compare Gilberto Freyre’s revisionist understanding of the Afro-Brazilian legacy to the modern nation, with black self-representation in the political and cultural spheres.
  • Examine several competing representations of Afro-Brazilian cultural identity within samba composition and performance of the period, in relation to official values of work, nation and family.
  • Compare the ways in which some major novelists and poets of the period imagined alternatives to the official rhetoric and self-representation of the New State, by exploring the crisis of the patriarchal ancien régime, class oppression, proletarian revolution and art as a model for creative labour.

Primary texts

  • Daryle Williams, Culture Wars in Brazil: the First Vargas Regime, 1930-45 (Duke University Press, 2001)
  • Robert M. Levine, Father of the Poor? Vargas and his era (Cambridge University Press, 1998)
  • Hermano Vianna, The Mystery of Samba: popular music and national identity in Brazil (University of North Carolina, 1999)
  • Bryan McCann, Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil (Duke University Press, 2004)
  • Lisa Shaw, The Social History of the Brazilian Samba (Ashgate, 1999)
  • Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves (Alfred Knopf, 1964)
  • Michael George Hanchard, Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988. (Princeton University Press, 1998)
  • Kim D. Butler, Freedoms given, freedoms won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition São Paulo and Salvador (Rutgers, 1998)
  • Jorge Amado, The Violent Land (Terras do Sem Fim) and Captains of the Sands (Capitães da Areia) (Avon, 1988)
  • Patrícia Galvão (Pagu), Parque Industrial (Mercado Aberto, 1994)/ Industrial Park (University of Nebraska Press, 1993)
  • Graciliano Ramos, Barren Lives (trans. of Vidas Secas) (Univ. Texas, 1965)
  • Thomas Colchie and Mark Strand (eds.), Travelling in the Family: selected poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade) (Random House, 1986)
  • M.Gonzalez and D.Treece, The Gathering of Voices. The 20th Century Poetry of Latin America (Verso 1992)


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