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Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions

Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil, Second Edition

Richard G. Parker

Publication Year: 2009

Originally published in the early 1990s, Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions quickly became a classic ethnographic study of the social, cultural and historical construction of sexuality and sexual diversity. Drawing on extensive field research and interviews, together with the analysis of historical and literary texts, anthropologist Richard Parker mapped out the multiple cultural systems that structure gender, sexuality, and erotic practices in Brazil, and helped to open up a new wave of social science research on sexuality. Using ethnographic methods focusing on sexual meanings as an alternative to traditional surveys of sexual behavior, Parker argues that sexual life can only be fully understood through an analysis of the cultural logics that shape experience. Drawing on the tradition of interpretive anthropology, he focuses on the diverse sexual scripts that have been articulated in Brazilian culture and examines the often contradictory ways in which these scripts shape the sexual experience of different individuals. He highlights the sexual socialization of children and young people, and the changing sexual realities of adults living in a rapidly changing world. He underlines the ways in which complex cultural forms such as carnaval can be understood as stories that Brazilians tell themselves about themselves and about the meaning of sexuality in contemporary Brazilian life. The 1991 book was the winner of the Ruth Benedict Prize from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xx

Since the original publication of Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil in 1991, there has been a veritable explosion in social research on sexuality. From a relatively limited field, dominated primarily by biomedical and sexological research, the study of sexuality has in recent years expanded rapidly across a wide range of social sciences. Signs of...

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Acknowledgments and A Note on Translations

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pp. xxi-xxiv

My field research in Brazil has been supported at various points by grants from the Tinker Foundation and the Center for Latin American Studies; by a Robert H. Lowie Scholarship from the Department of Anthropology, a Traveling Fellowship in International Relations, and two Graduate Humanities Research grants, all from the University of California, Berkeley; as well as...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-7

This is a book about Brazilian sexual culture. It focuses, above all else, on the question of diversity, and on the social and historical construction of sexual diversity in Brazilian culture. It is clearly situated, then, within a wider understanding of sexual life that has begun to emerge over a number of years and within a variety of different disciplines: a sense that sexual...

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2. Myths of Origin

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pp. 8-33

I still remember being struck, during one of my first trips to Brazil, by the comments of a Brazilian friend. It was an unusually hot day, even for Rio, and the late afternoon sun was shining through the western window of the room where we sat. We had eaten a late lunch and were now discussing my plans for field research during the coming year. My friend had...

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3. Men and Women

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pp. 34-75

As important as their myths of origin have been to modern Brazilians seeking to interpret their own cultural history and to give meaning to their contemporary sexual existence, they are obviously incomplete: they rely on a wider range of concepts drawn from at least partially distinct domains of cultural reality. This is especially true in their use of a whole set of assumptions...

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4. Norms and Perversions

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pp. 76-110

As influential as the ideology of gender has been, it is but one among a number of possible perspectives available today for the organization of sexual life in Brazil. Throughout Brazilian history, and perhaps most clearly in the contemporary period, this relatively informal cultural system has consistently functioned alongside a set of more formal, rationalized discourses...

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5. Bodies and Pleasures

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pp. 111-152

As complex and varied as they are, the structures that define both the traditional hierarchies of gender and the more modern interpretations of sexuality do not exhaust the field of sexual meanings in Brazilian culture. On the contrary, we can point to at least one more perspective that both draws upon these discourses and situates itself in opposition to them. We might...

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6. The Carnivalization of the World

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pp. 153-183

Sin, the saying goes, does not exist beneath the equator. It is an idea that has been traced as far back as the writings of the austere Dutch historian Gaspar von Barlaeus, in his seventeenth-century chronicle Rerum per Octennium in Brasilien (Barlaeus 1980). First published in 1660, Barlaeus’s work would become a classic document of the Dutch occupation of northeast...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 184-194

Because of Brazil’s incredible complexity, it is essential to stress that this is an analysis of sexual meanings in Brazil rather than of Brazil, that it has emerged from research in heavily populated and highly developed urban centers such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where the greatest diversity could be expected to occur. Without losing sight of this specific context...

Appendix 1: Notes on Field Research

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pp. 195-198

Appendix 2: Informants Cited in the Text

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pp. 199-201


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pp. 203-210


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pp. 211-224


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pp. 225-231

E-ISBN-13: 9780826516763
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516756
Print-ISBN-10: 0826516750

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2009