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Nestor Guriev
Nestor Guriev

Laughter Out of Place: The Power and Peril of Humor in a Rio Shantytown



Laughter Out Of Place: Race, Class, Violence, And Sexuality In A Rio Shantytown




In this article, I will review the book Laughter Out Of Place: Race, Class, Violence, And Sexuality In A Rio Shantytown by Donna M. Goldstein, an anthropologist who conducted ethnographic research in a poor community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The book is part of the California Series in Public Anthropology, which aims to engage a wider audience with critical issues facing the contemporary world. Goldstein's book is a bold and courageous work that explores the tragicomic world of a bleak Brazilian favela, or shantytown, where residents use humor as a form of resistance and critique against the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality that shape their lives. The book also examines how the state and transnational processes affect the lives of the urban poor in Brazil, exposing the failures of public policies and services, the impacts of globalization and neoliberalism, and the emergence of new social movements and actors. In this article, I will summarize the main arguments and insights of each chapter, as well as provide some critical reflections on the ethnography.




Laughter Out Of Place: Race, Class, Violence, And Sexuality In A Rio Shantytown (California Series I



The Tragicomic World of a Brazilian Favela




In this section, I will discuss how Goldstein uses humor as a lens to understand the complex realities of a Brazilian favela, where laughter is often "out of place" in relation to dominant norms and expectations. I will also analyze how Goldstein reveals the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality that operate in Brazil, both historically and contemporarily.


Humor as a Form of Resistance and Critique




Goldstein begins her book with an introduction titled "Hard Laughter", where she explains how she came to use humor as one of the main themes of her ethnography. She expected to write about the state and transnational processes that affect the lives of the urban poor in Brazil, but she soon realized that humor was an integral part of her fieldwork experience. She was struck by how her informants used humor to cope with their suffering, chaos, injustice, violence, and social abandonment. She also noticed how humor was a way of expressing resistance and critique against the oppressive structures and ideologies that shape their lives. She argues that humor is a form of cultural expression that reveals the contradictions and tensions of everyday life, as well as the power relations and inequalities that underlie them. She draws on the concept of "carnivalesque" from Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary critic, who argued that carnival is a time and space where the norms and hierarchies of society are inverted, mocked, and challenged. She suggests that humor in the favela is a carnivalesque mode of communication that subverts and contests the dominant order, while also creating a sense of solidarity and belonging among the marginalized.


The Hierarchies of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Brazil




In the first chapter, titled "Laughter 'Out of Place'", Goldstein introduces the main setting and characters of her ethnography. She conducted her fieldwork in Felicidade Eterna (Eternal Happiness), a favela located in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro. She focused on the lives of Glória, a domestic worker and single mother of six children, and her extended family and friends. She describes how Glória and her kin use humor to deal with their hardships and dilemmas, such as poverty, unemployment, illness, violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia. She also shows how humor is a way of expressing their views and values, as well as challenging the stereotypes and prejudices that they face from the wider society. She argues that humor in the favela is often "out of place" because it violates the norms and expectations of the dominant culture, which is based on the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality.


In order to understand these hierarchies, Goldstein provides a historical and sociological overview of Brazil's social formation. She traces the legacy of slavery and colonialism, which created a racialized and class-based system of exploitation and oppression. She also examines the myth and reality of racial democracy, which is the idea that Brazil is a harmonious and egalitarian society where racial mixing prevails. She exposes how this myth obscures the persistent racial discrimination and inequality that affect Afro-Brazilians, who make up the majority of the poor population. She also analyzes the class struggle and social mobility in Brazil, which is marked by a huge gap between the rich and poor, as well as by limited opportunities for upward mobility. She explores how class identity and status are expressed through consumption patterns, aesthetic preferences, and moral judgments. She also discusses the gender roles and sexual norms in Brazil, which are shaped by a double standard of machismo and femininity. She illustrates how women are expected to be submissive, loyal, and nurturing, while men are expected to be dominant, adventurous, and virile. She also reveals how sexuality and violence are intertwined in Brazil, where sexual desire and pleasure are often associated with danger and aggression. She demonstrates how women are often blamed for provoking or inviting sexual violence, while men are often excused or justified for committing it.


The State and Transnational Processes in the Lives of the Urban Poor




In this section, I will discuss how Goldstein examines the role of the state and transnational processes in shaping poverty and inequality in Brazil. I will also analyze how Goldstein shows the impact of these processes on the local realities of the urban poor in Felicidade Eterna.


The Role of the State in Shaping Poverty and Inequality




In the second chapter, titled "Citizenship 'Out of Place'", Goldstein explores how the state fails to provide adequate public policies and services for the urban poor in Brazil. She argues that the state neglects or excludes the poor from its social contract, denying them basic rights and benefits such as health care, education, housing, sanitation, security, and justice. She shows how the state treats the poor as second-class citizens or noncitizens who are unworthy or undeserving of its protection or assistance. She also shows how the state criminalizes or represses the poor who resist or protest against its policies or actions. She illustrates how the state uses violence or coercion to control or discipline the poor who challenge its authority or legitimacy.


```html The Impact of Transnational Forces on Local Realities




In the third chapter, titled "Globalization 'Out of Place'", Goldstein explores how transnational forces affect the local realities of the urban poor in Brazil. She argues that globalization and neoliberalism have brought about economic, cultural, and political changes and challenges that have profound implications for the lives of the poor. She shows how these forces create new opportunities and constraints, as well as new forms of resistance and agency.


Goldstein provides several examples of how globalization and neoliberalism impact the urban poor in Felicidade Eterna. She describes how economic changes and challenges have led to the decline of employment and income for the poor, who face increasing competition and precarity in the labor market. She explains how many poor people resort to informal or illegal activities to survive, such as selling drugs, pirated goods, or sex. She also explains how many poor people aspire to consume goods and services that are beyond their reach, such as cars, clothes, or travel. She describes how cultural changes and challenges have led to the rise of consumerism and media for the poor, who are exposed to global images and messages that shape their desires and identities. She illustrates how many poor people adopt or appropriate global styles and symbols, such as hip-hop music, tattoos, or sneakers. She also illustrates how many poor people use media technologies, such as cell phones, radios, or TVs, to communicate and entertain themselves. She describes how political changes and challenges have led to the emergence of new social movements and actors for the poor, who are mobilizing and organizing around various issues and causes. She highlights how many poor people participate in or support movements such as the Landless Workers' Movement (MST), the Black Women's Movement (MNU), or the Gay Rights Movement (GLBT). She also highlights how many poor people engage in or resist state interventions such as community policing, social welfare programs, or human rights campaigns.


Conclusion: Laughing in the Face of Suffering




In this section, I will discuss how Goldstein concludes her book by reflecting on her ethnographic experience and its implications for anthropology and society. I will also provide some critical reflections on the book.


Goldstein ends her book with a conclusion titled "Laughing in the Face of Suffering", where she summarizes her main arguments and insights. She reiterates how humor is a form of cultural expression that reveals the complex realities of a Brazilian favela, where laughter is often "out of place" in relation to dominant norms and expectations. She reiterates how humor is a form of resistance and critique that subverts and contests the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality that shape the lives of the poor. She reiterates how humor is a form of solidarity and belonging that creates a sense of community and identity among the marginalized. She also reflects on her ethnographic experience and its challenges and rewards. She acknowledges her positionality as a white, middle-class, American woman who entered a black, poor, Brazilian world. She discusses how she established rapport and trust with her informants through humor and empathy. She also discusses how she faced ethical dilemmas and emotional difficulties during her fieldwork. She shares some of her personal stories and anecdotes that illustrate her relationship with her informants.


Goldstein also reflects on the implications of her book for anthropology and society. She argues that her book contributes to a public anthropology that engages with critical issues facing the contemporary world. She argues that her book challenges some of the stereotypes and prejudices that exist about Brazil and its people. She argues that her book exposes some of the injustices and inequalities that affect the urban poor in Brazil and elsewhere. She argues that her book calls for a more humane and compassionate understanding of the lives of the poor who laugh in the face of suffering.


I think Goldstein's book is a valuable and insightful work that offers a rich and nuanced portrait of a Brazilian favela through humor. I think Goldstein's book is a compelling and engaging work that draws the reader into the tragicomic world of a bleak Brazilian favela. I think Goldstein's book is a powerful and provocative work that challenges the reader to question their own assumptions and perspectives about Brazil and its people.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about the book and the topic.



  • What is the main argument of the book?



The main argument of the book is that humor is a form of cultural expression that reveals the complex realities of a Brazilian favela, where laughter is often "out of place" in relation to dominant norms and expectations. The book also argues that humor is a form of resistance and critique that subverts and contests the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality that shape the lives of the poor. The book also argues that humor is a form of solidarity and belonging that creates a sense of community and identity among the marginalized.


  • What is the main contribution of the book?



The main contribution of the book is that it offers a rich and nuanced portrait of a Brazilian favela through humor. The book also contributes to a public anthropology that engages with critical issues facing the contemporary world. The book also challenges some of the stereotypes and prejudices that exist about Brazil and its people. The book also exposes some of the injustices and inequalities that affect the urban poor in Brazil and elsewhere. The book also calls for a more humane and compassionate understanding of the lives of the poor who laugh in the face of suffering.


  • What is the main method of the book?



The main method of the book is ethnography, which is a qualitative research approach that involves participant observation, interviews, and document analysis. The book is based on Goldstein's fieldwork in Felicidade Eterna, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she lived for 18 months between 1992 and 1995. The book is also based on Goldstein's analysis of various sources, such as historical records, media reports, academic literature, and personal narratives.


  • What are some of the limitations or criticisms of the book?



Some of the limitations or criticisms of the book are that it may not be representative or generalizable to other favelas or contexts in Brazil or elsewhere. The book may also be biased or subjective due to Goldstein's positionality as a white, middle-class, American woman who entered a black, poor, Brazilian world. The book may also be outdated or inaccurate due to the changes and developments that have occurred in Brazil since Goldstein's fieldwork. The book may also be controversial or offensive due to its use of humor and language that may be considered inappropriate or insensitive by some readers.


  • What are some of the key terms or concepts of the book?



Some of the key terms or concepts of the book are:


  • Favela: A term used to refer to informal settlements or slums in Brazil, often characterized by poverty, violence, and marginalization.



  • Carnivalesque: A concept from Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary critic, who argued that carnival is a time and space where the norms and hierarchies of society are inverted, mocked, and challenged.



  • Racial democracy: A term used to describe Brazil as a harmonious and egalitarian society where racial mixing prevails.



  • Machismo: A term used to describe a cultural attitude that emphasizes male dominance, virility, and aggression.



  • Globalization: A term used to describe the process of increasing interconnection and interdependence among countries, regions, and people in various aspects such as economic, cultural, and political.



  • Neoliberalism: A term used to describe an economic ideology that advocates for free markets, free trade, privatization, deregulation, and reduced state intervention.



  • Public anthropology: A term used to describe an approach to anthropology that aims to engage a wider audience with critical issues facing the contemporary world.



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