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Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown

Donna M. Goldstein
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Laughter Out of Place
    Book Description:

    Donna M. Goldstein presents a hard-hitting critique of urban poverty and violence and challenges much of what we think we know about the "culture of poverty" in this compelling read. Drawing on more than a decade of experience in Brazil, Goldstein provides an intimate portrait of everyday life among the women of the favelas, or urban shantytowns in Rio de Janeiro, who cope with unbearable suffering, violence and social abandonment. The book offers a clear-eyed view of socially conditioned misery while focusing on the creative responses—absurdist and black humor—that people generate amid daily conditions of humiliation, anger, and despair. Goldstein helps us to understand that such joking and laughter is part of an emotional aesthetic that defines the sense of frustration and anomie endemic to the political and economic desperation among residents of the shantytown.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95541-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    A bold and courageous book by a fresh anthropological voice, Laughter Out of Place returns anthropology to what it does best by taking the reader on a no-holds-barred ride into the tragicomic world of a bleak Brazilian favela. In Rio’s vast subterranean underworld of mean and ugly public housing projects, interspersed with ragtag shantytowns that crop up daily on the northern extensions of the city, Felicidade Eterna (Eternal Happiness) residents struggle to keep their anger and despair at bay by laughing and spitting into the face of unbearable suffering, sickness, chaos, injustice, violence, and social abandonment. Welcome to Lula’s Brazil...

  5. Preface to the 2013 Edition
    (pp. xix-xxxvi)
    Donna M. Goldstein
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxvii-xlii)
  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xliii-xlviii)
  8. Introduction: Hard Laughter
    (pp. 1-17)

    When I began the research that resulted in this book, I had no idea that I would use humor as one of the consolidating themes of an ethnography seeking to chart the complex intersections among the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality at work within poverty-stricken communities in Rio de Janeiro. I expected to write about the state and transnational processes shouldering their way into the lives of the urban poor—an insistent phenomenon increasingly insinuating itself into other local contexts, both urban and rural, in Brazil and all over the globe. But rather than locating my research in...

  9. CHAPTER 1 Laughter “Out of Place”
    (pp. 18-57)

    When I returned to Felicidade Eterna in May 1995, after having been away for almost three years, I arrived at Glória’s shack unannounced, hoping to surprise her and her family. Upon entering, I noticed that only Glória’s children were there. It happened to be Mother’s Day, and Glória had not gone to the affluent Zona Sul to work. Instead, she was seated at Joana’s botequim, her favorite bar in Felicidade Eterna, getting on with a plan to inebriate. Everyone, including myself, had grown older in the years between visits, and there was indeed surprise and delight all around as we...

  10. CHAPTER 2 The Aesthetics of Domination: Class, Culture, and the Lives of Domestic Workers
    (pp. 58-101)

    One afternoon in May 1995, during a return visit to Rio de Janeiro, I found myself with Glória and her daughter Soneca in the kitchen of her new employer, “Dona Beth,” a fiftyish, middle-class woman for whom Glória had begun working a year earlier.¹ Beth’s kitchen was typical of the older apartment buildings in the Zona Sul that had been built earlier in the century: small, with enough room for just one person to move about comfortably, but with all the modern amenities. Beth’s well-stocked cabinets contained many international products acquired during trips to Europe and the United States or...

  11. CHAPTER 3 Color-Blind Erotic Democracies, Black Consciousness Politics, and the Black Cinderellas of Felicidade Eterna
    (pp. 102-135)

    Eliana, one of Glória’s best friends from childhood, is a dark-skinned black womanwhose eighteen-year-old daughter, Elzineia, also dark-skinned, became pregnant by a white boy from an economically more prosperous family living just outside the borders of Felicidade Eterna. Because the boy had not taken any steps toward acknowledging his relationship with Elzineia, nor his imminent paternity, Eliana worked with her daughter to try to abort the child. They tried every poison imaginable, but nothing worked.¹

    Eliana’s grandchild, Fausto, turned out to be very light-skinned. When Eliana appears in public with Fausto—shopping, taking a stroll, or carrying on some other...

  12. CHAPTER 4 No Time for Childhood
    (pp. 136-173)

    One evening in 1995, after completing her day of work at Dona Beth’s, Glória was waiting for her bus near the pyramid fountain at the Praça XV de Novembro (Plaza XV of November) in downtown Rio and ran into one of her ex-partners.¹ It was Gérson, a man she had lived with for five years as a young teenage girl in Rocinha and with whom she became pregnant with Pedro Paulo, her firstborn, and then later with Fernanda, her oldest daughter. According to Glória, Gérson was looking as if life had been treating him fairly well. He was in what...

  13. CHAPTER 5 State Terror, Gangs, and Everyday Violence in Rio de Janeiro
    (pp. 174-225)

    Celso called me from the orelhão to let me know that there was no reason to fear coming back to Felicidade Eterna. “It was just a little accident we had here, Danni. I cleaned up all the blood and put roof tiles on top of the blood-stained areas. Tá limpinho, tá limpinho [It’s clean, it’s clean]. You can come back now.” Then he laughed, knowing that what he said would strike me as a bit absurd and would do very little to calm my nerves. The day before I had been out at the favela, and everything had seemed fine...

  14. CHAPTER 6 Partial Truths, or the Carnivalization of Desire
    (pp. 226-258)

    Marieta, Glória’s godchild and the daughter of Joana—owner of one of Felicidade Eterna’s home-front bars—was born in late 1991 and was eight months old when I left the shantytown in 1992. She was a pudgy infant with an expressive face and was often seen perched precariously on the hip of her ten-year-old brother, Camargo, who would show her off at Glória’s shack on the barreira, where she would be passed around among the cooing children, adolescents, and adults. When I arrived back in Felicidade Eterna for a visit in May 1995, Marieta was a chubby toddler, bright but...

  15. CHAPTER 7 What’s So Funny about Rape?
    (pp. 259-274)

    One fine day in 1995, Marília, Glória’s twenty-three-year-old neighbor, announced the following to her husband Celso, who worked nights as a “roadie” for the samba bands that played on the weekends in the large favelas in the Zona Sul and was just returning early in the morning after a full night of work:

    Puxa you are hard to kill, ehh?”

    “Why?” he asked.

    “Because I put rat poison in your drink this morning, and you didn’t die.” (Marília, taped interview, 1995)

    Marília and Celso lived together in the makeshift shack immediately adjacent to Glória’s. Approximately the same size as Glória’s...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 275-312)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 313-320)
  18. References
    (pp. 321-340)
  19. Index
    (pp. 341-349)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 350-352)