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Laughter Out of Place

laughter out

Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown (California Series in Public Anthropology) 0th Edition  by Donna M. Goldstein (Author)

Donna M. Goldstein challenges much of what we think we know about the “culture of poverty.” 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. These women have created absurdist and black-humor storytelling practices in the face of trauma and tragedy. 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 of the shantytown.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Goldstein returns anthropology to what it does best while taking the reader on a no-holds-barred ride through the tragicomic world of a Rio favela. She captures the bittersweet laughter of Brazil’s vast subterranean underclass of domestic servants who keep their anger and despair at bay by laughing and spitting into the face of chaos, injustice, and premature death.”

From the Inside Flap

“Goldstein returns anthropology to what it does best while taking the reader on a no-holds-barred ride through the tragicomic world of a Rio favela. She captures the bittersweet laughter of Brazil’s vast subterranean underclass of domestic servants who keep their anger and despair at bay by laughing and spitting into the face of chaos, injustice, and premature death. In this affecting and deft ‘comedy of manners,’ Goldstein emerges as urban anthropology’s new Jane Austen.”—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

“Goldstein takes us right to where anthropology should be: into the blood, sweat, tears of shantytown life. Laughter Out of Place tells the story of a Brazilian family on the edge of survival where women and children struggle, not just to stay alive, but also for joy in the face of poverty, men, and mutual betrayal.”—Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

“A stunning ethnographic achievement that should become an urban anthropological classic. Goldstein brings us close to women who under extraordinary circumstances of poverty use humor to reveal the penetrating truth of their relationship to structures of power and the ironies of their raced, classed, and gendered lives. Superb and engaging ethnographic analysis is framed by sophisticated social theory and a comprehensive treatment of the literature on contemporary Brazilian society.”—Judith Goode, co-editor of The New Poverty Studies: The Ethnography of Power, Politics and Impoverished People in the United States

From the Back Cover

“Goldstein returns anthropology to what it does best while taking the reader on a no-holds-barred ride through the tragicomic world of a Rio favela. She captures the bittersweet laughter of Brazil’s vast subterranean underclass of domestic servants who keep their anger and despair at bay by laughing and spitting into the face of chaos, injustice, and premature death. In this affecting and deft ‘comedy of manners, ‘ Goldstein emerges as urban anthropology’s new Jane Austen.”–Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of “Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

“Goldstein takes us right to where anthropology should be: into the blood, sweat, tears of shantytown life. “Laughter Out of Place tells the story of a Brazilian family on the edge of survival where women and children struggle, not just to stay alive, but also for joy in the face of poverty, men, and mutual betrayal.”–Philippe Bourgois, author of “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

“A stunning ethnographic achievement that should become an urban anthropological classic. Goldstein brings us close to women who under extraordinary circumstances of poverty use humor to reveal the penetrating truth of their relationship to structures of power and the ironies of their raced, classed, and gendered lives. Superb and engaging ethnographic analysis is framed by sophisticated social theory and a comprehensive treatment of the literature on contemporary Brazilian society.”–Judith Goode, co-editor of “The New Poverty Studies: The Ethnography of Power, Politics and Impoverished People in the United States –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Donna M. Goldstein is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Product details

  • Series: California Series in Public Anthropology (Book 9)
  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (November 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520235975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520235977
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

 

Laughter and Life in a Favela

ByCarlos D. Toreson February 10, 2004

Format: Paperback

Within the first few pages of Laughter Out of Place, I realized that Dr. Goldstein was going to embark on ethnographic analysis in a more personal vein. The introduction reads like a personal reflection of her time spent in “Felicidade Eterna,” folding in memories of the people she met into a journal-styled ethnography, of the kind introduced to us by Ruth Behar. I found Donna’s approach refreshing: a reader knew where she stood on issues, and there were no concealed objectivities in her observations. Donna’s personality comes through in her writing in her style -which does not back away from harsh realities, nor delve into idealized or romanticized metaphors for Brazilian music, sex, or style. I found large scale conclusions were lacking, but her small conclusions peppered within her dialogue were cogent: clearly understood and explained by her observations.
Looking at the book’s format in an overall construction, I thought she made an interesting and deliberate choice in segmenting the book around particular phenomena of favela culture. The overarching concept – of laughter in the favelas that seemed to be out of place – ran through the book, but other subjects like the aesthetics of domination, black cinderelllas, short-term childhoods, gangs and violence, and the carnivalization of desire focused the book into themes particularized to the society of the favela. The choice of these themes and I can guess were synthesized from coded observations. The phenomena addressed were concrete and drew Donna’s discursive writing style along into interesting, relevant, and “involving” territory. She used theory to bolster her arguments, but didn’t saddle the story with overwhelming treatises. The choice of ethnographic writing – employing themes – makes me curious though. Does the use of themes artificially differentiate the life in the favela from our own, or other social conditions where poverty subjugates its population? Are we getting a picture of what life is like there, or rather of what particularizes life in the favela from our existences?
Admittedly though the book is seductive in drawing the reader into the discussion. And issues touched upon in the book can be applied to many other geographies. Donna does not try to ingratiate herself in pure relativism, as she says, she is often shocked by the ironic attitudes of the people who seem to accept their fate much more humorously than Donna imagined prior to her experience in Felicidade. She takes issue with some theortists, including Foucault, presenting and then unraveling their theoretical positioning. She also disparages the study of elites, or “cosmopolitan intellectuals, or transnational social movements” as a form of “ethnographic refusal,” and a condition “that would fail to provide density to our representations, sanitize politics,” or produce “thin version of culture with a set of dissolving actors” (43). Donna does not hold back.
In her review of Donna Goldstein’s book, Nancy Shepar-Hughes mentions that Golstein’s book will not come without controversy because it may be painted in a “culture-of-poverty” conceptual framework. But I don’t see that happening in this case because Goldstein concentrates on the conditions of life and the subsequent actions of people mired in a difficult situation and in the fragile structure of the favela. Donna is also quick to point out that she herself does not understand – at all times – the social structures in place. For example, out of generosity Donna sets aside some money for Soneca to attend a computer institute. The idea does not succeed and Gloria, the main informant of the book, is annoyed by the waste of valuable resources.
Donna also employs modern electronic resources to make her point, and bring the reader directly into current attitudes and stereotyping concerning “Brazilian Mulatas.” She enters a search engine with those exact two words and finds dozens of porn sites exemplifying popular viewpoints related to sexuality in Brazil. She points out many of the inconsistentsies and ironic attitudes present in the favelas regarding sexuality and race. Gloria, for instance, views the white coroa taking on a dark skinned lover as evidence for a “reluctance of Afro-Brazilian women to interpret certain kinds of interactions as racist” (124).
While all of the discussion in Laughter Out of Place is interesting, for me the discussions on violence and gangs are/were most relevant in a changing second and third world. One can imagine the “trajectory into criminality by young men as a form of local knowledge (and as a vehicle for advancement)…” (203). Indeed, after the descriptions given of the lifestyle, poverty, abuse, and of course humor that saturate the favela, one can clearly see the seductive link of falling into gang violence and criminality. Donna also clearly demonstrates the functionality of bandit existence, quoting and borrowing from Hobsbawm the reasoning behind the formation of “primitive rebels:” “Social banditry becomes a form of self-help in the context of economic crises and social tension” (209).
In Donna’s short but cogent conclusion she does not try to offer monumental solutions to the problems she sees, but nevertheless her astute observations and solutions provided are idealistic and perhaps unrealistic. She points to endemic problems in the favela such as the “differential application of the rule of law,” and the need to “reform policing forces” bringing an end to corruption and abuse” (273). She points out that in order for drug traffickers and gangs to be removed from the favela, “‘good faith’ social services need to be put in place to treat the everyday private injustices that are currently being handled by such organizations” (274). Like so many impoverished societies, an infrastructure or support girdle of municipal services needs to be put in place (or reformed) to aid all segments of the society of Rio. This remains a common need for societies battling poverty. Great ethnography and seductive reading examining a micro-world of global inequality.
Carlos Torres, Ph.D. student

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