Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil / Edition 1

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Overview

When lives are dominated by hunger, what becomes of love? When people are assaulted by daily acts of violence and untimely death, what happens to trust? Set in the celebrated parched lands of Northeast Brazil, Death Without Weeping is a luminously written, "womanly hearted" account of the everyday experience of scarcity, sickness, and death that centers on the lives of the women and children of a hillside favela. These are the people who inhabit the underside of the once-optimistic Brazilian Economic Miracle and who are being left behind in the shaky transition to democracy. Bringing her readers to the impoverished slopes above the modern plantation town of Bom Jesus da Mata, where she has worked on and off for twenty-five years, Scheper-Hughes follows three generations of shanty-town women as they struggle to survive through hard work, cunning, and triage. It is a story of class relations told at the most basic level of bodies, emotions, desires, and needs. Most disturbing - and controversial - is her finding that mother love, as conventionally understood, is something of a bourgeois myth, a luxury for those who can reasonably expect, as these women cannot, that their infants will live. Death Without Weeping is a work of breadth and passion, a nontraditional ethnography charged with political commitment and moral vigor. It spirals outward, taking the reader from the wretched huts of the shantytown into the cane fields and the sugar refinery, the mayor's office and the legal chambers, the clinics and the hospitals, the police headquarters and the public morgue, and finally, the municipal grave-yard of Bom Jesus. Ethnography and literary sensibility merge to capture the "mundane surrealism" of life in Bom Jesus da Mata. With resonances of such anthropological classics as the writings of Oscar Lewis, Death Without Weeping is a tour de force that will be discussed and debated for many years to come.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Brazil's shantytowns, poverty has transformed the meaning of mother love. The routineness with which young children die, argues University of California anthropologist Scheper-Hughes, causes many women to affect indifference to their offspring, even to neglect those infants presumed to be doomed or ``wanting to die.'' Maternal love is delayed and attenuated, with dire consequences for infant survival, according to the author's two decades of fieldwork. Scheper-Hughes also maintains that the Catholic Church contributes to the indifference toward children's deaths by teaching fatalistic resignation and upholding its strictures against birth control and abortion. This important, shocking study resonates with the emotion of Oscar Lewis's ethnographic classics as it follows three generations of women in a plantation town. The compelling narrative investigates the everyday tactics of survival that people use to stay alive in a culture of institutionalized dependency ravaged by sickness, scarcity, feudal working conditions and death-squad ``disappearances.'' (May)
Library Journal
This book by an anthropology professor from Berkeley, formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in northeast Brazil, is simply breathtaking. Its controversial theme--that mother love as conventionally understood is a luxury for those who can reasonably expect, as poor women in Brazil cannot, that their infants will live--is, in the best sense, illuminated by deconstructionist and feminist thought. The author's understanding of these lives on the edge is at times sympathetic, passionate, and sophisticated. But what makes the book as exciting to read as a good novel is her long-term interaction with a group of people that she clearly loves and the complete lack of the sense of the ``other'' that is so often found in anthropological writing. This work should have as much influence on studies of the relationship of women and children as did Margaret Mead's Growing Up in Samoa (1936) on the shaping of adolescence or Oscar Lewis's The Children of Sanchez (1961) on the cultural effects of poverty. Highly recommended.-- Nancy Padgett Lazar, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
Kirkus Reviews
A shattering portrayal of life among the impoverished inhabitants of Alto do Cruzeiro ("Hill of the Crucifixion"), a shantytown in the city of Bom Jesus da Mata in northeastern Brazil's Pernambuco Province. Scheper-Hughes (Anthropology/UC at Berkeley), whose 1979 Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics (not reviewed) won the Margaret Mead Award, has again produced a work of enormous power and importance. Alto do Cruzeiro is well named: Life in its fetid alleyways and smoke-filled mud-and-sheet-metal huts is a perpetual Golgotha where poverty, malnutrition, and terrorism make death and "disappearances" commonplace—and where, in 1987, the infant and child mortality rate reached more than 23 percent of total births. Scheper-Hughes, who first came to the area as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1960's and who has returned again and again, focuses most of her attention on the women of the Alto. Bringing an unusual sensitivity to her research and couching her findings in prose that is at once subtle and precise, she urges "a more `womanly' anthropology," one that engages "questions of human relationships and ethics." The author explores the social, economic, political, and religious factors—the plantation system's exploitation of the workers; governmental corruption and indifference; superstition; the hidebound conservatism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy—that contribute to the inhumane conditions. In what is undoubtedly her most controversial conclusion, Scheper- Hughes contends that the uncertainty of existence within the ghetto community atrophies impoverished women's feelings of what is thought in more stable Western societies to be an inherent female trait—"motherlove." The author makes a strong case for this finding, which undoubtedly will provoke heated discussion. A stimulating, consistently engrossing contribution to the scientific understanding of a complex and tragic situation. (Sixty- five b&w photographs—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520075375
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 11/9/1993
  • Series: Centennial Book Ser.
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 632
  • Sales rank: 544,263
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Table of Contents


Prologue: Sugar House
Introduction: Tropical Sadness
Chapter 1: O Nordeste: Sweetness and Death
Chapter 2: Bom Jesus: One Hundred Years Without Water
Chapter 3: Reciprocity and Dependency: The Double Ethic of Bom Jesus
Chapter 4: Delírio de Fome: The Madness of Hunger
Chapter 5: Nervoso: Medicine, Sickness, and Human Needs
Chapter 6: Everday Violence: Bodies, Death, and Silence
Chapter 7: Two Feet Under and a Cardboard Coffin: The Social Production of Indifference to Child Death
Chapter 8: (M)Other Love: Cultue, Scarcity, and Maternal Thinking
Chapter 9: Our Lady of Sorrows: A Political Economy of the Emotions
Chapter 10: A Knack for Life: The Everyday Tactics of Survival
Chapter 11: Carnaval: The Dance Against Death
Chapter 12: De Profundis: Out of the Depths
Epilogue: Acknowledgments and Then Some
Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 1999

    The Brazilian death phenomenon

    Death without weeping eloquently depicts the Brazilian numbness associated with death and mourning in light of socioeconomic complexities. Accordingly, Brazil's death squad phenomenon compounds an ever-increasing devolution of killing and police lawlessness in Brazil. Much praise for Death without weeping.

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