Travel Report: Anna Maslouskaya, Anthropology

January 11, 2019

Anna Maslouskaya, a Master's student in Anthropology, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further his research in Rio de Janeiro. Her report: 

The GIRTA helped me spend three months in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between September and November 2017 to conduct ethnographic research for my Master’s thesis in Anthropology, which I appreciate greatly. The key focus of my research project was Brazilian telenovelas and their capacity to generate debate around important social and political issues in the country. In particular, I was looking at how telenovelas of the recent years have approached the topic of race and class inequality, and how this new discourse on racial relations in Brazil was being interpreted by middle-class white Brazilians.

I was seeking to answer two central questions in my research: (1) How are race and class represented in recent telenovelas and how do these representations differ from the established discourse on class and race? (2) How do white middle class Brazilians interpret and engage with these new representations of class and racial relations in Brazil?

My research methodology consisted of three main parts: (1) individual and group interviews involving the viewing of select telenovela scenes; (2) participant observation beyond the moments of telenovela viewing; and (3) discourse analysis of viewer commentaries and discussions of telenovelas on online platforms.

I resided and did my research in a middle-class neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, conducting focus group interviews with respondents from different gender and age groups based on selected scenes from recent telenovelas that we were watching together. I was also conducting audience ethnography engaging in participant observation in the moments when telenovelas spontaneously entered the viewers’ daily street, party and work conversations. This helped me understand how viewers incorporated telenovelas in their habits and daily practices.

My research, focused on how race and class are understood by white middle-class Brazilians and whether/how these understandings are influenced by telenovelas, will contribute to the knowledge of how racial democracy discourse impacts Brazilian society. As both a national ideology and a system of etiquette, democracia racial stipulates that Brazilians should avoid discourses that figure their nation as divided along a rigid colour line. The importance of my research is in analyzing what happens when the rules of etiquette are broken and the discourse of silence is challenged by direct and open discussions of racism in such a meaningful cultural product as telenovela, which occupies a prominent space in both public (media) and private (family) sphere in society.

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