Working Carnaval

March 19, 2013
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Tuesday, March 19, 2:30 - 4:30, AQ 5067

"Working Carnaval, Playing the Everyday"

Dr Kathleen Millar, Duke University

Abstract: Conventional studies of Brazilian carnaval have emphasized the revelry and playfulness of this pre-Lenten event, interpreting the ritual as a moment of rupture from the drudgery of everyday life. Even recent accounts of carnaval that have challenged the idea, presented in classic studies, that carnaval inverts social roles and collapses hierarchies, still examine carnaval as play— albeit play that evokes dark humor and performs social critique. In this talk, I take an alternative view of carnaval, arguing that many in Brazil experience carnaval not as a period of fervent play but as a time of intensified work. I look specifically at the carnaval experience of urban poor, known as catadores, who reclaim recyclable material from garbage. As part of a larger ethnographic project among catadores working on Rio de Janeiro’s primary garbage dump, I accompanied a group of catadores who collected discarded cans and bottles during the street parades of Rio de Janeiro’s 2009 carnaval. Based on this research, I examine carnaval as a site of production in what I call “event capitalism.” This leads me to consider in the second half of the talk not only how work is constitutive of carnaval but also how play is an integral part of the everyday labor of catadores on the dump. I ultimately argue that the practices of catadores show how forms of non-wage labor reconfigure relationships between work, leisure, and social life.