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Sean T. Mitchell

The extensive literature critiquing the weakness of cross-class Afro-Brazilian solidarity is perhaps equaled in size by the structurally similar literature on the weakness of cross-race working-class solidarity in the United States. For many critics, marginalized or exploited people in Brazil and the United States do not have the political consciousness they ought to have, given apparently objective conditions. What if we started, instead, from E. P. Thompson's insight that class is a “cultural as much as an economic formation,” that it is “a relationship and not a thing,” acknowledging that political consciousness is the partially contingent result of culturally specific struggles and utopias, as much as of determinate historical conditions? Drawing on ethnographic research on conflicts between Afro-Brazilian villagers and Brazil's spaceport, supplemented by comparative data on the mobilization around inequalities in Brazil and in the United States, this article sketches a comparative anthropology of political consciousness that attempts to avoid the objectivizing pitfalls of the genre.