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By Jan Hoffman French

Anthropologists extensively agree that identities—even ethnic and racial ones—are socially built. much less understood are the techniques during which social identities are conceived and constructed. Legalizing Identities indicates how legislations can effectively function the impetus for the transformation of cultural practices and collective identification. via ethnographic, ancient, and criminal research of winning claims to land by way of neighboring black groups within the backlands of northeastern Brazil, Jan Hoffman French demonstrates how those groups have come to differentiate themselves from one another whereas revising and retelling their histories and present-day stories.French argues that the invocation of legislation via those comparable groups ended in the emergence of 2 assorted identities: one indigenous (Xoco Indian) and the opposite quilombo (descendants of a fugitive African slave community). With assistance from the Catholic Church, executive officers, legal professionals, anthropologists, and activists, each one group received govt reputation and land rights, and displaced elite landowners. This used to be comprehensive even if anthropologists referred to as upon to evaluate the validity in their claims well-known that their identities have been "constructed." The optimistic consequence in their claims demonstrates that authenticity isn't really a prerequisite for identification. French attracts from this perception a extra sweeping end that, faraway from being proof of inauthenticity, approaches of development shape the foundation of all identities and should have vital effects for social justice.

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Second, the meanings of the laws themselves are shaped and reshaped through the assertion of the new identities. As will be explained in chapter 3, for example, since the promulgation of the quilombo clause the requirements for recognition as a quilombo have narrowed (requiring historical proof of nineteenth-century enslavement and escape), broadened (in 1994 under the influence of anthropologists who had been working with rural black communities), narrowed (in 2001 to justify nonpayment to landowners whose land was being awarded to quilombos), and, although recently broadened substantially, qualifications have again been introduced.

This irony is at the core of governmentality. In addition to the Catholic Church and NGOs, there were at least two other crucial agents of governmentality in the continuing dramas of the Xocó and Mocambo: lawyers and anthropologists. Individual government lawyers who worked with the federal attorney’s office (ministério público federal) were important allies of both groups in their bids for recognition; anthropologists were called upon to write the expert reports that provided evidence for tribal and quilombo recognition.

Often commented upon is the lack of planning by sertanejos, attributed to the generations of unpredictable onsets of drought, the timing and length of which are never known in advance (G. Ramos 1947). Long droughts are interspersed with just as unpredictable rainy seasons that wash away roads and make the desertlike environment appear green briefly—so ephemeral it is almost an optical illusion. As in Japan or Italy where people farm on the slopes of live volcanoes, sertanejos share a refusal to be too concerned with the possibility of disaster (Hirschman 1963:16).

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