Faculté des Sciences Sociales
Faculté des Sciences Sociales

Pega-Niguém! A Competition for Symbolic Power - an Interpretative Ethnography of the Carioca Preoccupation with Physical Appearance

Toussaint, Zoé ULiège
Promotor(s) : Servais, Véronique ULiège
Date of defense : 30-Aug-2017/7-Sep-2017 • Permalink :
Title : Pega-Niguém! A Competition for Symbolic Power - an Interpretative Ethnography of the Carioca Preoccupation with Physical Appearance
Author : Toussaint, Zoé ULiège
Date of defense  : 30-Aug-2017/7-Sep-2017
Advisor(s) : Servais, Véronique ULiège
Committee's member(s) : Berliner, David 
Winkin, Yves ULiège
Language : English
Number of pages : 90
Discipline(s) : Social & behavioral sciences, psychology > Anthropology
Institution(s) : Université de Liège, Liège, Belgique
Degree: Master en anthropologie, à finalité approfondie
Faculty: Master thesis of the Faculté des Sciences Sociales


[en] Physical appearance and its presentation are components of the carioca culture, which are obvious to the eyes. Exemplified by the famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro well known for their body-exposure and beautiful carioca beachgoers. As Cliffort Geertz's (1973, Interpretation of Cultures) suggests, «[humans] are animals suspended in webs of significance they themselves have spun (p.5) » culture is hence these webs and its analysis shall therefore be an interpretative one, in search of meanings, «construing social expression on their surface enigmatical. (p.5)». Enigmatical to me was the space the body is occupying in the carioca society. Extrovert expressions of the culture are the necessary starting point of an analytical interpretation of that culture. If culture is what is self-evident, what «goes without saying», then the «shock » dimension of the « cultural shock » is rooted in the enigma, the incomprehension of these « extrovert expressions of culture». They make the anthropologist, not yet aware of the underlying « web of significance » permitting these behaviors, ask himself: «why?».
As Geertz (1973) prescribes in his book, interpreting a culture's « web of significance », ought to be done by isolating its elements, specifying the internal relationship among those elements in order to characterize the whole system in some general way, « according to the core symbols around which it is organized, the underlying structures of which it is a surface expression, or the ideological principles upon which it is based (Geertz, 1973:17). » The time spent in Rio, my field interactions and literature researches, slowly allowed me to understand underlying social structures, as well as accumulated history or Brazilian communication patterns. Slowly, I could begin to perceive the web. Core symbols slowly became more obvious to me and allowed me to interpret behaviors in terms of meanings. What symbolizes a fit body? What is the underlying message? What are the meanings at stake associated with the carioca preoccupation with the physical appearance?



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  • Toussaint, Zoé ULiège Université de Liège > Master anthropo., à fin.


Committee's member(s)

  • Berliner, David
  • Winkin, Yves ULiège Université de Liège - ULg > Faculté des sciences sociales > Anthropologie des mondes contemporains
    ORBi View his publications on ORBi
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