The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast

The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast

Latin America in Translation/En Traducción/Em Tradução

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 6 illustrations Published: October 2014

Cultural Studies, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil

Brazil's Northeast has traditionally been considered one of the country's poorest and most underdeveloped areas. In this impassioned work, the Brazilian historian Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr. investigates why Northeasterners are marginalized and stereotyped not only by inhabitants of other parts of Brazil but also by nordestinos themselves. His broader question though, is how "the Northeast" came into existence. Tracing the history of its invention, he finds that the idea of the Northeast was formed in the early twentieth century, when elites around Brazil became preoccupied with building a nation. Diverse phenomena—from drought policies to messianic movements, banditry to new regional political blocs—helped to consolidate this novel concept, the Northeast. Politicians, intellectuals, writers, and artists, often nordestinos, played key roles in making the region cohere as a space of common references and concerns. Ultimately, Albuqerque urges historians to question received concepts, such as regions and regionalism, to reveal their artifice and abandon static categories in favor of new, more granular understandings.


"Originally published in 1999 in Portuguese, Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr.’s excellent book will now find a much expanded, English-speaking audience and should inform another wave of scholarship.... Albuquerque straddles disciplines, with his exploration of prose, theater, cinema, and television. Fifteen years past its original publication, the book dialogues in productive ways with a newly energized field; the growing focus on spatial history should produce an interested group of readers who may take away different lessons than the book’s initial audience. Albuquerque in some ways anticipated the recent attention to space and place."  — Thomas D. Rogers, Hispanic American Historical Review

"The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast . . . is an enthralling book that will give the reader a clearer understanding of Brazilian culture." — Diego A. Godoy, Not Even Past

"Albuquerque's The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast is a masterpiece for both the originality of its thesis, and for its virtuosic readings of Brazilian art and literature." — Aaron Ansell, EIAL

"Albuquerque’s book prompts us not only to examine the origins and consequences of discourses of Northeastern regionalism. His work, exemplary in its theoretical underpinnings and methodological rigour, is a model for discourse-centred analysis of any historical subject." — Seth Garfield, Canadian Journal of History

"The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast is a comprehensive and sensitive unmasking of the ways in which well-meaning intellectuals became trapped in tedious reiteration of the stereotypes that 'invented' the Brazilian Northeast as a sociocultural region from 1919 to 1969.... Albuquerque’s readings are swift, allusive, and delicate.... Albuquerque’s intellectual history of region is so fine and rich that we want it to cover more territory." — Dain Borges, American Historical Review

The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast is a soulful scholarly work.” — Brodwyn Fischer, Latin American Research Review

"In this modern classic of Brazilian cultural history, Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr. provides a richly documented and theoretically illuminating exploration of how the most 'regional' of all Brazilian regions has been imagined, indeed 'invented,' as a space of alterity, poverty, and authenticity during the past century.  In doing so, he reveals the discursive production of regions, the relations of power that produce them, and the stereotypes that make them recognizable to a national audience." — Christopher Dunn, coeditor of Brazilian Popular Music and Citizenship

"In this brilliant and innovative study of Brazilian regionalism, Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr. traces the surprisingly recent invention of the Northeast as a putatively homogeneous space with particular socio-cultural traits. By exploring various sites of political, literary, and intellectual contention and representation, Albuquerque illuminates the process by which the poor and predominantly rural Nordeste emerged both as the internecine 'other' of the rapidly urbanizing South, and as a means for northern elites to maintain access to national resources and political influence. The Invention of the Brazilian Northeast is an outstanding example of the way in which historical research and interpretation can denaturalize even the most 'natural' categories and boundaries, and allow us new insights into inequalities of wealth and power."
— Barbara Weinstein, New York University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr. is Professor of Brazilian History at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. An award-winning author, he is considered one of Brazil's leading historians.

James N. Green is Professor of Brazilian History and Culture at Brown University. He is the author of We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States, also published by Duke University Press.

Jerry Dennis Metz, translator and independent scholar, has a Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / James Green ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. Geography in Ruins 14

The Regionalist Gaze 15

The New Regionalism 21

Regionalist Literature 25

North versus South 29

2. Spaces of Nostalgia 36

Stories of Tradition 36

The Invention of the Northeast 44

Northeastern Pages 74

Northeastern Brush Strokes 109

Northeastern Music 114

Northeastern Dramas 124

3. Territories of Revolt 131

The Inversion of the Northeast 131

Controversy and Indignation 151

Portraits of Misery and Pain 176

Images That Cut and Pierce 184

Seeing through the Camera Eye 192

Conclusion 220

Notes 233

Bibliography 255

Index 269
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5785-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5770-4
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