Uneven Encounters

Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States

Uneven Encounters

American Encounters/Global Interactions

More about this series

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 19 photographs Published: March 2009

Author: Micol Seigel

American Studies, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In Uneven Encounters, Micol Seigel chronicles the exchange of popular culture between Brazil and the United States in the years between the World Wars, and demonstrates how that exchange affected ideas of race and nation in both countries. From Americans interpreting advertisements for Brazilian coffee or dancing the Brazilian maxixe, to Rio musicians embracing the “foreign” qualities of jazz, Seigel traces a lively, cultural back and forth. Along the way, she shows how race and nation for both elites and non-elites are constructed together, and driven by global cultural and intellectual currents as well as local, regional, and national ones.

Seigel explores the circulation of images of Brazilian coffee and of maxixe in the United States during the period just after the imperial expansions of the early twentieth century. Exoticist interpretations structured North Americans’ paradoxical sense of themselves as productive “consumer citizens.” Some people, however, could not simply assume the privileges of citizenship. In their struggles against racism, Afro-descended citizens living in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, New York, and Chicago encountered images and notions of each other, and found them useful. Seigel introduces readers to cosmopolitan Afro-Brazilians and African Americans who rarely traveled far from home but who nonetheless absorbed ideas from abroad. She suggests that studies comparing U.S. and Brazilian racial identities as two distinct constructions are misconceived. Racial formation transcends national borders; attempts to understand it must do the same.


Uneven Encounters is a well crafted study and will certainly provoke debate, since it takes historians and social scientists out of their comfort zone provided by nation-centered perspectives. The book can be assigned for graduate and undergraduate level classes (for undergrads, the chapters about coffee, dance, and music will certainly work better). Uneven Encounters will provide stimulating reading for students of race, ethnicity, and nation building in Latin America and the United States.” — Fabricio Prado, EIAL

Uneven Encounters is impressively researched and composed, and its chapter cases are well organised and integrated into the whole. It is a remarkably mature and high-quality first book, even by the rather high standards of professional historians. It is an ambitious, interdisciplinary, original and major work of scholarship, whose findings will demand attention. In brief, it is an exceptional accomplishment.” — Avery Gordon, Race & Class

Uneven Encounters provides a lucid critique of the intellectual and political implications of this longstanding comparative tradition in both Brazil (the more familiar case) and the United States. . . . [T]his is an innovative and incisive work that will help push forward the literature on race and nation for both the United States and Brazil—itself no small task.”
— Paulina Alberto, Journal of American Ethnic History

“Such an abbreviated summary of the book’s contents does not do justice to the deep analysis Seigel brings to her scholarly craft in every chapter. Her work is grounded in the extensive and eclectic selection of primary sources gathered from a variety of archives. . . . This volume is an important contribution to the still counterhegemonic field of transnational history. Uneven Encounters aims to question the processes in which historians have reproduced the narratives of the nation-state, in what Paul Gilroy defined as ‘ethnographic absolutism.’ This, by itself, makes this volume an important text for anyone interested in writing history.” — Cristian Castro, Journal of Black Studies

“[M]icol Seigel offers a refreshing analysis of racial perceptions in the USA and Brazil. . . . The contributions of Seigel’s are many and to different fields, including history, American, Latin American, cultural and race and ethnic studies. Rather than a comparison of national traits and differences, Seigel’s sophisticated study explores the complexities in the encounters between Brazil and the U.S. in the transnational scenery of popular artifacts. It sheds new light on notions of race and nation in Brazil and the U.S. by maintaining that these were forged often in relation to on another.” — Cileine de Lourenco, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Uneven Encounters is an imaginative, thoughtful, and eloquently argued work of Atlantic history.” — George Reid Andrews, Journal of American History

“Drawing widely from postmodern, postcolonial, feminist, diasporic, and queer studies, Seigel approaches this topic through a bold use of sources, archives, and theoretical approaches, arguing quite convincingly that Afro-Brazilians played an active role in the international circulation of ideas and cultural expressions in the tumultuous 1920s. . . . [An] outstanding study.” — James M. Green, American Historical Review

“I can think of few works about Brazil that reveal so much about the United States, and no work about the United States that tells us so much about Brazil. . . . [A]n important, thought-provoking book.” — Marc A. Hertzman, A Contracorriente

“I suspect everyone, depending on research interests, will find something here that illuminates previously held understandings of complex and sometimes misread histories of the United States and Brazil.” — Stanley R. Bailey, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Seigel . . . displaces scholars who have argued that the myth of racial democracy was possible in Brazil due to an ignorant lack of black identity, showing instead how blacks helped create and shape racial democracy.” — Felipe Cruz, The Latin Americanist

Uneven Encounters is a very important contribution not only to the transnational study of racial formation but to the very definition of what transnational scholarship should be.” — María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, author of The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development

“In recent years, the comparative study of race in Brazil and the United States has reached an impasse. Uneven Encounters, rather than reviving the old debates, challenges their very premises. With style and substance, Micol Seigel offers us a searing critique of the comparative method and brilliantly demonstrates how a transnational and cultural approach to race and racial identities can open up genuinely new and productive lines of inquiry.” — Barbara Weinstein, author of For Social Peace in Brazil


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Micol Seigel is Assistant Professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and the Program in American Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix
Preface xi
Note on Language xvii
Acknowledgments xix
Introduction 1
1. Producing Consumption: Coffee and Consumer Citizenship 13
2. Maxixe's Travels: Cultural Exchange and Erasure 67
3. Playing Politics: Making the Meanings of Jazz in Rio de Janeiro 95
4. Nation Drag: Uses of the Exotic 136
5. Another "Global Vision": (Trans)Nationalism in the Sao Paulo Black Press 179
6. Black Mothers, Citizen Sons 206
Conclusion 235
Abbreviations 241
Notes 243
Discography 321
Bibliography 323
Index 367
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4440-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4426-1
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