Working with spirits: enigmatic signs of black sociality
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation approaches macumba as a practice of ‘black’ sociality situated at the margins of Afro-Brazilian religions. It turns to macumba as practices that exceed the enclosure of religious classifications, and the boundaries of ‘ritual’ and ‘everyday’, ‘sacred’ and ‘mundane’, ‘past’ and ‘present’, ‘personal’ and ‘public’. Macumba is at once this ambiguity inextricably saturated with racialized meanings, and the practices that fall under this dis-ordering sign. The dissertation explores macumba as a way of perceiving, imagining and engendering the ‘everyday’ as imbued with the presence of ‘spirits’ of AfroBrazilian ancestors. Tracking the sociality of these practices, it traces the interconnections between possible histories brought forth by the cultural construction of the identity of the ‘spirits’, and the myriad of stories that permeate the relation of ‘spirits’ to macumba practitioners. Stories here unfold as an interpretive space saturated with the tension between excessive narration and obscurity, inevitably implicated in the resignification of memory and experience. ‘Spirits’ and ‘stories’ are taken as enigmatic signs of the past and present whose meanings are contingent upon particularly located, provisionally constituted, cultural emplotments. The ethnography moves between ritual and the everyday, between historical accounts and extra-ordinary stories of spirits, across different discursive spheres, and across different spaces of the city of Rio de Janeiro, juxtaposing dissimilar things so as to track possible constellations of meanings. ix It engages with macumba as practices which bring into the realm of the ‘religious’ that which is socially and historically marginal, the culturally grotesque. Moreover, it is this racially charged disarrangement of social boundaries that feeds the mixture of desire and rejection, an ‘in-between-ness’, that marks macumba as abject. The dissertation argues that macumba is constituted as a space of ‘blackness’ excessive to the national imaginary of Brazilian racial identity, and as social practices it infuses the everyday with a racially charged ‘disorientation.’ Macumba is thus not only continuously relocated in an ‘othered’ space, but also insinuates (racial) difference onto the socially familiar, and resignifies ‘blackness’ in the midst of the everyday.