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Premises and Paradoxes

The journey to Brasília across the Central Plateau of Brazil is one of separation. It confronts the traveler with the separation of modernist BrasíIia from the familiar Brazil.

A book cover shows a large building.
Book Title
The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia
Book Author(s)
James Holston
Press and Year
The University of Chicago Press, 1989
Medium of Publication
Number of Pages


The journey to Brasília across the Central Plateau of Brazil is one of separation. It confronts the traveler with the separation of modernist BrasíIia from the familiar Brazil: from densely packed settlements along the coast to the emptiness of the interior; from layers of congestion and clutter in the big cities to the silent horizons of the plateau; from small town squares with their markets and conversations to the empty spaces of Brasilia without squares or markets; from civilization to the frontier; from underdevelopment to the incongruously modem. Migrants make this journey mainly for economic gain. They seek jobs, higher wages, rapid advancement, and speculative opportunity in Brazil's new capital. Yet, however diverse their motives, they all share a sense of the city's separation from the rest of the country that this journey represents. For the migrant, it is this passage that establishes the identity of Brasilia as frontier city, development project, utopian experiment in modem urbanism, detached center of political power, Eldorado of opportunity.

It is also this passage that contrasts the old Brazil with a plan to develop the new. As one travels across the desolate plateau toward the city, the landscape abruptly changes about 40 kilometers from the capital. The highway widens. Billboards announce lots for sale in future residential havens with names like New Brazil, New World, and New America. A gigantic, modem sculpture appears out of nowhere to suggest that something is about to happen. Still without visible signs of settlement, one is suddenly swept into a cloverleaf intersection of superspeedway proportions. At one carefully choreographed moment, Brasília begins: a 14-lane speedway roars into view and catapults the traveler into what is hailed as lithe New Age of Brazil."

Brasília was built to be more than merely the symbol of this new age. Rather, its design and construction were intended as means to create it by transforming Brazilian society. This study analyzes the paired premises of this inversion in development—an inversion in which urban form and organization are considered instruments of social change. The first premise is that the plan for a new city can create a social order in its image; that is, one based on the values that motivate its design. The second premise projects the first as a blueprint for change in the context of national development. It proposes that the new city should be a model of radically different social practices. It argues that if this model could serve as an exemplar of progress for the rest of the nation, then it would be possible not only to generalize its innovations, but also to propel the country as a whole into the planned future it embodies. In this way, planners could stimulate leaps in the development process itself, causing the nation to skip undesired stages in its evolution. Subsequent chapters demonstrate that both premises motivated the building of Brasilia in 1957 as the modernist capital of a newly industrializing Brazil. However, they also show that as Brazilian society inhabited the built city, these premises engendered a set of social processes which paradoxically yet unequivocally destroyed the planners' utopian intentions.

I have two sets of objectives in this demonstration. One concerns the case study of a modernist capital built for Brazil. The other addresses the question of how an anthropologist should study modernism and, more generally, the modern world. The objectives of the case study are several: first, to provide an ethnographic account-a description based on my field research-of the consequences of Brasilia's founding premises for the development of its social orders and disorders, and second, to analyze the motivations and entaiIments of these planning precepts. Thus, when I refer to an analysis of premises, I mean to include what they intend, their internal coherence, the instruments and conditions they entail in the world, and the interpretations and social processes they engage. 

This study requires that we differentiate between the various components of the planned city: between the architects' intentions for social change, embodied in its design, and the government's intentions to build and occupy it. In evaluating the former, I present Brasília as an exemplar of the tenets of modernist architecture and city planning. Proposed by avant-garde groups in Western Europe and the Soviet Union and adopted in Brazil, these tenets constitute a radical reconceptualization of city life. Brasília is probably their most complete realization. Nevertheless, what is found as a totality in Brasília is found as fragments large and small in cities throughout the world because in this century of phenomenal urban growth architectural theory, debate, education, and practice have been set in modernist terms. It is therefore not too great a generalization to say that the modernist vision of a new way of life has fundamentally altered the urban environment in which nearly half the world's people live. Postmodern critics tell us today that this modernism is now finished, its creativity exhausted. Yet, I would suggest another aspect of the problem: if modernism is dying, it nevertheless remains dominant, at the very least in the third world. A study of Brasília therefore offers an opportunity to evaluate its dominant assumptions in a context in which they are expressed with particular clarity.

In analyzing the second set of intentions—the government's plan to build Brasilia—I suggest a number of different but related points about development. On the one hand, I analyze the role of modernist architecture and city planning in development projects which require massive state intervention and centralized coordination. This issue is especially important in third-world countries, where the modernist aesthetic appeals to governments across the political spectrum. To explain this unusual appeal, I suggest a number of affinities between modernism as an aesthetic of erasure and reinscription and modernization as an ideology of development in which governments, regardless of persuasion, seek to rewrite national histories. 

On the other hand, I examine Brasília as an example of a common type of development project founded on a paradox. In portraying an imagined and desired future, Brasilia represented a negation of existing conditions in Brazil. This utopian difference between the two is precisely the project's premise. Yet, at the same time, the government intended it as a means to achieve this future-as an instrument of change which would, of necessity, have to use the existing conditions it denied. My point in analyzing this apparent paradox is not to dispute the need for utopia in imagining a better world. Indeed, in the course of the book I shall oppose the postmodern abandonment of alternative futures. My aim is rather to determine the ways in which, in the construction of the city and the making of its society, the paradoxes of utopia subverted its initial premises. On this subversion—on the way in which the people of Brasília engaged these premises at their points of contradiction to reassert the social processes and cultural values utopia intended to deny—I focus my ethnographic account.

1.1 Anthropology and Modernism

When I began fieldwork in Brasília in 1980, one of my objectives was to link ethnographic activity with the set of critical attitudes known as modernism. By the latter, I refer to the disenchantments of the avant-gardes—dadaism, surrealism, constructivism, and futurism, among others—which arose in the context of European capitalism and which stood against it and its bourgeois society. What drew me, as an anthropologist, to these movements was their subversive intent: differences notwithstanding, their aim was to disrupt the imagery of what bourgeois society understood as the real and the natural, to challenge the taken-far-granted, to defamiliarize, disorient, decode, deconstruct, and de-authenticate the normative, moral, aesthetic, and familiar categories of social life. The avant-gardes developed techniques of shock—such as fragmentation, absurd juxtaposition, and montage-not so much to end in nihilistic relativism, but rather to stimulate a critical attitude toward the means-end rationalities of cultural order. By withdrawing the narcotic of official or assumed meaning, they hoped to turn peoples' attention to the principles on which such meaning is constructed, and thereby to the possibilities of changing it.

In an ethnographic study of Brasília's modernism, I thought I might find ways of investing anthropology with the critical energies of these avant-gardes. My intention was to take modernism out of its usual domain in art and literature, and its generally internal readings in related fields of criticism, by showing how it becomes linked to social practices and thereby becomes a force in the social world. Moreover, I thought that this demonstration would not only focus my attention on the anthropology of the modem world, but also emphasize the critical potential of ethnography. That it has such potential I think most anthropologists would agree, and recently Marcus and Fischer (1986: especially 111-64) and Clifford (1981) have again drawn our attention to them. If anthropology has traditionally been concerned to familiarize the alien, the exotic, and the marginal by rendering them comprehensible through description, classification, and interpretation, this very process presupposes a complement: that the familiarization of the strange will defamiliarize the familiar by breaking it open to new and unexpected possibilities. This subversive idea is implicit in a wide variety of issues central to the discipline: that what passes for the natural order of people and things is not natural or given, but culturally constructed and relative; that to: juxtapose the familiar and the strange in a systematic description of the world's cultural diversity is to erode the prejudices of the former while increasing respect for the latter; that different institutional arrangements may fulfill similar functions; that culture-history-truth-making are contested domains of power; ideas, in a word, that relativize the foundations of the natural and the real wherever these are claimed.

Nonetheless, if modernism and anthropology share certain critical intentions to shake the values of Western civilization, what makes their linking problematic is that both types of subversion are largely failures—or at least unfulfilled promises. That modernist architecture and city planning not only failed in their subversive aims, but often strengthened what they challenged will be demonstrated in the case study of Brasília. That anthropology has not studied the West and modem society with the seriousness of its nonwestern, peasant, and tribal studies is obvious from anyone of the number of perspectives that Marcus and Fischer (1986) outline in their useful discussion of "the repatriation of anthropology as cultural critique." Moreover, if, in Clifford's (1981: 543) apt phrase, "surrealism is ethnography's secret sharer," this alter relation has been largely unacknowledged and undeveloped in ethnographic writing. [1]

The problem is not merely that we do not have ethnographies of the West to interact with those of the non-West, to make specific and dynamic and reciprocal whatever critical potentials they may have. [2] Nor is it only, as Foucault (1973) and Fabian (1983) argue in different ways, that the sciences of society use techniques of seeing to control and distance their objects in the moment of appropriating them as scientific-especially that which is conceived as or made to become radically other, as the mad or the primitive. It is also that beyond the important Marxist critiques of capitalism (and anthropology) in the third world, the very project of what an anthropology of modern Western society could mean, and of how to develop an ethnographically critical perspective of it, have only recently emerged as significant, though not yet central, concerns. [3] Moreover, many of the ethnographies in this emergent project invoke precapitalist, precontact, precolonial, premodern, or nonwestern baselines to structure their analyses of present circumstances. Thus, they frame their studies in contrastive terms which, though important in their areas, have less relevance for many aspects of modern city life both in developed and in developing countries.

Yet, precisely because of their parallel failures, I have found it useful in thinking about my field encounter with modernism to explore its common ground with ethnography. For reasons I shall discuss shortly, I am not suggesting an exploration of the kinds of experiments in writing that Marcus and Fischer (1986: 67-73) call "modernist ethnography," or that Clifford (1981: 563-64) calls "surrealist ethnography." Nor am I suggesting a history of their common ground, which others mentioned here are pursuing. Rather, I am proposing a critical ethnography of modernism and suggesting that it is useful to think about the problems of the one in relation to those of the other. For if I had to deal empirically with the social forces that modernism engaged in Brasília, I found that as an anthropologist I was ill-equipped to do so. I found rather that my encounter with the field material forced me to reconsider the· adequacy of my research framework. This framework had a number of blind spots in relation to the data which I realized occurred around issues key to both modernism and anthropology, such as the nature of criticism, the constitution of context, the notion of historical agency, and the politics of daily life. I therefore developed a set of reciprocal questions to let the one provoke the other: what unsolved or hidden problems in ethnography do the claims and consequences of modernist architecture and planning in Brasilia suggest? And what does it mean to study this modernism anthropologically?

One such reciprocal provocation involves the issue of criticism itself. If one of my objectives was to gain a critical understanding of modernism, I could not just evaluate its claims in the same terms in which they had been proposed. Such wholly internal readings I found all too common in the field of architectural criticism, very often done by architects and planners in praise or defense of their own practices. Yet, for various reasons—due to the anthropologist's almost built-in respect for indigenous commentary, for example—I was also susceptible to conflating the history and criticism of architecture with the various discourses of architecture, that is, with the claims and manifestos of the architects themselves. Moreover, traditional anthropology gave me little guidance concerning the objectives of criticism. If there can be no neutral positions in the study of systems of power and social inequality of which the anthropologist is also part, what should critique aim to do? For example, one of the social effects of modernist master planning is the depoliticization of those who are not planners, since their political organization becomes irrelevant if not obstructive in decisions about urban development. A noninternal critical analysis of this planning would have to do more than merely rescue the voices of those left out. Although this affirmation is crucial, and although its redemptive value is one of anthropology's most cherished legitimations, a critical analysis would have to go beyond demonstrating that those marginalized have intelligent interests and important roles with respect to the social system and asking planners to respect them. Such affirmations of the nonhegemonic would not counter the planners' discourse of power. Rather, as I intend to show in the analysis of Brasília, a counter-discourse would have to demonstrate that the delirium of power in master planning itself creates conditions over which the planners stumble and consequently conditions for its own subversion. Indeed, my objective is to produce such a counter-discourse, one precisely grounded in the tension that an anthropologically critical study of modernism creates between the normative ethnographic task of recording the natives' intentions in their own terms and the aim of evaluating those intentions in terms of their results. [4]

Another problem central both to modernism and to anthropology that the study of Brasília confronts is that of history. Modernism in architecture and planning begins by distancing itself from the norms and forms of bourgeois urban life, which it tries to subvert by proposing both a radically different future and a means to get there. As it works backward from this imagined end to preconditions, its view of history is teleological. There are several significant consequences of this teleology. First, it generates one of the fundaments of modernist architecture and planning: total decontextualization, in which an imagined future is posited as the critical ground in terms of which to evaluate the present. As it therefore lacks a notion of historical context, the modernist view of history is paradoxically dehistoricizing. A noninternal critique would therefore have to work in the opposite direction: it would have to historicize the present. Yet, this type of contextualization is not usually emphasized in the foundations of anthropology, whose synchronic concerns set the ethnographic account in a timeless present. It is now well-known that in fact this bias tends to dehistoricize, and, in compensation, many ethnographers over the last few decades have set their descriptions within a historical context. Yet, the problem of history in anthropology is more complex. For it is one thing to give a historical baseline to description and quite another to consider the present as a product of historical processes of transformation. An ethnographic study of modernism exacerbates this problem, for while modernism establishes the former in its critique of capitalist cities, it deliberately denies the latter in proposing the possibility of transcendence. Therefore, if I were to stay in a dehistoricized present, or if I were to neglect historical process even while establishing historical context, I would inadvertantly accept the modernist criteria of change.

Second, the teleological view of history dispenses with a consideration of intervening actors and intentions, of their diverse sources and conflicts. Rather, the only kind of agency modernism considers in the making of history is the intervention of the prince (state head) and the genius (architect-planner) within the structural constraints of existing technology. Moreover, this intervention is really an overcoming of history, for it attributes to the prince and the genius the power of negating the past by reference to a new future. Thus, modernism's relation to history is strangely disembodied. To avoid the assumption of what it intends to evaluate, therefore, an analysis of the worldly effects of Brasma's modernist design would have not only to historicize the present; it would also have to consider historical agency as an interplay between the transformative actions of diverse social actors (including but not limited to government officials, architects, and planners) and the force of structural constraints (including but not limited to plans and technology). Such an account also defends a place for anthropology itself in the study of the modern world. For in its claim that social context is not crucial in making history, that only impositions of genius count, modernism negates the value of any critique anthropology might offer. Therefore, to study modernist Brasília ethnographically is not only to take anthropology in new directions, but also to subvert such a decontextualized view of history with classic anthropological concerns.

Modernist architecture claims to be an international movement that advances national development by building new kinds of cities which in turn transform daily life. The scope of this claim raises for the anthropologist studying it the difficult problem of identifying the appropriate units of analysis. This problem is compounded by the conventional framing of ethnographic studies in terms of units that are spatially and temporally isolated. Such framing is obviously inadequate to the task of understanding social practices, historical processes, and cultural interpretations that are engendered in a complex web of relations not only between local and national socioeconomic systems, but also between different social groups whose differences are themselves historically interactive. Inadequate as well are synchronic studies of daily life which presuppose the reproduction of existing differences.

Rather, it makes more sense to say that the units of analysis and their methods cannot be determined in advance and that they will have to be negotiated at each step among the multitude of relevant factors. This complexity means that the methodological challenge of my case study is to grasp the formation of Brasília's social order, and the structure of events motivating its development, as relational processes in time and space, that is, as processes in which the structures and values of each analytic unit (whether the working classes or the modernist capital as a whole or a single street) are defined in active engagement with those of cognate units (such as the bureaucratic elites or a Brazilian baroque capital or the traffic system). Thus, it is not enough to give the point of view of just the government, or the planners, or the workers, any more than it is of one neighborhood. Rather, the complexity of the case demands cross-class and intergroup juxtapositions in analyzing the material. The challenge, therefore, is to create an interactive framework of research that generates a detailed understanding of the processes of social and cultural change without reducing them to an isolated example and thus failing to account for the complexity of conditions which create them. 

To this end, I have first posed the problem of research as one of understanding how the claims of Brasília's modernism are linked to social practices and hence become forces in the social world. Second, I have organized this project in terms of five interactive and cross-class perspectives: those of context, intention, instrumentality, contradiction, and historical process. At this point, only the first four require additional comment. The study of context concerns identifying the conditions (social, cultural, economic, and political) under which Brasília was proposed, produced, and received in Brazilian society. It also identifies the constellation of issues that motivate its makers and inhabitants. The contexts that I found most relevant to the problems of research were (a) those in which the idea of Brasília attained legitimacy as a national endeavor, establishing the terms of its validation and a community of experts to elaborate them; (b) those in which modernism became the dominant model of the modern city and of development through urbanization; (c) those in which Brazilian ambitions found realization in a modernist project, linking first-, second-, and third-world concepts of development; and (d) those in which systems of political, institutional, and economic power engaged these ambitions to establish some of the structural constraints of the project. [5]

An adequate conception of what drives Brasília's development from modernist principles has to include the ways in which the main players interpret these contexts. One important way to do this is to consider that the project generated discourses, statements, texts, plans, models, drawings, and the like, which defined the intentions of those involved. These intentions are fundamental to our study because they make possible and legitimate the tactical interventions that people use to give Brasília's development its particular configuration of forms and forces. Architecture is itself a domain of intentions for changing society, repatterning daily life, displaying status, regulating real estate, and so forth-which engages other intentions, all of which have consequence in the world. Intentionality constitutes a part of social action that can be neglected only at the cost of having a reductive and determinist view of historical development. In this case study, I shall focus on intentions as they are manifested in the production of texts of various kinds, and I shaIl always link these to specific people or groups, their social practices, and their historical circumstances. [6]

Moreover, intentions generate instruments for their realization, and we may study them as such. They may be of many sorts: a plan for a building (expressing an intention and also containing a set of instructions to carry it out), a certain type of rationality, a real estate contract. One way of looking at Brasília's modernism is as a discourse on the good government of society which proposes architecture and city planning as instruments of social change and management. Such proposals have a long history in the West. Since Renaissance treatises on the nature of architecture and the city and the Laws of the Indies of 1573 regulating the discovery and settlement of the New World, architecture and city planning have been prominent among those modern techniques of government that address what the order of society should be and how it should be maintained. Their instrumentality concerns not only such practical matters as how to avoid epidemics, traffic jams, and street riots, but equally how to stimulate family and civic virtue. What characterizes Brasília's instruments of social change and organization, and how they realize their intentions in social processes, will be an important part of this study.

As such intentions and instruments constitute the self-understanding of Brasília's modernism, they remain essential to its analysis. However, a critical analysis cannot simply use for its own categories those that the theoreticians of modernism developed for themselves. Rather, it must distance itself from such an internal view, and I have already suggested some of the dimensions of this distancing. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are two great dangers in a critical interpretation that distances itself too much: reductivism and dogmatism. Discussing problems in what he calls allegorical interpretation, Jameson (1981: 22) observes that the first occurs when "the data of one narrative line are radicaIIy impoverished by their rewriting according to the paradigm of another narrative [his example is everyday experience and individual fantasy reduced to Freudian psychodynamics], which is taken as the former's master code or Ur-narrative and proposed as the ultimate hidden or 'unconscious meaning of the first one." In one form or another, the recent poststructuralist critiques of psychoanalytic, Marxist, and structuralist interpretation have all emphasized this point. Dogmatic criticism seems less a matter of such rewriting than of truth claims. It advances an alternative position against the one it criticizes and asserts that a demonstration of its truth is sufficient proof that its opponent's position is false: "I am right, therefore you must be wrong." To refute another, it only requires the proof, or even the claim, that it is true. Although it remains external to its object, this type of criticism is usually charged with imposing irrelevant criteria of evaluation, ignoring existing conditions, and being arrogant. Modernism in architecture is itself very often such a dogmatic critique of the cities and societies of bourgeois capitalism.

To avoid these charges, a critique of modernism can neither dismiss it out of hand nor reduce it to something else. What is needed instead is a method of assessment similar to what Frankfurt school theorists call immanent or dialectical criticism. [7] This procedure begins with the substance of what is to be criticized and establishes its self-understanding (its premises, intentions, categories, instruments, and the like). It then unfolds their entailments, implications, and consequences which it uses to reexamine the object of investigation. This reassessment reveals its gaps and paradoxes. As Burger (1984: liv) remarks, one of the important insights of this method is that "for dialectical criticism, the contradictions in the criticized theory are not indications of insufficient intellectual rigor ... but an indication of an unsolved problem or one that has remained hidden." It is in this sense that the critique proceeds from within, deriving its stimuli from the paradoxes of the theory criticized. By pursuing such paradoxes and the problems they reveal, it suggests not only a new understanding but also new possibilities for analyzing its object. This is its productive advantage, and it is in this sense that I shall focus my critical analysis of Brasília's development on its structure of premise and paradox. Ultimately, my interest in this structure is to show how its unsolved problems, gaps, and contradictions trip up the master plans, creating the conditions for their own transformation.

It is this immanent critique that distinguishes my project of critical ethnography from the experiments in writing that I mentioned earlier and that have become identified with postmodernism in anthropology. These experiments concentrate their critical attention on the various textual strategies that must organize any work of cultural representation. Their broadest critical objective is to debunk the notion that this representation may be transparent, that is, without artifice. They therefore focus on its literary production, on the way in which it is constructed in the encounter between ethnographer and native out of many voices, partial truths, disjointed observations, shifting biases, and other fragmentations in fieldwork. Thus, they conceive of ethnography as an experiment in writing precisely to reveal the devices and fractures of this construction on the one hand, and on the other to demonstrate the way most of them tend to get written out of the normative scientific account of other cultures when these are presented as an objective description by the all-seeing, intrepid, and authoritative ethnographer.

I have found their critique of such accounts very useful in helping me to understand the practice of ethnography. Nevertheless, I agree with Rabinow (1985: 12) when he says that "if in the last five years we have seen important work showing us specific ways beyond the transparency of language, I think it is now time to take those advances and move back to the world." It is in this sense of a return to the world that I intend to let the critical dimension of my study of Brasília emerge from a substantive analysis of the case itself. For if ethnography may be conceived of as a counter-discourse in the study of Brasília's modernism, then its critique must be worked out in terms of evaluating the claims at issue in light of their consequences. The critical self-consciousness of this enterprise lies not so much in the writing of a text, or in the erosion of positivist epistemologies, as in the recognition and indeed the emphasis of a tension between the goal of presenting the native's point of view and that of pursuing its paradoxes in social practice. Its self-reflection consists less in questioning the project of ethnography as an authoritative presentation of facts, than in moving beyond that question to develop ethnography as a critical register—a kind of subversive practice—with which to analyze particular cases.

The following discussion introduces the parameters of this objective in two ways. It provides an overview of the entire study in terms of the research framework just outlined, and it presents the plan of analysis.

A map shows population density in Brazil.

1.2 The Idea of Brasília

To understand the intentions of building Brasília, it is first necessary to see the city as the acropolis of an enormous expanse of emptiness. The Federal District in which the, capital lies is an area of 5,771 square kilometers plotted at the approximate center of the Central Plateau (map 1.1). Around it is nearly 2 million square kilometers of stunted scrub vegetation called cerrado, lying without significant modulation between 1000 and 1300 meters above sea level. This vast tableland includes areas within three of Brazil's five great regions-the Central West, the Northeast, and the Southeast-and comprises almost all of the  states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do SuI, and Goias in the West and parts of Bahia and Minas Gerais in the East. Although it represents 23% of Brazil's surface area, in 1980 it contained only 6% of its population, mostly found in the isolated boom towns and agricultural stations of pioneer zones. The rest survive as pastoralists and subsistence cultivators sparsely distributed across the land. At the time of Brasília's construction, its average population density was less than one person per square kilometer. Today, it is only four. [8] As one journeys across this desolate flatness, any interruption in the landscape—a twisted palm or a chain of voluminous clouds—becomes a welcome figure of life. It is in this tradition of desert sculpture that the steel and glass oasis of Brasília arises, almost 1000 kilometers from the coastline to which, in the metaphor of Frei Vicente do Salvador (1931: 19), Brazilian civilization has for over four centuries "clung like crabs." [9]

Since the middle of the eighteenth century, the idea of transferring Brazil's capital from the coast to the center of this uninhabited interior has been the dream of numerous visionaries. Their combined legacy to Brasília is that of a New World mythology in which the construction of a capital city at the heart of the Central Plateau is the means of launching a great civilization to flourish in a paradise of plenty. One of these visionaries, the Italian Joao Bosco, became the patron saint of Brasília for such a prophecy. According to interpretors of his revelation, he envisaged the site of the city 75 years before its construction as that of the Promised Land. On 30 August 1883, the saint dreamed that he was traveling by train across the Andes to Rio de Janeiro in the company of a celestial guide. As they crossed the Central Plateau, they surveyed not only the land's surface but also its subterranean features:

I saw the bowels of the mountains and the depths of the palms. I had before my eyes the incomparable riches... which would one day be discovered. I saw numerous mines of precious metals and fossil coals, and deposits of oil of such abundance as had never before been seen in other places. But that was not all. Between the fifteenth and the twentieth degrees of latitude, there was a long and wide stretch of land which arose at a point where a lake was forming. Then a voice said repeatedly; when people come to excavate the mines hidden in the middle of these mountains, there will appear in this place the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. It will be of inconceivable richness. (Cited in Silva 1971: 34)

Official interpretation holds that the topography of this vision corresponds precisely to the site of Brasília, constructed between the fifteenth and the sixteenth latitudes, and that its "lake in the process of forming" refers to the city's man-made Lake Paranoá. Moreover, as one of Brasília's founding fathers and local historians writes: "To confirm once again that Saint Joao Bosco was referring to our capital, to the Great Civilization that is now arising On the Central Plateau of Brazil, the Saint affirmed that these dreams... would be lived in the third generation" after his own (Silva 1971: 35). Brasilienses—as the people of Brasilia are called—consider this prognostication to indicate a period of 75 years. This establishes the late 1950s as the date of the prophecy's realization, exactly the years of Brasília's construction. Joao Bosco's prophecy is one of several foundation myths officially recognized in the city's history books and monuments. These myths are various versions of the same theme: they present Brasília as the civilizing agent of the Central Plateau, as the harbinger of an inverted development in which the capital creates the civilization over which it exercises a radiant sovereignty.

This New World mythology complements BrasíIia's foundation as an instrument of economic and political development. Since the third quarter of the eighteenth century, a multitude of reformers, revolutionaries, and empire-builders has proposed the transfer of the capital to the backlands as a means of populating, developing, and securing Brazil's vast interior. It was a proposal advocated by men of such different political objectives as the autocratic marquis of Pombal, the revolutionary Tiradentes, the patriarch of independence José Bonifácio de Andrade e Silva, and the diplomat Varnhagen. Since its inception, therefore, the "idea of Brasília" (as it is called) has had the peculiar characteristic of appealing to radically different, even violently opposed, political perspectives both as an image of a new Brazil and as a strategy of development. This idea finally attained legal form in the first Republican Constitution of 1891. Its third article set aside an area of 14,400 square kilometers in the Central Plateau for the installation of a future federal capital. In congressional debate on this article, legislators argued that the move to the interior would enable the government to establish sovereignty over the entire territory of Brazil away from the colonial coast and safe from naval attacks on the maritime capital in Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, they maintained that it would produce national integration by stimulating development of the interior's resources and thus generating axes of economic growth from the center to the farthest corners of the country.

Over the next sixty years, this constitutional directive received only intermittent attention: commissions in 1892, 1946, and 1953 were convened to chart the site of the future capital; their legal mandate was reiterated in the constitutions of 1934 and 1937 and in the Constitutional Assembly of 1946; and two presidents issued decrees to initiate construction, Presidents Epitácio Pessoa and Café Filho in 1920 and 1955, respectively. A ceremonial foundation stone was even laid in 1922 in what is today one of Brasília's satellite cities. This record of compliance with the constitution indicates the uncertainty with which political officials approached the mandated transfer of the capital. They were dissuaded not only by the economic risks involved, but perhaps even more by the political risks of undertaking a project with little likelihood of being completed within a single administration. For it is a well-known fact of Brazilian politics that public work projects left unfinished at the end of one administration are more likely to be ridiculed and dropped than completed by the next.

However, in 1955, the idea of Brasília found full voice in the presidential campaign of Juscelino Kubitschek. He initiated his candidacy with a pledge to build the new capital. After his election, the realization of this pledge became the central project of his administration (1956-61), the target-synthesis, as he called it, of his Target Program for national development. This program embodied a theory of development known as developmentalism, which was promoted throughout Latin America during the 1950s by ECLA (the United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America) and in Brazil by ISEB (the Superior Institute of Brazilian Studies). It stressed state-directed industrialization as the means by which underdeveloped countries could achieve rapid economic growth and a more favorable position in world trade. Kubitschek's version emphasized Brazilian nationalism in establishing development targets designed to propel Brazil over the hurdle of underdevelopment. He gave Brasília top priority in this program for several reasons. First, he argued that the construction of the capital in the Central Plateau would cause both national integration ("integration through interiorization" was his slogan) and regional development by bringing national markets to regions of subsistence economies. Second, he believed that the united effort required to build the city would stimulate research, development, and innovation in the other target projects-for example, in highway construction, hydroelectric generation, communications, and steel production. Thus, he maintained that Brasilia would produce both a new national space and a new national epoch, the first by incorporating the interior into the national economy and the second by being the decisive mark on the time-line of Brazil's emergence as a modern nation.

A map shows Brazil with lines drawn between Brasília and other state capitals.

In Kubitschek's master plan, these innovations were supposed to create a development inversion: not only would they propel the Central West up to the level of development in the Southeast (Le., of Rio de Janeiro and São PauIo), but more important, they would cause the rest of Brazil to catch up with the innovations of Brasília. Thus, Brasília would become, "a pole of development" for the nation, "a stone cast to create waves of progress" as the rhetoric of developmentalism put it. [10] One of the most succinct and popularized images of this intended inversion is given in map 1.2. Since 1956, it has appeared in various versions in publications as diverse as elementary school textbooks and government reports on regional development. In suggesting the existence of extensive linkages between Brasília and Brazil's state capitals, the map portrays Brasília as a means to create not only the polity of a centralized state but also the civilization it will rule. Yet, like the colonizing project it represents, the map's linkages are mostly imaginary. They are merely graphic representations of linear distance, not yet built in any form. As such, they constitute a map of intentions concerning the axes of economic development, the vectors of political consolidation, and the means of progress-in short, a map of the imaginary nation Brasília was designed to generate.

Nevertheless, when the Kubitschek government announced its decision in 1956 to transfer the capital to Brasília, and audaciously set the inaugural date for 21 April 1960, it encountered opposition from all quarters. The national press, congressional leaders, local politicians of every hue, and even the popular press lampooned the project as pure folly. This opposition fell into four camps. First, there were those simply skeptical of the government's ability to build a capital "in the middle of nowhere." Second, many were doubtful that even if construction were begun, it could be completed within Kubitschek's mandate. They reasoned that the city's construction would never be continued by the succeeding administration and that it would remain an incomplete and fabulously expensive ruin. A third group argued that the entire project was economic madness, for it would fuel inflation beyond control. It suggested that if the government were really intent on committing Brazil's resources to huge development projects, then there were many other regions of the country, those at least inhabited, that needed attention first. [11] Even popular sentiment against the city depicted the Central Plateau as an unreal place populated, if inhabited at all, by Indians—which is to say barely Brazilian and hardly suitable for the center of national government. [12]

Kubitschek and his supporters countered with a skillful and successfull campaign to legitimate the city's construction. Their legitimation combined New World mythology and development theory in linking the foundation of a capital city with the foundation of a new Brazil. Throughout Brazilian history, this link has had numerous names, including Nova Lisboa, Petrópole, Pedrália, Imperatória, Tiradentes, Vera Cruz, and finally Brasília—each name symbolizing the intentions of its proponents. Kubitschek and his architects amalgamated these intentions into a unified rhetorical proposition, expressed both in the modernist design of the city and in the government's plan to occupy it.

1.3 The Instruments of Change

The apartment blocks of a superquadra [the city's basic residential unit] are all equal: same façade, same height, same facilities, all constructed on pilotis [columns], all provided with garages and constructed of the same material—which prevents the hateful differentiation of social classes; that is, all the families share the same life together, the upper-echelon public functionary, the middle, and the lower.

As for the apartments themselves, some are larger and some are smaller in number of rooms. [They] are distributed, respectively, to families on the basis of the number of dependents they have. And because of this distribution and the inexistence of social class discrimination, the residents of a superquadra are forced to live as if in the sphere of one big family, in perfect social coexistence, which results in benefits for the children who live, grow up, play, and study in the same environment of sincere camaraderie, friendship, and wholesome upbringing... And thus is raised, on the plateau, the children who will construct the Brazil of tomorrow, since Brasília is the glorious cradle of a new civilization. (Brasília 1963 [65-81]: 15)

This description of "perfect social coexistence" comes neither from the pages of a utopian novel, nor from the New World annals of Fourierite socialism. Rather, it is taken from the periodical of the state corporation that planned, built, and administered Brasília-from a "report" on living conditions in the new capital. Nevertheless, it presents a fundamentally utopian premise: that the design and organization of Brasília were meant to transform Brazilian society. Moreover, it does so according to the conventions of utopian discourse: by an implicit comparison with and negation of existing social conditions. In this case, the subtext is the rest of Brazil, where society is stratified into pernicious social classes, where access to city services and facilities is differentially distributed by class, and where residential organization and architecture are primary markers of social standing. Brasília is put forth not merely as the antithesis of this stratification, but also as its antidote, as the "cradle" of a new society. Thus, when the city's planners presuppose that lower-level government employees live "the same life together" with higher officials, it is not because they assume that such egalitarianism already exists as a basic value in Brazilian society. They know that it does not. Rather, they are presupposing the value they want to create among the residents, especially the children, of Brasília. To complete the deliberate petitio principii—the assumption of what one wishes to prove—which seems fundamental to this sort of discourse, they state their intention as fact, as a transformation in the present tense: they claim that the unequal distribution of advantage due to differences in class, race, employment, wealth and family that structures urban life elsewhere in Brazil is in Brasília already negated.

The mechanism of this negation is its embodiment in the residential organization of the city. It lies not only in the distribution of apartments according to need but moreover in their design. Thus, the planners claim that the "equality" or standardization of architectural elements "prevents" social discrimination. In this embodiment of intention, they propose an instrumental relation between architecture and society: the people who inhabit their buildings will be "forced" to adopt the new forms of social experience, collective association, and personal habit their architecture represents. This forced conduction to radical changes in social values and relations is the essential means by which Brasília's planners hoped to institute their egalitarian prescriptions for a new Brazilian society. It is in this sense that they considered architecture an instrument of social change. Moreover, in designing an entire city, a total environment, they viewed this conduction as an inescapable inversion of social evolution in which architects and city planners would design fundamental features of society.

Parts 1 and 2 of this study examine the embodiment of these intentions in Brasília's architecture and planning. Chapter 2 establishes Brasília's pedigree as a modernist city, setting out its basic features in its European and Russian context by focusing on its explicitly political objective: to transform the city of industrial capitalism and, by extension, capitalist society. Chapter 3 relates these features to the intentions of Brasília's planners to change Brazilian society. It shows how the city's foundation charter, its Master Plan, paradoxically disguises these intentions by dehistoricizing their relations to the rest of Brazil and mythologizing the agenda for social change that motivates its specific proposals.

These proposals are evaluated in part 2. There are five of them, and together they claim to redefine the "key functions" of urban life: (1) to organize the city into exclusive and homogeneous zones of activity based on a predetermined typology of urban functions and building forms; (2) to concentrate the function of work in relation to dispersed dormitory settlements; (3) to institute a new type of residential architecture and organization; (4) to create a green city, a city in the park; and (5) to impose a new system of traffic circulation. Analyzed separately in chapter 4, this last proposal not only eliminates the street system of public spaces and the urban crowd that streets traditionally support in Brazilian cities; it also destroys the basic architectural structure of the type of city modernism attacks. To understand the significance of this transformation, I consider the street in the preindustrial Brazilian cities of eighteenth-century Ouro Preto and nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro. In these cities, the street defines a context for social life in terms of a contrast between public space and private building. It is this context, and contrast, that Brasília subverts.

I evaluate these proposals in terms of the claims of Brasília's founding premises. This assessment occurs at several levels of analysis. On the one hand, my objective is to provide an account of how the planners' proposals structure the built city. On the other, it is to evaluate the consequences of this structure for the development of Brasiliense society. In the first case, I analyze the entailments of these proposals, focusing on their internal coherence and contradiction. By entailments, I refer to those conditions that derive both from the definition and from the mode of expression of the planners' intentions, in other words, from the proposals and from the values they supposedly embody. This analysis is important in order to counter a simplistic assumption often made by planners themselves: that their intentions are more or less perfectly realized in their plans. This assumption enables them to blame external farces beyond their control if plans go awry. However, the analysis of entailments reveals two sets of issues that undercut this assumption in the case of Brasília. First, we must consider the values that the planners thought they were concretizing in their proposals. For example, we shall want to know whether a social program characterized as egalitarian, socialist, or collectivist may be internally contradicted if it attempts to restructure residential relations but neglects those of work. Second, we must consider whether the planners were mistaken about the real nature of the social program to which their proposals refer. We must determine whether their proposals are the right instruments to bring about the desired ends, or whether they contradict the intentions they presumably concretize and therefore represent, once built, very different values from the ones imagined.

1.4 The Negation of the Negation

The second type of evaluation made in part 2, and carried on in part 3, focuses on the consequences of planning for the development of Brasiliense society. Although Brasília was conceived to create one kind of society, it was necessarily built and inhabited by another–by the rest of Brazil the former denied. Brasília's social development is driven by the tensions and contradictions between these two societies. I look at this development in terms of the reaction of Brasilienses to the defamiliarizations of the architectural and planning proposals—both to the unintended consequences of their internal contradictions and to their intended realizations. I analyze two facets of this response: how Brasilienses have interpreted Brasília's negation of the life of other Brazilian cities, and what kind of social and cultural processes this interpretation has generated. These processes reveal that the paradox of Brasília's development is not that its radical premises failed to produce something new, but rather, that what they did produce contradicted what was intended.

The first generation of migrants in postinaugural Brasília expressed their reactions in a way that suggests the scope of this paradox. They coined the expression brasilite, meaning 'Brasíl(ia)-itis,' to describe the impact of Brasília as a trauma. Brasilite is an ambiguous description because it includes both negative and positive reactions to the planned city (interviews, Brasília, 1980-82). Nevertheless, in terms of the city's utopian premises, this ambiguity merely reveals a double paradox. The negative aspects of brasilite are linked to a rejection of the defamiliarizing intentions of Brasília's design. What they reject is the negation of the familiar urban Brazil in the city's organization and architecture. Thus, not only did these migrants view the "same façades" as monotonous but they considered that their standardization produced anonymity among residents, not equality. Moreover, they rejected the mixing of social classes in the same superquadra as explosive, as igniting conflicts among neighbors of irreconcilably different life styles and values. In addition, while they appreciated the absence of traffic jams, they complained that the elimination of streets and street corners also eliminated the crowds that they enjoyed in cities. Without the bustle of street life, they found Brasília "cold." Although separating the functions of work, residence, recreation, and traffic produced organizational clarity in the city's plan, it also reduced their use of urban space to a commuter shuttle between work and residence. In this regard, they used the term brasilite to refer to their feelings about a daily life without the pleasures—the distractions, conversations, flirtations, and little rituals—of the outdoor public life of other Brazilian cities.

This rejection of the utopian city led them to reassert familiar conceptual schemes about urban life—to familiarize a defamiliarized city. For example, they repudiated the antistreet intentions of the Master Plan by putting their shops back on the street, in contact with curbs and traffic. Although limited to a few commercial sectors, this conversion reproduced the life of the market street where it had been architecturally denied. Although they could not change the facades of the apartment blocks, many upper-echelon bureaucrats moved out of them, preferring to build individual houses on the other side of the lake. Often with considerable ostentation and in a variety of historical styles, these houses display their residents' wealth, status, and personality in elaborate facades that negate the modernist aesthetic. Moreover, finding the "same life together" intolerable, the elite abandoned the idea of constructing egalitarian social clubs in the superquadras as had been planned. Instead, many joined private clubs organized according to exclusive criteria antithetical to the utopian aims of Brasília's residential organization. As a result, an important aspect of its planned collective structure collapsed. Thus, in rejecting the negation of established patterns of urban life, Brasilienses reasserted social processes and cultural values that the architectural design intended to deny. What resulted was not of course the old Brazil, but neither was it the imagined city.

When we look at the positive aspects of brasilite, we see that the response was no less paradoxical. The idea of Brasília denied the old Brazil twice: it negated its underdevelopment as well as its urban life. Although Brasilienses rejected the defamiliarization of the latter, not surprisingly they accepted Brasília's negation of the former. Thus, their accounts of brasilite have this positive aspect: they consistently appreciate the economic opportunity and higher standards of living in the city. They may reject its forced social life, but they praise its conditions of prosperity. That these conditions should be considered part of its trauma is a measure of just how incongruously modern the city is in Brazil. Foremost among these positive evaluations are those concerning economic opportunity. Their emphasis on work brings into focus the role of the state not only as the builder and developer of the city but also, as we shall discuss in chapter 5, as the overwhelmingly predominant provider of jobs and urban services. In what follows, I shall briefly illustrate the benefits of this provision. I do so at this point not only because they reveal what residents like about Brasília, but moreover because they suggest a paradoxical conclusion: that in achieving economic development, the government reiterated some of the basic social conditions of underdevelopment that it had initially sought to preclude.

In a number of ways, the 1980 census confirms Brasília's preeminent position in Brazil as a place to work. For example, it reports that of Brazil's states and territories the Federal District has the highest proportion of people in the labor force. [13] The census also reports that proportionately more women are economically active and proportionally less children and adolescents than anywhere else. [14] Moreover, as table 1.1 indicates, the rewards of working in Brasília are likely to be greater: nearly double the national proportion earns over 5 minimum salaries per month, while the percentage at the bottom is significantly lower. Thus, a much greater percentage of Brasília's labor force is in the middle-income brackets. 

A table shows employment statistics for Brasília and São Paulo.

In a nation where over three quarters of the population are poor, the relative conditions of urban poverty are a crucial consideration. If one compares these conditions in Brasília with those in other Brazilian cities, even the relative prosperity of its poor becomes apparent. As most of Brazil's impoverished citizens live on the periphery of its big cities, table 1.1 contrasts one of the typical poor neighborhoods of São Paulo's periphery, São Miguel Paulista, with one of Brasilia's satellite cities, Sobradinho. Although the numbers of poor people in each are overwhelming, they are noticeably lower in Sobradinho as a percentage of the total population. More significant, the proportion of those earning over 5 minimum salaries monthly is double. In addition to low income, the most important condition of poverty on the periphery of Brazil's cities is the lack of basic urban services. Here again, due to government investments, services in Brasília's peripheral neighborhoods are remarkably better than São Paulo's. Let us compare a number of services in the poorest of São Paulo's peripheries, Area VIII (in which São Miguel Paulista is located), with those in the poorest of Brasília's satellite cities, Ceilândia. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, only 19% of the residences in Area VIII had sanitary sewage; 5% had telephones; 80% had trash removal; and 25% of the mostly unpaved streets had public lighting. By contrast, in Ceilândia 60% had sewage, 11% telephones, 100% trash removal, and 74% of the streets were illuminated. [15] In terms of educational services, São Miguel Paulista had one elementary school for every 1,429 students, while in Ceilândia there was one school for 1,080 students, and in Sobradinho, one for 499. [16] Together, these conditions substantiate a well-known saying in the capital: if one has to be poor in Brazil, it is better to be poor in Brasília.

When we consider the urban conditions and job opportunities provided in the modernist city itself—called the Plana Piloto ('Pilot Plan') to distinguish it from the periphery of satellite cities (map 1.3)—it is evident that measured in these terms its quality of life is exceptional. Not only are its infrastructural services excellent, but what makes this characterization extraordinary in Brazil is that it may be applied to the entire city. In interview after interview, residents register this basic difference: the PIano Piloto is free from problems afflicting other Brazilian cities from congestion, high crime rate, omnipresent misery, lack of urban services, and pollution. The Plano Piloto is free from "all that disorder." Rather, in the capital, "things function"; the work day is "convenient"; daily life is "tranquil." When one adds to these conveniences the opportunity, security, salary, and perquisites of government employment, the "good life" of Brasília is quite seductive; that is, in people's evaluation, its practical advantages come to outweigh its defamiliarizations. Especially as urban conditions elsewhere have progressively deteriorated in the last two decades, the appeal of order in Brasília eventually—and sometimes rapidly—succeeds the sense of loss that Plano Piloto residents commonly feel for the urban life of hometown Brazil.

A map shows the Plano Piloto and satellite cities in Brazil's federal district.

These opinions are, of course, difficult to gauge as opinion. However, just as the negative evaluations of Brasília are manifested in social processes, actions, and statuses, so too are the positive ones. One such indication is the long-term residence in the city of people who have great opportunity to leave: those who occupy the highest positions in the federal bureaucracy, especially in the ministries. These people usually hold jobs that are untenured and commonly called cargos de confiança, 'positions of confidence'; that is, they are appointees whose jobs depend on the fortunes of their superiors. As a result, not only do they have greater opportunity for job advancements, but they lose their jobs more frequently than other bureaucrats, especially when the administration changes hands. As they also have greater possibilities of arranging work elsewhere, I conducted surveys in several ministries to determine whether they left Brasília at the end of their jobs. [17] The results show that their choice was overwhelmingly to remain in the capital and that they did so by arranging a similar appointment in another institution of government. Their reluctance to leave Brasília dispels the notion of a trapped bureaucratic elite. Rather, it suggests that the city's elite consists of a stable corps of those who circulate, rather "endogamously," through the upper-echelon positions of its bureaucracy.

However, the maintenance of this elite suggests a disturbing paradox: that when considered in relation to the poverty of the satellite cities, the privileges of the Plano Piloto contradict Brasília's founding premises. For the planners wanted to make Brasília an exemplar of development by negating the conditions of underdevelopment in the city's construction and settlement—not by displacing them from the coast to the interior, or by transporting them from the big cities to BrasíIia, or by transposing them into another scale. Yet, the very existence of satellite cities, in which almost three quarters of the population of the Federal District live, subverts this intention profoundly: it reproduces the distinction between privileged center and dispriviIeged periphery that is one of the most basic features of the rest of urban Brazil, of the underdevelopment Brasília's planners wanted to deny in building their new world.

Moreover, if we look again at table 1.1, we see that it suggests that this subversion developed perversely: that the development of Brasiliense society not only reproduced the social orders of the realm in the exemplary capital, but that it did so in an exaggerated way. This exaggeration becomes apparent when we compare the proportions of middle- and upper-income earners. We realize that the Federal District's remarkable concentration of those earning over 5 minimum salaries is not due to its predominance in the middle range of 5—10 salaries. In this range, it fares no better than São PauIo, and the peripheral Sobradinho comes very close to representing the entire district. Rather, it is in the upper income range, above 10 salaries per month, that the Federal District dominates the comparisons: its proportion is double São Paulo's, two and a half times Brazil's, and three and a half times Sobradinho's. As we shall discuss in a later chapter, the spatial distribution of this high income is absolutely concentrated: it is overwhelmingly found in Brasília—that is, in the Plano Piloto and its lake residences—and not in the satellite cities. [18]

The important point to stress here is that as this concentration applies in all areas of the city, the social inequalities they entail are associated with an extraordinary spatial stratification between center and periphery. Moreover, the distribution of income only partially reveals the extent of this differentiation. In fact, the disparities between Brasília and its satellites are even more severe because the good life of the capital is based to a significant degree on the perquisites of office—called mordomias or 'butlerisms'—that garnish the incomes of the elite officials of all branches of government. Depending on their level, these officials receive residence, car, food, telephone, and servants who, of course, come from the satellite cities. [19] These disparities suggest that the successes of Brasília's order depend to a considerable degree upon keeping the forces of disorder out of the capital and in the periphery. Thus, its high standards of living appear to be supported by a kind of dual social structure. Part 3 analyzes the development of this stratified society and shows that it unequivocally subverted the government's founding premises. That Brasília is a bureaucratic city in which government planners have had both the power and the resources to carry out their plans suggests that the government's own initiatives in organizing the city promoted this subversion. Part 3 is devoted to demonstrating the force of this paradox in the development of Brasiliense society.



[1] Recently, a powerful and remarkable exception has appeared in Taussig's study of terror and healing. It explicitly sets out "to disrupt the imagery of natural order through which, in the name of the real, power exercises its domain . . . to work with a different conflation of modernism and the primitivism it conjures into life—namely, the carrying over into history of the principle of montage" (1987:xiv)

[2] I have in mind, for example, an ethnography of American adolescence to interact with, and perhaps disrupt, Margaret Mead's study of Samoan youth; or of modern English concepts and uses of time to make sense of, or to debunk, Evans-Pritchard's (1940: 103) ungrounded, but potentially subversive claim that "Nuer are fortunate" because their lives are not ordered by an abstract and autonomous system of time. One notable exception is J. Favret-Saada's (1980) ethnography of witch-craft in contemporary rural France which explicitly engages Evans-Pritchard's study of witchcraft among the Azande, and which both enriches the Zande material and benefits from an interactive reading of it.

[3] A growing number of ethnographies written in the context of first-world academic institutions address these concerns. Among the most stimulating for me have been Comaroff (1985), Nash (1979), Taussig (1980 and 1987), and Willis (1981). Produced in the same institutional milieu are the complementary theoretical discussions found in Clifford (1983), Clifford and Marcus (1986), I should note Bordieu's (1984) monograph on discrimination in many ways among those studies of the developed West which do not treat culture as epiphenomenal superstructure. Nevertheless, its almost exclusive reliance on survey data would make most ethnographers uncomfortable. 

[4] I am not, however, counterposing against the hubris of master planning either an alternative notion of organic or natural growth in which cities somehow take care of themselves (a notion I criticize in a later chapter), or a celebration of commercialized urban sprawl (as Venturi suggests in his powerful endorsement of a vernacular, if complacent, free play of symbols in Learning from Las Vegas). In this sense, I do not doubt the importance of planning, Rather, I want to cut through such unsatisfying juxtapositions by historicizing and contextualizing intention and plan, by taking the imposition of the Master Plan of Brasília as a planned event in 1957 from which developed both the orders and disorders of the built city.

[5] Two contextualizing issues I have not addressed are nineteenth-century Brazilian positivism and 1920s Brazilian modernism. The former contributed philosophically to notions of space, power, and national territorial sovereignty, notions that were important in legitimating the project of Brasília. A general text on this New World positivism is by Cruz Costa (1956). The latter is a fascinating subject about which a number of good studies have been written, including those by Martins (1969) and Lafetá (1974). One of its main concerns was to find new forms of Brazilian nationalism by combining European literary modernism with an appropriation of images from Brazilian and Amerindian folklore. Some of the foundational works in this project are Mário de Andrade's Macunaíma (1928) and Oswald de Andrade's Manifesto da Poesia Pau-Brasil (1924) and Manifesto Antropófago (1928). While of great interest to the history of ethnographic surrealism, Brasília's modernists, as architects and planners, had other concerns. 

[6] I should point out that intentions are not the same as beliefs and that a description of them is much less likely than one of beliefs to promote the author-anthropologist as the voice of culture (as in "The Nuer think . . ."). 

[7] For a discussion of their conceptions of this method see Held 1980: 183—87 and passim.

[8] The average population density varies within this region: For Goiás, it is 6; for Mato Grosso do Sul, 4; for Mato Grosso, 1. As map 1.1 indicates, the anomaly is the Federal District with 218 persons per square kilometer. Since the map compares population density by state, however, it does not show that the district's density remains lower than that of all but one of Brazil's nine largest metropolitan regions. For example, the population density per square kilometer of São Paulo is 1,583; of Recife, 1,067; of Belo Horizonte, 693; and of Porto Alegre, 384 (Codeplan 1976: 17 and IBGE 1981b: 4—9, 14—16). 

[9] Unless otherwise notes, all translations are by the author. They are set into the text with the following conventions. Glosses of a given foreign word of phrase are enclosed in single quotation marks. Translated words are enclosed in double quotation marks when a bibliographic source is cited or, occasionally, to indicate that they are translations of Portugese terms recorded in my fieldnotes. 

[10] I might note here that this rhetoric has been remarkably well internalized by all classes of people in Brasília: both of these phrases were given in interviews with, among others, an impoverished squatter living on the periphery of the city and a Bank of Brazil executive living in one of its elite neighborhoods. 

[11] It is beyond the scope of this study to evaluate the effects that the construction of Brasília may have had on the accelerating rate of inflation of the late fifties and early sixties. However, I should note that estimates of the cost involved vary considerably. Perhaps the most reliable one is given in ECLA's 1964 study of the Target Program: "It is difficult to calculate the amount invested in the construction of Brasília for want of official figures. Those available, at current prices, were estimated by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation for the period between 1957 and mid-1962, as follows: [in millions of cruzeiros] public sector, 139,000; private sector—10,000; total, 149,000. At 1961 prices, this expenditure was calculated to be between 250,000 and 300,000 million cruzeiros [between U.S. $926 million and 1 billion], which means that Brasília mobilized 2—3% of the gross domestic product for that period" (ECLA 1964: 171). However, using congressional reports, the journalist Vaitsman (1968: 87) claims that until the end of 1961 total expenditures amounted to much less Cr$81,805 million (U.S. $303 million). 

[12] The portrayal of Brasília as a fantasy in the popular imagination comes across in a samba by Billy Blanco that became a hit in 1958: "I'm not going to Brasília, neither me nor my family, I'm not an Indian or anything; I don't have a pierced ear . . . Even to get rich with pockets full of money, I prefer to die poor without leaving Copacabana," i.e., Rio de Janeiro; cited in Mendes 1979: 121.

[13] In the Federal District, 54.4% of the population 10 years of age and older is economically active as compared with 54.2% in the state of São Paulo and 49.7% nationally (IBGE 1981a: 21,437,619).

[14] The 1980 census shows that among women 10 years of age and older 37.2% are economically active in the Federal District, 32.8% in São Paulo, and 26.9% in Brazil. Corresponding to the high percentage of working women in Brasília is the low proportion of those in the labor force between 10 and 14 years of age: 5.9% in Brasília as compared with 12.8% in São Paulo and 14.2% in Brazil (IBGE 1981a: 21,437,619).

[15] The comparison with Sobradinho is even more revealing: 99% of its residences had sanitary sewage, 58% telephones, and 100% trash removal. Moreover, by 1983, 88% of its streets were paved and 75% had public lighting. Although Sobradinho is not Brasília's poorest satellite, its conditions are more typical of the capital's periphery than Ceilândia's.

[16] The data for urban services in São Paulo are from IBGE 1984; in São Miguel Paulista, from Caldeira 1984; and in Ceilândia and Sobradinho, from Codeplan 1984. The division of São Paulo into eight areas of homogenous socioeconomic characteristics derives from Seplan 1977.

[17] I found out who held the highest positions in 1977 and then inquired as to where they lived and what jobs they held both before the change of government in 1974 and after the change in 1979. The Ministry of the Interior presents a typical example in the survey. Of those in the top 22 positions, 18 (82%) resided in Brasília before President Geisel took office in 1974 and 19 (86%) of them remained after President Figueiredo assumed power in 1979. In the latter transition, only four retained the same job. Of the 18 who changed jobs, 16 (89%) remained in Brasília and 15 (83%) remained in the highest echelons of government at other institutions. Furthermore, interviews with some of these superbureaucrats revealed that their decision to stay in the capital even when offered a similar job elsewhere was based on a strong preference for the conveniences of life in Brasília. 

[18] In fact, this distribution is even sharper that table 1.1 suggests: as studies presented in chap. 5 demonstrate, the average income per residence in the Plano Piloto is three and one-half times, and in the lake suburbs five times, that of residences in the satellite cities.

[19] Perquisites are normally awarded in varying measures to all officials holding a position of established rank in the federal bureaucracy. What makes Brasília's case scandalous is the quantity of butlerisms top-level bureaucrats receive. These officials are found principally in the executive institutions of government. They occupy what are officially called positions of Superior Supervision and Counsel (DAS), and constitute what is unofficially called "a caste of superfunctionaries." Little is publicly known about the organization of this "caste." The information that follows derives from my own investigations into the congressional record (published in the Diário Oficial); from the files of Congressman Maurício Fruet, who led a congressional campaign denouncing excessive mordomias in Brasília; and from the archives of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo. There are six levels of DAS bureaucrats. The lowest level receives 13 minimum salaries. However, it is reported that DAS officials frequently hold multiple positions so that they commonly "earn" as much as 70 salaries. In addition, they receive considerable perquisites; in fact, most of Brasília's mordomia budget goes to them. In a series of reports, Congressman Fruet revealed that for 1981 the proposed budget of mordomias in Brasília just for the 15 ministries of state and for the presidency amounted to approximately U.S. $20,400,000. The significance of this figure becomes apparent in comparison to other aspects of the federal budget. In 1981, the proposed expenditures for the Ministry of Health for all federal health programs amounted to U.S.$3 per Brazilian. If we accept the estimate that there are about 5000 DAS bureaucrats in Brasília (the exact number is "unavailable"), then the city's 1981 mordomia budget for executive institutions provided U.S.$4,100 per DAS official!

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Postcolonial Spatialities


On one reading, postcolonial studies seem to be riveted more firmly on temporal as opposed to spatial questions. This may be traced partly to the effect of the temporalizing "post-" in the term postcolonialism, which has allowed an insistence on various dates as inaugurating the epochal postcolonial relation. 


Thus, 1492 and 1955 are readily taken as two bookends to the postcolonial, the first signaling the debatable first discovery of the Americas and the second specifying the moment of the coming together of nations from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in a new comity of nations setting out a lively anti-colonial agenda.  At the same time these and other inaugural dates also signal moments of spatiality, in which spatial processes took place that altered the socio-cultural and political relation between so-called Third and First Worlds, global south and global north, and between various nodal points of the global south itself.

At the same time, the question of space and spatiality must also be noted as having taken an increasingly central place in general discussions of the colonial and postcolonial condition.  This other emphasis emerges most visibly in analyses that expressly detail or otherwise highlight  the automatic entailments of the colonial world with that of the colonized, such that it is impossible to understand metropolitan colonial culture without a concomitant understanding of the spatial relationships between that and the culture of the colonized.  In this respect we might even adduce inherently spatial axioms from Edward Said’s now-classic Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism.  Additionally, the increasing focus on transnational modes of analysis has meant that space has taken on a salience alongside other categories as a means of understanding an inter-dependent world.  Varied postcolonial scholars have increasingly paid attention to the transnational inter-relatedness of space (Appadurai, Modernity at Large; James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order), and to the inherently multi-scalar nature of specific locations in the postcolonial world (Jini Watson on The New Asian City: Three-Dimensional Fictions of Space and Urban Forms; Rashmi Varma on The Postcolonial City and Its Subjects: London, Nairobi, Bombay; Sarah Nuttal and Achille Mbembe, Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis; and Ato Quayson, Oxford Street: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism).

Finally, the interest in space and spatiality has been a prominent part of the interdisciplinary confluence of geography, urban studies, and colonial/postcolonialism, inspired by the critique of cartography, modernist planning, and globalization studies.  Whether in Mary Louise Pratt’s discussion of the inter-dependent genesis of planetary consciousness in Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, Kapil Raj’s specific critique of cartography in Relocating Modern Science or in Karen Lynnea Piper’s Cartographic Fictions: Maps, Race, and Identity, interdisciplinarity has provided the rationale for thinking of space as a primary category of analysis.

The several spatial emphases of postcolonialism will be brought together under the rubric of the Colloquy on Postcolonial Spatialities.  Scholars will be invited to offer reflections on the following (not exhaustive) list):

1) Overviews of current spatial theories inspired by Foucault, Benjamin, de Certeau, Mikhail Bakhtin, David Harvey, Bachelard and others for application to postcolonial topics from an integrated and interdisciplinary perspective.

2) Explorations of the ways in which we might read space into and out of postcolonial literary writing.  While literary spaces are a function of language and genre, it is still not clear that we have an idiom by which to convey our critical understanding of such spaces.  Is space a product for example of means of locomotion, features of historical or geographical setting, or of the contrast between  economically and ethically saturated spaces (Slumdog Millionaire vrs Monsoon Wedding, for example).

3) Reflections on the relation between locality and transnationalism in our contemporary world, and the ways in which the increasing mobility of populations and the platforms of social media are generating different imaginaries of space.

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