This collection of essays represents the competent realization of an excellent idea. It achieves its main purpose—to make recent Brazilian social analysis more accessible to an international audience—by presenting a cross-section of the central themes and problems addressed by Brazilian social scientists who have become prominent since the 1964 revolution. Some of the essays make important original contributions. Otávio Guilherme Velho, for example, combines the anthropologist’s special sensitivity to the structure and functions of myth with political and economic considerations of the relation of the state to peasants and to bourgeois entrepreneurs in the expansion of agricultural frontiers. Other essays deal with issues and ideas that have already been extensively analyzed in the Brazilian literature, but these are for the most part good synthetic representations of the state of the art.
While most of the individual essays are interesting in themselves, the book’s main virtue is in its scope, its tone, and its selection of topics. Significantly, of the seven essays, only one deals with cities, and only one deals with industrialization—and this specifically in terms of the coexistence of different modes of industrial production. Four of the essays, on the other hand, are distinctly rural in their focus, and of these, three are specifically concerned with the behavior of the national state. The deep concern with peasant mobilization, rural oligarchies, peasant production, capitalist agriculture and frontier expansion, especially as these have affected and been affected by the “waves of authoritarianism and populism [which] have successively assailed the Brazilian political system” (Alcântara, p. 99) reflected in this selection may surprise—and should clearly alert—the reader more familiar with scholarly analyses of industrial and urban development in Brazil.
The essays are, perhaps necessarily, somewhat uneven in quality and level of analysis. The quantitative analyses used for two of the studies are crude and are not well articulated with the theoretical assertions of their authors; some of the interpretive essays offer elaborate theoretical structures with very little documentation. These are minor flaws, however, in relation to this collection’s contribution to our understanding of what Brazilians are thinking and writing about their own society.
The translations are quite good, though a more careful final editing would have avoided some obvious mistakes. The general bibliography of Brazilian social science research since 1960 will provide essential help to future researchers.