In Dangerous Encounters, Daniel Touro Linger, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, analyzes the relationship between Carnival and violence in São Luís, the capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Maranhão. His central thesis is that Carnival and briga (violent confrontations) are cultural dramas, structured by organized understandings shared by all the actors. The elements that make up that structure include self-control, self-esteem, self-preservation, and social cohesion. Linger achieves his goal, to integrate cultural, psychological, and social considerations in a broad interpretive scheme, far more successfully than he is willing to admit. In the process, he not only adds to the work of scholars such as Roberto da Matta in understanding the Brazilian character, but sheds light on the nature of violence in general.
The work is divided into four parts. Part 1 provides theoretical background by reviewing the efforts of other scholars, a practice throughout the book that offers the reader valuable comparative insights. Parts 2, “Carnival,” and 3, “Briga,” contain the essence of the argument. The final part binds the previous sections into a cohesive, logical whole. Of particular value is the use of first- and third-person accounts of violence by Sãoluisenses themselves. This approach fosters a better perception of the author’s jargon-laden explanations.
Linger points out that while violence at Carnival and other times occurs mostly among males from the lower socioeconomic class, it is not limited by class or gender. He also makes clear that Carnival is not a time of temporary equality, despite outward appearances. Instead, within the carnival structure, “anything goes”; participants can cast out (desabafar) accumulated anxieties, frustrations, and resentments, the results of an unequal world. Playing at Carnival allows the individual to perform in a non-normative manner. It is here that briga and Carnival meet in a dangerous encounter, which, if not dealt with successfully, can lead to moral failure, humiliation, death, and chaos. The irony is that the “anything goes” concept links Carnival and briga in a construct that interprets a desabafo as an entrudo (provocation) that can cause briga. From this standpoint, Linger sees Carnival as a cultural event offering a “zone of tension” rather than pure release.
Linger has written a stimulating work that has few weaknesses and many strengths. Specialists in the study of Brazil and in the psychosocial behavior of violence will find this book interesting and useful. It is unfortunate that it will not appeal to a mass audience, for violence is an issue of such importance that Lingers volume needs to be read by more than scholars.