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Brazilian Studies Reading Group with Jeffrey Lesser

Monday, February 19, 2018,

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  • Location: Robert Penn Warren Center • 2301 Vanderbilt Place • Nashville, TN 37235
  • Room: Conference Room

Jeffrey Lesser (Brazilian studies, Emory University) will deliver a lecture titled: "Bad Health in a Good Retreat: Life and Death in the 'Worst' Neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil." 


Bom Retiro was (and is) a small neighborhood in the huge megalopolis of São Paulo, Brazil. Filled with small factories, tenement housing, and warehouses, the working class neighborhood has been populated since the late nineteenth century by immigrants, migrants from the impoverished Brazilian northeast and Afro-Brazilian descendants of slaves. While the cultural backgrounds of the immigrants have shifted (from Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese Catholics in the early 20th century to East European Jews in the mid twentieth century to Chinese, Korean, Paraguayan, and Bolivian immigrants today), the neighborhood has always been viewed internally and externally as one where health (in the broadest sense of the word) is precarious.

“Bad Health in a Good Retreat” analyzes the relationship between “public health” and the health of the public, especially immigrants.   By focusing on one square block of lower Bom Retiro from about 1900 to the present, the varied data  allows professor Lesser to analyze everything from the stories residents tell about how to avoid water borne diseases to state imposed campaigns of social control against everything from crime to dengue. The project takes advantage of new digital methodologies that allow him to map space over time. Professor Lesser will discuss the methodological aspects of the project and present some initial findings.

Lunch will be provided. Seminar coordinators: Jacob Brown (Spanish and Portuguese) jacob.c.brown@vanderbilt.edu, Tiago Maranhão (history) tiago.fernandes.maranhao@vanderbilt.edu, and Kalliopi Samiotou (Spanish and Portuguese) kalliopi.samiotou@vanderbilt.edu.