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Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil [Paperback]

Nancy Scheper-Hughes
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 9, 1993 0520075374 978-0520075375
When lives are dominated by hunger, what becomes of love? When assaulted by daily acts of violence and untimely death, what happens to trust? Set in the lands of Northeast Brazil, this is an account of the everyday experience of scarcity, sickness and death that centres on the lives of the women and children of a hillside "favela". Bringing her readers to the impoverished slopes above the modern plantation town of Bom Jesus de Mata, where she has worked on and off for 25 years, the author follows three generations of shantytown women as they struggle to survive through hard work, cunning and triage. It is a story of class relations told at the most basic level of bodies, emotions, desires and needs. Most disturbing - and controversial - is her finding that mother love, as conventionally understood, is something of a bourgeois myth, a luxury for those who can reasonably expect, as these women cannot, that their infants will live. The author also wrote "Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland".

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Brazil's shantytowns, poverty has transformed the meaning of mother love. The routineness with which young children die, argues University of California anthropologist Scheper-Hughes, causes many women to affect indifference to their offspring, even to neglect those infants presumed to be doomed or "wanting to die." Maternal love is delayed and attenuated, with dire consequences for infant survival, according to the author's two decades of fieldwork. Scheper-Hughes also maintains that the Catholic Church contributes to the indifference toward children's deaths by teaching fatalistic resignation and upholding its strictures against birth control and abortion. This important, shocking study resonates with the emotion of Oscar Lewis's ethnographic classics as it follows three generations of women in a plantation town. The compelling narrative investigates the everyday tactics of survival that people use to stay alive in a culture of institutionalized dependency ravaged by sickness, scarcity, feudal working conditions and death-squad "disappearances."
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This book by an anthropology professor from Berkeley, formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in northeast Brazil, is simply breathtaking. Its controversial theme--that mother love as conventionally understood is a luxury for those who can reasonably expect, as poor women in Brazil cannot, that their infants will live--is, in the best sense, illuminated by deconstructionist and feminist thought. The author's understanding of these lives on the edge is at times sympathetic, passionate, and sophisticated. But what makes the book as exciting to read as a good novel is her long-term interaction with a group of people that she clearly loves and the complete lack of the sense of the "other" that is so often found in anthropological writing. This work should have as much influence on studies of the relationship of women and children as did Margaret Mead's Growing Up in Samoa (1936) on the shaping of adolescence or Oscar Lewis's The Children of Sanchez (1961) on the cultural effects of poverty. Highly recommended.
- Nancy Padgett Lazar, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 614 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (November 9, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520075374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520075375
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint of heart October 9, 2002
Scheper-Hughes's book is certainly the most impacting book I have read in months. I cannot call it entertaining but it is riveting in presenting a mind-boggling situation of abject poverty in Northeastern Brazil with its consequent infant and child mortality and impacts on the family structure.
Death Without Weeping is a very original, very relevant, and carefully written book although not perfect. The book is the result of extensive field research by Dr. Scheper-Hughes, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley but nevertheles very readable. I could understand and enjoy most of it without having had extensive training in Anthropology.
The author does a wonderful job in translating Alto do Cruzeiro reality into something the average American can understand. This "translation" certainly adds a bias but is still indispensable in my opinion. I consider that the author's religious beliefs strongly affected the outcome of the book and that I think could have been avoided.
I understand that the author has it's ethics and wouldn't reveal in the text the actual location name for Bom Jesus da Mata. I'm not tied by the same ethics so I can tell it: Bom Jesus da Mata is actually Timbauba, a 60,000 inhabitants town on the outskirts of Recife. The book subtitle, "The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil" couldn't be worse. Timbauba is not Brazil. It has its own very specific problems and to read the book without understanding the great diversity among Brazil's regions would be very unfair to the country. Even in a local scale, Alto do Cruzeiro is not Timabuba and Timbauba is not Pernambuco. If you read the book don't rule out the possibility of going down to Brazil and having a wonderful time there.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Modern Ethnography April 26, 2005
Scheper-Hughes not only crafts a thorough, complex ethnography, but she takes a risk by putting a piece of herself into it as well. Here is the introduction I wrote for a term paper about this book:

Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes covers rough territory in Death Without Weeping, an ethnography about sugar cane workers in Northeastern Brazil. In chapters eight and nine she discusses the concepts of maternity and infanticide in a manner that dissolves their seemingly diametric natures and exposes an enigma of conflict and confluence inherent in their layered reality. But how can we contrast our established notions of maternity and infanticide with Scheper-Hughes' statements about them in a context that is emically true to the population her research is based on? Some things about maternity might seem clear: positive maternity encompasses nurturance and doting love, while negative maternity suggests neglect and even murder; yet Scheper-Hughes brings into question commonly held notions about the biological necessities and cultural expectations of maternity that reveal contradictions, blind alleys, and misleading parochial assumptions. This ethnography about the sugarcane workers of the Alto do Cruzeiro slum in the town of Bom Jesus, Brazil causes us to re-evaluate our understanding of maternity in the face of established cultural and biological contexts, and invites a more detailed, elemental, philosophical gaze. The observations made in Death Without Weeping force us to retreat in search of a neutral ground free from the biases we may hold about `American' or `Brazilian' maternity, and abandon our fear of naivety by asking, what in fact is maternity, and what do we know about it?

A gripping book, a masterful ethnography.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scheper-Hughes At Her Very Best May 21, 2001
I have seen death without weeping. The destiny of the Northeast is death. Cattle they kill, But to the people they do something worse. --Geraldo Vandre, Disparada
"Death Without Weeping: Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil" is a brilliant anthropological and sociological depiction of life in the Nordeste region of Brazil. In Death Without Weeping, Scheper-Hughes carefully analyzes the Mother-Child relationship in a region of Brazil with the highest infant mortality rate in Latin America. Centered in the village of Alto do Cruziero, Scheper-Hughes continues to work with the community she had first joined as a Peace Corps volunteer decades before. Rekindling her relationship with the villagers and the land, she takes a new perspective to study the emotional and physical strain on a region where every life is touched with the pain of infant mortality. She examines the frightening reality of a place where mothers have absolutely no safety net and cannot protect their children from the disease, hunger, and destitute living conditions.
Scheper-Hughes further discusses the role of international corporations and their influence (usually negative) in the Nordeste region.
Death Without Weeping is absolutely brilliant. Scheper-Hughes is at her finest, and her work is impeccable. This is one of the finest works of sociology and anthropology I have read.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Nancy Scheper-Hughes' book "Death Without Weeping" is an outstanding piece of a true anthropological approach to studying a difficult concept: Mothers in Brazil do not mourn for dead infants. Coming from America, it seems difficult to understand the lack of innate "Mother Love." Scheper-Hughes looks at both the political-economic problems in Brazil as a coutry as well as the beliefs and meanings that mothers living in a Shantytown place on their infants (dead or alive). By looking at records, talking to officials, and researching the history of Brazil, Nancy Scheper-Hughes is able to understand how the state of the political and econimic system in Brazil is partially responsible for the horrible deaths and indifferent mothers living in these shantytowns. Alternatively she has been able to get a true understanding of what meanings these women place on their infants death. By looking at both sides, the way Scheper-Hughes has done, we can obtain a better understanding of the true problem and how the people deal with it. Although Nancy Scheper-Hughes does not offer solutions in this book, she tells all of the clues needed to find a solution. Great Book!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars OK
this book is too long, sad topic, but I believe the author could have said it all in just half the space.
Published 4 months ago by cmendez
2.0 out of 5 stars Too academic
I felt I was simply reading her PhD paper...certainly interesting information though. Too bad it will never inspire any help for these people. Donna Tarrt liked this book though.
Published 4 months ago by april wright
5.0 out of 5 stars Ordered for gift
Granddaughter is is in college and majoring In anthropology. She has read several books by this author and requested this book for Christmas. She was very pleased.
Published 6 months ago by Diane
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwrenching.
This was an amazing read.

It was a requirement for one of my college classes and was painfully difficult to get through because of the extreme poverty that the author... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Lexington Alexander
5.0 out of 5 stars Defeated Women
Certainly makes any American woman how fortunate she is. Still reading it. Have a hard time putting it down. Feel so sorry for them.
Published 11 months ago by S. Phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars Death without Weeping
Quite a sad book I was assigned to read for a class, it left quite an impact on what life in some of the most poor nations is like
Published 13 months ago by Matthew Wainwright
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling account of society
in northeastern Brazilian 30 years ago. Scheper-Hughes conducts a profound study of the origins of poverty, hunger and death. Read more
Published 15 months ago by A. Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars a great read!
Such an amazing book and insight into reality of the northern province of Brazil. For anyone interested in anthropology, global inequality or the facts with hunger and poverty-this... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Allyson Clancy
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this book for a class at WSU
I took an anthropology class and I was assigned to read this book. It is large; very large. With that said, once you dive in, you will end up finishing the book much faster than... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Review Person
5.0 out of 5 stars Is mother-infant bonding natural?
In this brilliant ethnographic work, Nancy Scheper-Hughes situates us in a favela of Brazil's northeastern region. Read more
Published on February 6, 2010 by Justin M. Feldman
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