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Santana and Bexiga: daily life and culture of city workers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro between 1870 and 1930


This proposal seeks to integrate a number of current investigations being conducted at CECULT/UNICAMP on the historical experience of poor urban workers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Our objective is to engage in debate with the historiography on the subject, questioning some of its assumptions. First, the belief that the end of slavery contributed to the making of a politically active working class composed mostly of white immigrant workers. Ex-slaves and their descendants are thus excluded from the standard historical accounts on the period. Second, the view that there were significant differences in the political experience of workers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro: while in the former, a disciplined and combative working class took shape in the first decades of the twentieth century; in the latter, workers seemed to be more willing to compromise with authorities and employers than to engage in confrontation. The project also seeks to explore the connections between two strong historiographical traditions in Brazilian history. One of these traditions has concerned itself with the historical experience of workers in Brazil and has been largely inspired by the seminal work of E. P. Thompson and other Marxist social historians. The other has dealt with the subject of slavery and slave workers. In the past two decades, the history of slavery in Brazil has been systematically rewritten, resulting in a number of important studies that have deepened our understanding of the slave experience and changed traditional views on slave-master relations. Yet these two traditions have stood in relative isolation from one another. One other purpose of this project is to try to bridge the gap between them, in an attempt to promote cross-fertilization and exchange of ideas among scholars. The project covers the period from 1870 to 1930. In 1870, the Law of the Free Womb was enacted, signaling a deep crisis in the system of seigneurial domination. In turn, the 1930s witnessed the rise of new labor relations through the mediation of the state. During this period the composition of the working classes underwent significant changes and the experience of workers as members of a class acquired new meaning. The study will focus on two large working-class neighborhoods, Santana, in Rio de Janeiro, and Bexiga, in São Paulo. These two areas were known for their cultural and ethnic diversity... (AU)

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