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Carnaval, Samba Schools and the Negotiation of Gendered Identities in São Paulo, Brazil


The behaviors and interactions that enact specific gender identities are assumed by many Brazilians to be "natural." Within the context of samba schools, the distribution of specific performance roles has always been informed by the assumption that there are natural feminine and masculine spaces. Thus, samba school members have well defined performance roles that are hierarchically structured. In this dissertation, I argue that gendered identities are constructed and articulated in the process of cultivating specific performance roles within samba schools. I am particularly interested in highlighting the ways in which specific femininities and masculinities came to be taught, learned and naturalized in the lives of samba school members, as they engage in strategies of social- and self-discipline while preparing for the carnaval parade each year. Central to my argument is the idea that dance/musical competence is intertwined with notions about the physical body and the nurturing of particular character dispositions. By analyzing specific historical moments, discourses and samba schools' micro-practices and disciplinary methods, I show how performance roles are determined and defined by perceptions regarding gender as well as age, body type, skin color, behavior and bodily deportment. Furthermore, I demonstrate how the act of dancing and/or playing music in distinctive ways has become, at once, critical markers of specific femininities and masculinities, and also the way through which one learns how to be feminine or masculine. Finally, I explore how some samba school members have been able to construct alternative capacities for themselves by examining the circumstances that have allowed these participants to operate differently despite the given assumptions about the division of gendered identities.

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