Molding the Body, Forging the Nation: Race, Physical Culture, and the Shaping of Brazil (1822-1930)
Maranhao, Tiago Fernandes
The main argument of this dissertation is that physical culture served as a powerful means to build the nation by molding Brazilian bodies and played a key role across many decades in multiple nationalist discourses. By exploring the policies on this matter and ideas at the local, national, and transnational levels from the end of the nineteenth century through the first three decades of the twentieth—a critical period in Brazil’s history—this work demonstrates the importance of physical culture in processes of nation building. It analyzes how nation-builders thought about the relationship between the body and the nation, and how they put their ideas into practice. By tracking the concern and care for shaping better bodies, through time and within institutions, and its role in the history of the Brazilian national identity, this work addresses three basic interrelated points. First, it lays out the various forms of intervention upon the body and the diverse official calls for the need to build better Brazilians from independence to the first decades of the twentieth century. Second, my analysis focuses on the many elite discourses linked to the physical education of the Brazilian people, from statesmen to medical practitioners and intellectuals. The dissertation investigates how the body served elite intentions to forge an ideal nation and insert Brazil within the “civilizing process” of modern Western countries. Finally, this work aims to see beyond the common trend of the scholarship that understands physical culture as a tool strictly expressed by bodybuilding and sports. These are, in fact, components of physical culture and not its entirety. I believe this focus on physical culture, the body, and nation building will compel us to rethink previous arguments about nationalism and national identity in Brazil, and other nations.