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Sorting is not Categorization: A Critique of the Claim that Brazilians Have Fuzzy Racial Categories

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As a result of a spate of studies geared to investigating Brazilian racial categories, it is now believed by many that Brazilians reason about race in a manner quite different to that of Americans. This paper will argue that this conclusion is premature, as the studies in question have not, in fact, investigated Brazilian categories. What they have done is elicit sorting tasks on the basis of appearances, but the cognitive models of respondents have not been investigated in order to determine what are the boundaries of their concepts. Sorting based on appearances is not sufficient to infer the boundaries of concepts whenever appearance is not a defining criterion for the concepts in question, as the case appears to be for racial and ethnic categories. Following a critique of the methods used, I review a terminological and theoretical confusion concerning the use of the terms 'emic' and 'etic' in anthropology that appears directly responsible for the failure so far to choose methods appropriate to parsing the conceptual domain of 'race' in Brazil.


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