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Salesian Ethnographies in Brazil and the Work of Cultural Mediation

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Inspired by the analysis of James Clifford (1988) concerning the construction of ethnographic authority, this article aims to examine the Salesian narrative about Bororo, Xavante and Tucano groups in central and North Brazil and understand its modes of representation. The general hypothesis underlying this approach may be formulated as follows: Salesian narrative, although motivated by its religious code, is not a mere product of the imposition of an external and European point of view. Its ultimate function – as is actually the function of every ethnography – is to define the terms on which the native is to be described as the Other of the society that observes him. There is, thus, a joint effort of cultural objectification in which the very religious code itself helps build the terms of indigenous difference while producing its mediation, that is, the material and symbolic transfers that make it possible to express that difference and allow it to be included in the way readers think and understand the world. This essay will, therefore, analyze the place of indigenous and missionary experience in making differences explicit and articulating them; how the Salesian ethnographic effort builds conventional contexts of mediation; and, finally, the stylistic and thematic resources by means of which this type of textuality makes indigenous voices present, silent, or explicit. Thus, it is the author's intention to decode the cognitive system that relates this ethnographic view to things and to the world. En référence à l'analyse de la construction de l'autorité ethnographique proposée par James Clifford (1988), cet article se penche, d'une part, sur les récits produits par des missionnaires salésiens à propos des groupes Bororo, Xavante and Tucano dans le centre et nord du Brésil et, d'autre part, sur ses modes de représentation. L'hypothèse générale qui sous-tend cette approche peut-être formulée comme suit : la narration salésienne, quoique motivée par des codes religieux, n'est pas seulement le produit de l'imposition d'un point de vue extérieur et européen. Sa fonction ultime, comme celle de tout travail ethnographique, est de définir les termes dans lesquels l'indigène sera décrit comme l'Autre de la société qui l'observe. Il y a ainsi un effort conjoint d'objectivation dans lequel le code religieux lui-même aide à construire les termes de la différence indigène en même temps qu'il produit de la médiation, à savoir le matériau et les transferts symboliques qui permettent l'expression de la différence et l'inclusion de cette dernière dans la manière dont les lecteurs lisent et comprennent le monde. L'article analyse donc la place de l'expérience indigène et missionnaire dans le processus qui rend les différences explicites et les articule ; il montre également comment l'effort ethnographique salésien construit des contextes conventionnels de médiation, et comment les ressources stylistiques et thématiques de ce type de textualité rendent les voix indigènes présentes, silencieuses ou explicites. L'intention est de décoder par ce biais le système cognitif qui relie cette approche ethnographique aux choses et au monde.


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