In This Review

Intimate Ironies: Modernity and the Making of Middle-Class Lives in Brazil
Intimate Ironies: Modernity and the Making of Middle-Class Lives in Brazil
By Brian Philip Owensby
Stanford University Press, 1999, 368 pp
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Scholars of Latin America usually give its middle class short shrift. Here, Owensby breaks new ground by investigating its rise in Brazil. Scholars traditionally believed that the middle class was a key to modernization, replacing traditional mores of hierarchy, patronage, and status with individualism, merit, and egalitarianism -- all essential values for a healthy capitalist democracy. Yet after the military regimes of the 1970s seized power with broad middle-class support, disappointed scholars shrugged the middle class off for three decades. Owensby now puts this segment back where it belongs by examining how the ambiguities of middle-class life defined modernity in Brazil. The problem for Brazilians, he argues, is that free-market notions of meritocracy and consumer culture coexisted with a disdain for manual labor and an acceptance of social hierarchy and patronage. Hence literate white-collar professionals, who were either white or light-skinned, saw themselves as a morally and racially superior class apart. At the polls, they swung between populism and a strong distrust of institutional politics. This indispensable book shows how much work is still needed to dissect the ambiguities of Latin American modernity.