The Society for Urban, National, and Transnational Anthropology (SUNTA) is pleased to award the 2016 Anthony Leeds Prize to John F. Collins for his book Revolt of the Saints: Memory and Redemption in the Twilight of Brazilian Racial Democracy (Duke University Press, 2015). Revolt of the Saints is about the politics of cultural heritage in the historic Afro-Brazilian Pelourinho district of Salvador de Bahia. Pelourinho was home to Portuguese colonists working in the sugar industry until the mid 18th century when Brazil’s capital was relocated to Rio de Janeiro. At that time, these elites left or leased their colonial mansions to immigrants or former slaves and relocated to coastal areas. By the early 20th century, Pelourinho thrived as an alternative cultural site within the city: a red light district, dance clubs, informal economies, reworked class relations, and alternative norms of sexuality existed in parallel to “respectable” racial and status hierarchies found in other parts of the city. Yet over time, much of the architectural beauty of Pelourinho crumbled into ruins and residents have struggled to survive HIV, drug addiction, and the streets.
It is this long duree of Pelourinho’s architectural, racial, and cultural formation that earned it its reputation as the birthplace of Afro-Brazilian culture, one that co-emerged with increasing global concerns over the preservation of cultural heritage. But protecting what were once majestic mansions also applied to the neighborhood’s inhabitants who began to be viewed by the state as deviant, criminal, drug-addicted and in need of development-oriented, state-procured assistance. Since 1992, state bureaucrats and social scientists have gathered extensive data on Pelourinho’s residents, established themselves as authoritative knowledge producers of Bahian culture, and reinvented residents’ history for the benefit of more powerful actors. IPAC—the Bahian Institute of Cultural and Artistic Patrimony—conducted most of this work. Their findings ironically justified relocating most of the Afro-Brazilian residents whose histories of cultural production led to the establishment of a global heritage site. Those who have remained in the neighborhood draw, in savvy ways, on the same logic built into cultural heritage that consumes African culture—a logic that some residents successfully used in arguing to stay put.
Meticulously documenting urban restoration management, in its dual commemoration and moralizing sanitization, Collins argues that both buildings and residents have transformed into unique state-owned cultural properties. As such, they appeal to tourist and especially middle-class Brazilian sensibilities about the country’s multiracial democracy. Indeed, the racialization of Pelourinho is not only central to heritage politics, but repositions the role of race in a country that is steeped in deep inequality. In providing a rich ethnographic scaling of both history and memory, Collins elegantly theorizes how questions of race are ever-evolving in Brazilian national debates. His rich and insightful ethnographic inquiry into the lives and translational practices of dynamic residents—their unexpected agency, their histories of ownership and dispossession, their encounters with IPAC officials and local strongmen, and their engaging debates over official histories and archaeological evidence, provides a highly original account of a transforming city neighborhood, state machinations, and the meaning of race and Afro-Brazilianness that come to bear on global heritage politics. Collins’s ethnography spans a 20-year period, demonstrating not only the author’s deep commitment to this particular locality, but also enabling the reader to understand how urban spaces can operate as the sites of both spatial and temporal dialectics. Collins’ remarkable book exemplifies the capacity of ethnography for revealing the complexities and contradictions of urban life, pointing once again to cities as critical sites for contemporary anthropology work.