Marriage, knowledge, and morality among Catholic peasants in northeast Brazil
This thesis is an ethnographic study of marriage, religious practice, and concepts of morality among a group of peasant farmers in Northeast Brazil. It investigates how, over the individual life-course, concepts of moral accountability develop and change, and how people negotiate such changes through specific discourses on labour and suffering. Such discourses stem from a particularised Catholic ideology which grows out of the social and economic history of the region. The existential problem of living both morally and productively in the world manifests itself most explicitly in local understandings of marriage; revealing a perceived tension between the states of innocence and knowledge. The thesis shows how this tension feeds into a heightened concern over the various stages of transformation in a person's life, particularly the transformation from childhood to adolescence. Tied to such transformation is concern about the correct moral management of knowledge, which is founded upon the gendered performance of sacrifice. However, it emphasises that the passage from innocence to knowledge is as fraught and inevitable for men as it is for women, and that while men's and women's physical expressions of this problem differ, they are ultimately bound and shaped by the same moral dilemmas. Thus the thesis argues that while the analysis of gender difference is an important task, it should not obscure local understandings of the relationship between the sexes that downplay concepts of difference while emphasising the basic similarity of moral concerns. In this way, the thesis offers a contrast to much of the literature on Catholic and Orthodox peasantries that has made gender difference the central focus and defining trope in understanding marriage, religious practice, and concepts of morality.