History ETDs


Justin Barber

Publication Date



The present study elucidates the discursive practice of positivism, as particularly manifested in late nineteenth-century Brazil. Founded in 1889, the Republic of the United States of Brazil was constructed as a positivist state by republican idealists and pragmatic oligarchs; the political embodiment of ordem e progresso (order and progress). It was a form of government meant to overcome Brazils imagined and concrete backwardness by strictly adhering to the Natural Laws identified by Auguste Comte, Charles Darwin, and, in particular, Herbert Spencer. Positivist progress was, however, contingent upon the elimination of the pathological, amorphous 'savage lower races. Non-white degeneration in Brazil, especially amongst its substantial mixed-race populace, was thus understood to be a progressive, equilibrating force of Evolution. For close to a century Euclides da Cunha's Os Sert\xf5es has been treated as the literary instantiation of mestiço degeneration, a work best classified with the Spencerian 'race science' of Arthur Gobineau and Raimundo Nina Rodrigues. This classification, however, is incorrect. In Os Sert\xf5es, Da Cunha incarnates the totality of Brazilian progress—progress utterly superior to that of European civilization—in the body of his chimerical jagunços, a perfectly miscegenated balance of what he identifies as Brazil's fundamental 'ethnic elements': the African, the indigenous, and the Portuguese.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Hutchison, Elizabeth

Second Committee Member

Bokovoy, Melissa



Document Type