The Practice of Politics in Postcolonial Brazil traces the history of high and low politics in nineteenth-century Brazil from the vantage point of the provincial capital of Porto Alegre. In the immediate postcolonial period, new ideas about citizenship and freedom were developing, and elites struggled for control of the state as the lower classes sought inclusion in political life. In a shift from the Liberal Party to Positivist or Conservative rule during the bloody Federalist Revolt of 1893–1895, new leaders sought to bring about a more balanced structure of government where the capitalist was sympathetic to the worker, and the worker more passive toward the elite. This represented a complete change of opinions—a new regime of ideas. Termed a “scientific” approach by its proponents, the movement was based on historical process and would be brought about through civic education.
Against the backdrop of the abolition of slavery and subsequent assimilation, the rise of European immigration, and industrialization, Kittleson investigates how “the people” shaped changing political ideologies and practices, and how through local struggles and changes in elite ideology, the lower classes in Porto Alegre won limited political inclusion that was denied elsewhere.
The study's careful attention to broader historiographic debates, its innovative use of sources, and graceful prose make it a model of how regional history can illuminate consequential eddies and sedimentation that could reorient the flow of larger historical processes in state formation. In so arguing, [Kittleson] seeks to revision a sometimes latent and at other times manifest thread in Brazilian and Latin American historiography that downplays the importance of ideology as mere window dressing for the triumph of a new network of personalist politics."
Kittleson's The Practice of Politics in Postcolonial Brazil is an elegant and engaging evocation of plebeian life and politics in Rio Grande do Sul. It effectively demonstrates that historians must take seriously the political aims of the slave, freed, and free lower classes and see them as active participants whose day-to-day struggles helped shape the transition from empire to republic in one of Brazil's major states.
Elegantly written, convincing, and very instructive.
Roger A. Kittleson is associate professor of history at Williams Collegelearn more