Faculty Member’s Study of Social Mobility in Brazil to Receive NSF Funding

Benjamin Junge, associate professor in the departments of anthropology and Latin American and Caribbean studies, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $138,492 to fund a three-year investigation into the effects of a rapid expansion of the Brazilian middle class.

Ben Junge

Benjamin Junge

Beginning this fall, Junge and two co-investigators (Sean Mitchell of Rutgers University and Charles Klein of Portland State University) will be conducting a comparative anthropological study with residents of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife, collecting information about individual Brazilians through methods known as community ethnography and participant observation.

“We’ll be using these classic methods in anthropology, not just observing like a fly on the wall but actually getting involved,” Junge said. “We want to spend time with people and get to know them, to study class mobility from the vantage point of everyday life. This should allow us to answer questions about what the emergence of this middle class means for democracy and citizenship in Brazil.”

The researchers will focus their efforts on specific neighborhoods and take an active role in gathering data, conducting formal household surveys as well as more informal interviews and conversations with participants in an effort to better understand their lifestyles, the challenges they face and the goals that drive them.

The goal of the study is to assess and articulate the political and social identities forming among the nearly 40 million Brazilians who, thanks in large part to the world’s largest state-sponsored conditional cash transfer program, have risen out of poverty over the last 10 to 15 years.

Junge, who will work primarily in the city of Recife, will make multiple trips to Brazil over the course of the project, with the first scheduled for January 2016.

His work will get underway this fall, however, in his “Cultures of Brazil” course, where he and his students will consider how increased access to personal transportation, modern technologies and a wider range of consumer goods are impacting Brazilian ways of life. They will also analyze advertising campaigns, governmental documents, policy reports and other public discourses targeting the growing Brazilian middle class that have appeared in the nation’s media over the last few years.

Junge previously conducted research into Brazilian society in his graduate work at Emory University. This fall, he will assume the directorship of the Latin American & Caribbean Studies program.

More information about funding opportunities for faculty research is available through the Office of Sponsored Programs.

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