Brazil LAB 2019-2020 Annual Report

July 24, 2020

Brazil LAB event

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our taken-for-granted ways of knowing, acting, and relating. With the spread of the virus, Princeton, like most universities around the world, went on lockdown in mid- March. As the Brazil LAB moved all its activities online, we continued to follow closely, albeit with growing apprehension, Brazil’s perfect storm of a health, economic, political, and environmental crisis.

“This story unfolds in a state of emergency and public calamity,” the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector notes in the preamble of her luminous last novel A Hora da Estrela (The Hour of the Star, 1977).

And so it goes with this report.

Our undertaking is also “an unfinished book,” as Lispector elaborates, “because it offers no answer. An answer I hope someone somewhere in the world may be able to provide. You, perhaps?”

Indeed, we count on you all, at Princeton and in Brazil, to help develop our capacities to formulate new questions and to probe possible answers with ever more intensity and in much needed solidarity, as we seek to make a difference while addressing our times’ most pressing issues.

Spearheaded by PIIRS and supported by the Provost Office, the LAB takes to heart the mandate to serve as an intellectually dynamic and socially meaningful Princeton-Brazil nexus. In the past two years, we have significantly advanced our mission to sustain in-depth reflections on the country’s deep inequalities, systemic racism, and mounting unknowns, as well as to craft a lantern to illuminate a future beyond its present-day authoritarianism and chaos.

“Everything in the world began with a yes...”. Source: Fragment of the manuscript A Hora da Estrela, Instituto Moreira Salles.

“Everything in the world began with a yes,” Lispector viscerally asserts: “One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born.”

The LAB is made up of so many creative and engaged “molecules” that, together, say yes to the values of a healthier, more just, and more inclusive Brazil. Yes to a greener, Amazonian-minded country, with more ingenious forms of care – even if at a distance.

In 2019-2020, we saw the Brazil LAB becoming a most stimulating interdisciplinary community on campus as well as a significant Princeton presence in Brazil. Throughout this report, we share snippets of the wonderful academic, artistic, and outreach activities undertaken by the LAB’s affiliated faculty, researchers, and students in collaboration with our amazing Brazilian partners.

This past year, we were fortunate that Thomas Fujiwara joined the Brazil LAB as Associate Director, significantly expanding our research on social development and inequality. Together with colleagues in the sciences, social sciences and the arts and humanities, we are indeed proud to have consolidated the LAB’s three main research hubs: Environment, Political Economy, and the Arts & Humanities. These hubs speak to the LAB’s innovative engagement with vital issues — from ecosystem transformations to democratic insecurities to socioeconomic and health inequities to emerging forms of political mobilization and cultural expression — that affect people in Brazil and globally, and that are salient to both established scholarship and nascent critical work.


As you engage the report, we hope you share our excitement with the breath and vivacity of our initiatives, such as Amazonian Leapfrogging; Amazonian Poetics; Captured+Escaped: Storying Images of Slavery and Post-Abolition in Brazil; Clarice Lispector: 100 (Y)ears; and Historical Inequality and Long-Term Development in Brazil.

We are deeply grateful to all Princeton and Brazilian scholars who have been contributing to these various initiatives and to our engaged steering committee. The LAB has an impressive group of over sixty faculty and academic professionals from twenty-five departments and programs participating in these diverse activities. Moreover, there are fascinating synergies emerging among our three research hubs, and we look forward to exploring them through new partnerships with various PIIRS research labs and centers.

A special word of gratitude goes to PIIRS’s Director, Stephen Kotkin, who has been a great champion of the LAB, for his visionary leadership, strategic thinking and support. The LAB’s flourishing would not have been possible without the incredible help of PIIRS’ exemplary staff. Executive Director Susan Bindig and Assistant Director Karen Koller helped greatly with our very successful Global Seminar in Rio Janeiro last summer and with crucial administrative matters. We are particularly grateful to our one-of-a-kind manager Carole Dopp for her unwavering dedication, excellence, and care.

Always attuned to what Brazil can teach us, this past year the LAB strengthened collaborations with the pioneering nonprofits Imazon, Amazônia 2030, MapBiomas, Instituto Serrapilheira, Igarapé, and the Instituto de Estudos para Políticas de Saúde. Our collaborations with the Graduate Program in Anthropology of the Museu Nacional and various academic units of the University of São Paulo have likewise yielded excellent results.

We also expanded the LAB’s visiting fellows program to great effect. The prominent scholars Lilia M. Schwarcz, Tasso Azevedo, Beto Veríssimo, Marina Hirota, Aparecida Vilaça, Maria Virgínia Amaral, and Marcelo Medeiros have interacted creatively with Princeton colleagues and students during their visits to campus, participating in public events, courses, and workshops related to our research hubs.

Through multi-modal research on critical Brazil-related questions and creative cross-fertilization of different intellectual traditions, we are together producing cutting-edge scholarship and crystallizing Princeton-Brazil solidarity efforts.

Almir Suruí speaking

Our Fall 2019 conference Amazonian Leapfrogging was an extraordinary event. We loved the way multiple stakeholders –– environmental and indigenous leaders, policy experts, artists, business innovators, and social entrepreneurs –– convened at Princeton, engaging in a robust and constructive dialogue about safeguarding the Amazon for Brazil and the planet. The conference was tremendously successful and various new and exciting collaborations have been unleashed. This would not have been possible without the LAB’s close work with the Princeton Environmental Institute and we are deeply grateful to PEI’s Director Michael Celia and Executive Director Katherine Hackett for this most stimulating partnership.

Cross-campus partnerships are a hallmark of the LAB’s workings. We have developed multiple initiatives in collaboration with the Program in Latin American Studies, under the directorship of Gabriela Nouzeilles. We have also benefited immensely from partnerships with the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Humanities Council, and the University Center for Human Values.

The Brazil LAB Colloquium and the Brazil Today Series are integral to the intellectual community we are forging on campus and to networks we are fostering with Brazil’s most brilliant thinkers and doers. Our very well-attended events this year included talks by Laura Carvalho and Celso Rocha de Barros, Cecília Machado, Ilona Szabó, and Geovani Martins. Before lockdown, the LAB hosted the first Stanley J. Stein Honorific Lecture. Brazil’s foremost historian of slavery João José Reis delivered an insightful and moving lecture, highlighting the legacy of our beloved Professor Stein, a great supporter of the Brazil LAB and all things Brazil at Princeton, who sadly passed away last year.

Using our active Brazil LAB YouTube channel, we organized timely online events during the pandemic. Drawing from our now extensive network of Brazilian collaborators, we held a series of probing discussions about the immediate and long-term impact of COVID-19, garnering thousands of viewers from Brazil, the United States, and around the world.

Brazil LAB audience

Expanding our commitment to the Arts & Humanities, the Brazil LAB established an exciting new partnership with the Lewis Center for the Arts this past year. We are now collaborating on the organization of a conference celebrating Clarice Lispector’s 100th anniversary. The fall event will be livestreamed and feature a keynote address by author Jhumpa Lahiri (Director of the Program in Creative Writing), along with a conversation with Idra Novey and Johnny Lorenz (Lispector’s translators), and Paulo Gurgel Valente (Lispector’s son and literary executor). Conference co-organizer Marília Librandi, lecturer in Spanish and Portuguese, will also launch a sonic library platform at the LAB this fall, featuring writers, intellectuals, and everyday readers creatively reflecting on Lispector’s literary works.

We are happy to say that our vision to train a cosmopolitan new generation of Brazilianists, capable of producing trailblazing scholarship is also well underway. Our 2019 PIIRS Global Seminar, Becoming Brazil, was very impactful, and is significantly informing the academic careers of the students who participated. We had already identified an exciting group of undergraduates for this year’s seminar, also planned to be based at the Instituto Moreira Salles in Rio de Janeiro, but unfortunately, given pandemic-related travel restrictions, the seminar had to be postponed until summer 2022.

The LAB is playing a pivotal role in expanding Princeton’s curricula on Brazil, the Amazon, and inequality across the Americas. All our research, teaching, and outreach projects have benefited immensely from the always excellent work of Miqueias Mugge, our Research Associate and the LAB’s lifeblood. An extraordinary educator, Mugge recently taught the seminar Amazonia: The Last Frontier and, given the success of the course, he will teach it again next year. We are exploring the possibility of turning the seminar into an MOOC in collaboration with the McGraw Center and our Brazilian partners.

Students at the library

In concluding, we want to share the wonderful news that two stellar Brazilian scholars will be joining the LAB community this coming academic year. The economic sociologist Marcelo Medeiros will be our Research Associate for the next two years and will coordinate the project Inequality and Long-Term Development in Brazil and also lead the Brazil LAB partnership with Jornal Nexo, a major Brazilian news outlet. The anthropologist Carlos Fausto has been appointed Princeton Global Scholar and, for the next four years, he will be a key contributor to various Amazonian and Indigenous Studies initiatives at the LAB and across campus.

Much remains to be done.

And we count on your continuous support, inventive ideas, and guidance as we consolidate the Brazil LAB as a vital space where the arts and sciences, history, politics, culture, environment, and international connections entangle in critical and generative ways.

We are very fortunate to count on the help of our wonderfully engaged advisory board and want to express our deep gratitude to Arminio Fraga, Lilia M. Schwarcz, João Moreira Salles, and Flora Thomson-DeVeaux for their generosity of time and insight and their most caring attention to all things, big and small.

The LAB’s visual identity draws upon the flower and seed of the Paubrasilia, or Brazilwood, and its striking colors –- red, yellow, orange, and black. Bringing these elements together represents an effort to rethink and transform Brazil’s original colonial extractivist project into an open-ended puzzle of diverse forms, hues, and movements.

We are immensely proud of the work we have collectively developed at the LAB in such a short period of time. And we now invite you to revisit this past year’s most memorable activities and see all the “molecules” in action, turning the LAB into such a lively presence.

Princeton, July 24, 2020

João Biehl
Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology
Brazil LAB Director


Alessandra Orofino speaking to an audience