Jennifer Roth-Gordon is a linguistic anthropologist who has been conducting research in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil since 1995. Her current book manuscript, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (University of California Press, 2017) explores how racial ideas about the superiority of whiteness and the inferiority of blackness continue to play out in the daily lives of Rio de Janeiro’s residents. Her new research project, entitled Bodies of Privilege: Cultivating Wealth and Whiteness in Rio de Janeiro, investigates how race and class privilege are constructed and lived by Rio's whiter middle and upper-middle classes and how this privilege is taught and handed down to one’s children.
1994 B.A. Anthropological Linguistics, Brown University
1996 M.A. Anthropology, Stanford University
1997 M.A. Linguistics, Stanford University
2002 Ph.D. Anthropology, Stanford University
Linguistic anthropology; race and everyday practice; whiteness; language, culture, and power; language ideologies; ethnographic discourse analysis; Brazil
2017 Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro. Oakland: University of California Press.
2013 Racial Malleability and the Sensory Regime of Politically Conscious Brazilian Hip Hop. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 18(2): 294-313.
2013 (with Antonio José B. da Silva) Double-voicing in the Everyday Language of Brazilian Black Activism, in The Persistence of Language: Constructing and Confronting the Past and Present in the Voices of Jane H. Hill, ed. by Shannon T. Bischoff, Deborah Cole, Amy V. Fountain, and Mizuki Miyashita. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins. 365–388.
2012 Linguistic Techniques of the Self: The Intertextual Language of Racial Empowerment in Politically Conscious Brazilian Hip Hop. Language & Communication. 32(1): 36-47.
2011 Discipline and Disorder in the Whiteness of Mock Spanish, in The Multiple Voices of Jane Hill, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 21(2): 210-228.
2011 (with Norma Mendoza-Denton) Introduction: The Multiple Voices of Jane Hill, special issue co-edited with Norma Mendoza-Denton. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 21(2): 157-165.
2009 The Language that Came Down the Hill: Slang, Crime, and Citizenship in Rio de Janeiro. American Anthropologist. 111(1): 57-68.
2009 (with T. E. Woronov) Youthful Concerns: Movement, Belonging, and Modernity. Pragmatics. 19(1): 137-151.
2008 Conversational Sampling, Race Trafficking, and the Invocation of the Gueto in Brazilian Hip Hop, in Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language, ed. by H. Samy Alim, Awad Ibrahim, and Alastair Pennycook. New York: Routledge. 63-77.
2007 Racing and Erasing the Playboy: Slang, Transnational Youth Subculture, and Racial Discourse in Brazil. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 17(2): 246-265.
2007 Youth, Slang, and Pragmatic Expressions: Examples from Brazilian Portuguese. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 11(3): 322-345.
My book, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (University of California Press, 2017), explores how racial ideas permeate the daily lives of Rio de Janeiro’s residents across race and class lines. In this book, I engage in discourse analysis of the spontaneous, slang-filled conversations of favela (shantytown) youth hanging out on the streets of their neighborhoods, and I analyze metalinguistic interview data collected from members of the middle class as they discussed the importance of standard Portuguese. I draw on over 20 years of research to explain what I call Brazil’s “comfortable racial contradiction,” in which embedded structural racism that very visibly privileges whiteness exists alongside a deeply held pride in the country’s history of racial mixture (mestiçagem) and lack of overt racial conflict (often described in terms of Brazilian racial tolerance or racial cordiality). This ethnographic account explains how cariocas (Rio residents) carefully “read” the body for racial signs. The amount of whiteness or blackness a body displays is determined not only through observations of phenotype, including skin color, hair texture, and facial features, but also through careful attention paid to cultural and linguistic practices, including the use of nonstandard speech that is commonly described as slang (gíria). One’s ability to linguistically embody whiteness and distance oneself from blackness has become critical in a context where fear and vulnerability infuse what it now means to live in Rio de Janeiro, enduring daily life in an urban center with notoriously high levels of drugs, crime, and violence, where government officials and law enforcement are unable to protect city residents.
My next research project continues my interest in exploring how daily cultural and linguistic practices rely on and construct racial meaning. Supported by research grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Ruth Landes Memorial Foundation, I spent the calendar year of 2014 conducting new research for a project entitled “Bodies of Privilege: Cultivating Wealth and Whiteness in Rio de Janeiro.” Here I turn to “study up,” examining the lives of the whiter middle and upper-middle class in the world-famous South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. My main goal is to understand how race and class privilege are constructed and lived, particularly as they are taught to one’s children. This is a study of how the racial ideologies associated with whiteness and non-whiteness inform daily parenting strategies and interactions. My ongoing research will investigate how Brazilian whiteness is not taken for granted and considered “normal” (as has been described within the North American context), but rather tightly bound to understandings of socioeconomic class and built on implicit and unspoken comparisons made to the poor non-white city residents who live all around them and work in their homes. This project thus furthers my desire to understand how daily practices do not merely uphold racial ideologies but constitute the very sites where racial and linguistic differences are created.
Areas of Study: