Women Teaching Class: Emotional Labor in Brazilian Literacy Classes

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  • Anthropology of Work Review

    Women Teaching Class: Emotional Labor in Brazilian Literacy ClassesLesley Bartlett

    Columbia UniversityIntroduction

    This paper argues that traditional analytic models of work,while useful, overlook defining features of labor by de-emphasizing the cultural meaning of work for participants.Applying a cultural models approach to the case of Braziliannon-governmental (NGO) teachers, the article explains whyemotional labor has become a central feature in teachers'educational work. The teachers of Freirean, popular educationprograms promote conscientization and the revolution ofhierarchical class relations through the enactment of friendshipand egalitarian speech interaction in the classroom. Thisanalytic framework allows us to see more fully the positionalaspects of labor in relation to social structures of gender, race,and class; it ensures the representation of cultural as well aseconomic perspectives; and it permits a more groundedexplanation of social change.

    To expound upon this argument, I first outline the conceptof cultural models and details its benefits. I then examine theBrazilian cultural model of the educated person and providesome background on Freirean, non-governmental literacyorganizations. Finally, I show how teachers attempted tocultivate friendship and sociability in the classroom and suggesthow this might influence the learning that occurs in theclassroom.

    Cultural Models of Work: a Theoreticaland Methodological Framework

    Analyses of work in Latin America, as in many otherregions with large impoverished populations, often rely on amodel that divides economic activity into formal and informalsectors. Debates then emerge over the solidity of the distinctionbetween firm and household, and whether the household fallsfirmly in the realm of the informal (see, e.g., Gudeman andRivera 1990; Mayer 2002). The formal-informal model iscertainly a reasonable approach to discussions of work inBrazil, where approximately 40% of the non-agricultural laborforce works in the informal economy (IBGE, PNAD data, 1990).Discussions of informal labor arrangements might be particu-larly appropriate for an analysis of the work done by adultliteracy teachers, since adult literacy instruction rather famouslyhas been and continues to be conducted outside the statesystem, through non-governmental organizations, churches,women's groups, labor unions, or other organizations. Using aninformal-formal model to analyze the work of adult literacyteachers might lead us to ask: how does the state benefit by

    Lesley Bartlett is an educational anthropologist and associateprofessor of education in the Department of International andTranscultural Education at Teachers College, ColumbiaUniversity. Her research interests include comparativeeducation, social inequality and schooling, social studies ofliteracy, learning, and cognition, and education reform inBrazil and the United States.

    outsourcing the work of education to civil society? Why dowomen accept these positions, when they would make twicethe amount of money doing the same work in the formaleducational system? Does work in the informal sector functionas a stepping-stone to work in the formal educational sector?Although these are important and valuable questions, they failto address two central features: the gendered nature of educa-tional labor in Brazil, and the cultural meaning of teachingliteracy there.

    To address those topics, which are central to the work ofliteracy education, my analysis relies on the concept of culturalmodels, or culturally shaped schema concerning the nature ofthings, events, or people. Cultural models shape expectationsfor how things work, and they guide situated meaning-makingin practice (Holland and Quinn 1987). Cultural modelsunderpin human thought and action. As Gudeman and Riverahave shown, by careful ethnographic attention to word usage,spatial arrangements, and other mundane details, the percep-tive fieldworker detects foundational models or metaphors(Gudeman and Rivera 1990). After discerning core models,ethnographers must listen and watch carefully for further datathat show these models in motion, i.e. exerting influence orundergoing change. In this paper, then, I examine the coremodels of education as enacted by literacy teachers.

    The cultural model approach has several benefits. First, itopens new avenues to consider the relation of work to struc-tures like race, class, and gender. In this case, the teachers'labor, as they define it, is emotional and thoroughly gendered.The cultural model approach can then be combined with moretraditional analytic modelse.g., the public/private divide,which has yielded great insight into the gendered division oflabor. Second, by emphasizing the importance of meaning, thecultural model approach ensures the place of cultural analysisin economic anthropology and reminds us to attend to bothemic and etic perspectives.

    Finally, the addition of cultural models to analyses of workpermits a more grounded explanation of agency and socialchange. Recent anthropological research regarding identitiesand agency suggests that the cultural artifacts attached to orinvoked by cultural models and figured worlds are central tohuman agency (Holland et al 1998). Cultural artifacts aresymbolic tools inscribed by the collective attribution ofmeaning (see Holland et al 1998, Chapters 2 and 3). An artifactcan assume a material aspect or an ideal or conceptual aspect..These objects are constructed as a part of and in relation torecognized activitiese.g., textbooks in schooling, name tagsin service work, or marked labels such as "scabs" or "foreman*in the factory. According to Holland et al., humans use culturalartifacts to modulate their own behavior, cognition, andemotion. From a Vygotskian perspective, through this processof "heuristic development," humans achieve some control overtheir own behavior and thus some degree of agency (seeHolland et al 1998). Attention to cultural models, cultural

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    artifacts, and figured worlds helpfully links economic anthropologyto work being done in cognitive and psychological anthropologyin order to explain personal and social transformation.

    MethodsIn 1995 and 1999, I conducted 24 months of fieldwork

    among students, teachers, and administrators in four non-governmental and two public literacy programs in Rio deJaneiro and Joao Pessoa. Each night, I attended a literacy classof some type in the program, alternating between public andNGO programs. During the day, I engaged in a variety ofactivities: visited students' homes to investigate home literacypractices, followed students to work, traveled with students tothe market or the commercial area of town, and shadowedteachers at their day-time teaching jobs. In the early months, Iattended carefully to the lexicon surrounding education and theendeavor to teach or learn, as recommended by a culturalmodels approach. In this way, I noticed the frequency of talkabout "the educated person." In subsequent months, I began in-depth interviews with students and teachers to explore thelimits of this model and its connection to schooling.

    My discussion of the cultural model of the educated personrelies on that broad investigation. The second section reliesprimarily on research conducted in Joao Pessoa with three non-governmental literacy programs, specifically participantobservation of teacher training and classrooms, as well as 25interviews with literacy instructors and 30 interviews withliteracy students.

    The Cultural Model of the Educated Person in BrazilThe cultural model of "the educated person" is a core

    metaphor among Brazilians, one I encountered throughout myperiod of fieldwork. In Brazil, as in much of Latin America, theword "education" has a strong double meaning that compel-lingly shapes perceptions of schooling. Educagao signifies bothstudies or book knowledge and manners or comportment.Book knowledge straightforwardly references the kind ofcontent learned through formal schooling. "Manners," incontrast, indicates socially appropriate forms of behavior,including speech. "Manners" further divides into two types:sociability, or routines for interactions among relative socialpeers; and deference, or routines for interactions amongrelative social superiors.

    Sociability is my word for the informal, affable ways oftalking and acting deemed appropriate among social peers orintimates. Informants highly praised in others the ability andwillingness to connect socially and to spread good cheer.Sociability fostered warm, supportive social relations amongsocial peers or near-peers. In regard to sociability, informantsmost commonly mentioned the importance of learning tocommunicar-se, "communicate oneself," or explicar-se,"explain oneself." These linguistic moves involve learning toexpress oneself, empathize, and connect with peers. It entailsa specific form of emotional labor, in which one positionsoneself as open, inviting, and caring. Although "communicatingoneself includes all forms of body language and posture, italso relies extensively on linguistic articulacy.

    Importantly, people associate learning to communicateoneself with literacy and formal schooling. Rosa, a thirty-five-

    year-old literacy student who grew up in a large Northeasterncity and in 1999 was working as a janitor in the public school,told me:

    R: When I came to work here, no one believed that I didn'tknow how to read. They said I was a liar, because I knewhow to exp/icar-me, I knew how to converse. I said, 'Folks,do I have to condemn myself?' The truth is that I don't knowhow to read, and no one there believed me.L: What does knowing how to explain things have to do withknowing how to read?R: Because sometimes one doesn't know how to read but isa well-informed person, knows how to explain things, howto converse. Sometimes one knows how to read but is a totalimbecile, . . . knows how to read but is a stupid person.People who know how to read, a teacher for example, butdon't have a way of being [i.e. of getting along], distancesherself from others, creates inequality because she thinksherself [better]. Like, I'm a janitor, so-and-so isn't, and thatdifference remains. It's terrible! So when people say that onedoesn't read but knows how to explain oneself it's in thissense. (Rosa, 3 November 1999)

    Strikingly, Rosa conflated literacy (knowing how to read),knowledge (a well-informed person), the ability to conveygeneral knowledge (knowing how to explain things), andsociability (knowing how to converse). These spheres areculturally homologous. In other words, she clearly held acultural expectation that one who knows how to read also hasa strong ability to relate to others socially; the teachers (iconsof educated people) who fail to be sociable are the exceptionto the rule.

    In contrast, "manners" can also signify the appropriate wayof talking and acting around status superiors or people withwhom one has no established familiarity. In English we mightcall this deference. To "be educated," in this sense, is to acceptand assume one's place in a social hierarchy. As one publicschool teacher explained, "[Being] educated means you knowhow to arrive in an environment and comport yourself(Dolores, 24 May 1999). An unemployed literacy student andmother of two confirmed, "Education is knowing how toconverse with people, how to enter a place in the right way,how to eat right, all of this comes from education" (Dalva, 6August 1999). Educagao concerns visible manifestations orperformances of the self that are available for scrutiny, such asforms of address and conversation, manners of eating, andways of occupying space. Informants most commonly definededucation with the shorthand of "knowing how to enter andhow to leave." Being mannered is very much about usingcustomary etiquette to project an image of oneself as respect-able in an unfamiliar settinghence informants' emphasis on"arriving" and "entering" new social spaces. "Knowing how toenter and how to leave" entails following the rules of socialinstitutions and authority figures, which contributes to smoothvertical social relations.

    Hence, the Brazilian model of the educated person is quiteclear, though complex. It references both book knowledge andsocial skill. In terms of social relations, educacao as a culturalmodel recommends sociability for peer interactions and mannersor deference for interactions with one's social superiors.

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    Literacy NGOs and their Radical PhilosophyNon-governmental literacy organizations with an avowed

    interest in power and politics emerged in the early 1960sferment of socialist activities in Brazil. Literacy was a require-ment to vote in the '60s and, indeed, it remained a prerequisiteuntil 1988. Since 40% of the population at that time wasilliterate, the Left saw literacy as an opportunity to democratizethe country and build a considerable populist political base.These organizations clustered in Brazil's poor and highlyilliterate Northeast, where they were frequently sponsored byradical Catholic university groups and attached to emergingpeasant labor unions (Lemos 1996).

    In 1962 a young Northeasterner named Paulo Freire roseto prominence for his radical humanist pedagogy developed towork with the poor of the region. His philosophy combinedChristian notions of radical equality before God and a Marxistcritique of unequal class relations. Freire excoriated the neo-colonial relationship between "oppressor" and "oppressed,"which alienated the oppressed from their true free selves. Heargued that the "banking model of education," in which theteacher owns knowledge and deposits it in the heads ofstudents, contributes to such oppression. Freire proposedteachers as the "revolutionary leadership" who should engagein "critical co-investiga[tion] in dialogue" with students (Freire1970: 68). He argued that this egalitarian pedagogy wouldoverturn class divisions and liberate both oppressed andoppressor. Freire and his colleagues set up classes to encourage"conscientization," or sociopolitical awareness, among studentsand teachers. In the early '60s, Freirean style literacy programsspread throughout the Northeast. In 1963, Freire was invited bythe populist national administration to implement his literacymethod nationally. This plan was aborted by the military coupin 1964.

    The military regime's crackdown on political activists^fragmented the literacy movement, scaring some away from'activism and sending others to the shelter of sympatheticCatholic communities, where they unobtrusively continued todo their work in isolation over a period of 20 years. With thegradual re-democratization of Brazilian society that began inthe mid-1980s, many literacy activists resumed their politicaleducation work. Yet the movement never recovered itsmomentum (Beisiegel 1982). Contemporary non-formal literacyefforts, although widespread, continue in marginalized commu-nities where public provision of education is weakest.

    In 1999, I conducted fieldwork among three "populareducation" literacy NGOs in Joao Pessoa (Northeast Brazil)."Popular" describes groups that work with the working classand poor sectors of society. Freire was a powerful symbolamong the educators I met. He was frequently cited or invokedduring training sessions. Even those who had not read his workwere familiar with his admonitions to teach students to read"the word and the world." Freirean aphorisms, such as''teaching within students' reality" filled official discussionsamong educators. Short booklets by Freire were frequently theprizes to contests held during teacher training.

    The dual strains of Freirean philosophy, Catholicism andMarxism, deeply influenced teacher training and classroompractice. Popular education groups devoted their energies and

    resources to providing education for working class or unem-ployed people, frequently living in precarious circumstances.Their training sessions regularly included economic analyses ofthe incredible concentration of wealth and land in Brazil, theexclusion of a large proportion of the population from theformal economy, and globalization. This critique of thecapitalist system and class inequality anchored NGOs, whosaw their work as explicitly political as well as educational.Indeed, they refused to consider a split between these tworealms, and they argued that more "traditional" teachers werepolitical toothey just didn't acknowledge it. Organizationsassociated with the Catholic Church promoted neighborly loveand the mandate to "serve"' others. For example, one teacherdescribed her work as a charitable activity (Rita, 22 June 99).NGOs conducted their training and classes in religious institu-tions, like monasteries and churches. Professional developmentsessions featured group prayer and Christian "dynamics," ormotivational moments, such as songs.

    Popular education NGOs asked teachers to transform classrelations by cultivating a "class consciousness" and classcritique among poor, uneducated adults. This difficult taskstymied many teachers. For some, the critique was new,unfamiliar, and aliencertainly not something that they or theirstudents commonly heard. They did not quite know how todevelop the critique, other than possibly repeating what theyheard at their training sessions. Others embraced the discoursebut encountered resistance from their students, who came toclass to learn to read, write, and speak like "an educatedperson" and did not care for the political rhetoric. However,many of the teachers struck upon a certain workable compro-mise: guided by the Freirean emphasis on dialogue, theydeveloped classroom practices that emphasized sociability.

    Teachers' Friendship StrategyThe emphasis on sociability served a dual purpose: it met

    the Freirean mandate for dialogue, and it addressed thestudents' sense of shame over their reading, writing, andspeaking abilities (Bartlett 2001). Freirean teachers sawstudents' silence as a political obstacle, preventing them fromspeaking out against economic injustices. Teachers also sawsilence as an impediment to students' development as fullyhuman, fully happy individuals. This has to do with theBrazilian cultural preference for social rather than individualis-tic orientation. It also has to do with the widespread associationof illiterate people with rural areas, agriculture and animals.(The common epithet of "donkey" for illiterate people suggeststhis stereotype.) Teachers' double interpretation of silence as apolitical and a personal problem fully reflects the FreireanMarxist humanist philosophy.

    Teachers tried to overcome speech shame by placingconversation at the center of their classroom activities. Theywere following Freirean literacy orthodoxy, which identifieddialogue as the route to co-constructed knowledge andequality. Through conversations, teachers worked to incite inthe student the sense of having something worthy to say andalso of being capable of saying it. By urging students to speakwhile they listened, teachers undermined the speech-classhierarchy and declared equality, at least temporarily, betweeninterlocutors.

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    NGO teachers worked hard to create a climate of friend-ship, trust, and equality inside the classroom. It featured widelyin my interviews with them. Lila, a young teacher, explainedthe importance of friendship:

    Last year, I had a good group. We were really friends, wehad a great friendship. The first thing I try to get across to thestudents is friendship. The first day of class, I tell them thatI'm there not only as a teacher, but primarily as a friend. Thatcreates... a freedom for the teacher to be with the student, sothat she's not some locked away person, with her studentsvery distant. (Lila, 22 June 99)

    Lila referenced the social distance between "locked away"teachers and "distant" students in a traditional classroom. Thatsocial remoteness suggests hierarchy, which is the opposite ofthe kind of "freedom" she sought for teachers and students. Lilaimplied that emotional aloofness interferes with the educationalprocess.

    NGO teachers regularly insisted that it was crucial todevelop friendships with students. They saw this as a negationof the normal social hierarchy. By creating conditions offriendship and trust, teachers also encouraged students to bringtheir experiences of social problems into the classroom. Forexample, NGO teacher Neide told me she worked to createfriendship with students

    through dialogue, with confidence. If you join them, becometheir equal through conversation and jokes, they start toconfide in you and tell you their problems. And as teachers,sometimes we tell our problems to them. And so opens thatbig door that was always closed. [Traditionally], the teacherhad to be seated at the desk or writing on the board. Theprofessor opened the book, put it on the board, done! But inour teaching it's totally different. There's not a superiorteacher and inferior student. Everyone's on the same level....I love it when I'm conversing with students and they tell me,"Today we didn't have anything to eat." Would they havecourage to tell the public school teacher this? They wouldn't!But they'll tell me, "Today I didn't eat lunch. Today myhusband beat me." Students have already told me that. (27June 99)

    In Neide's mind, the NGO successfully reduced an authorityhierarchy through the cultivation of sociable relations betweenteacher and students. This allowed students to acknowledgepersonal social problems in the classroom. (Presumably, theNGO teacher could build upon these confessions to generatea critique of class, gender, or race relationsalthough I veryrarely witnessed this.) Neide proudly contrasted NGO methodsto public schools, which maintained traditional pedagogy andhierarchies.

    Teachers hoped to heal the "hidden injuries of class"through the cultivation of sociability and friendship in theclassroom. For example, Rita explained the importance ofgetting her working class students to "open up," converse, andjoke:

    Look, an adult arrives to class very tired and tense. So insteadof heading directly into a boring lecture, you get them toconverse, you see how their days were, see what you can doto help. You see if they need you, how you might help them,so that person is able to become your friend. First, you have

    to give them self-confidence, so they can open up withyou.... [T]he teacher has to open her heart to the student, hasto converse, to laugh, to ask questions. (Rita, 22 June 99)

    Rita's comments immediately positioned her students aslaborers whose daily responsibilities leave them "tired andtense." And so she offset those frustrations with conversation,laughter, expressions of concern, and an "open heart." Shevery deliberately cultivated an emotional relationship withstudents, trying to get them to "open up." Despite Rita'sawareness of the role of class, she focused on establishingemotional ties and raising each student's "self-confidence."

    The centrality of emotion to teachers' conceptions of theirwork was crystallized for me during one particular trainingsession. At that time, the novice teachers were instructed towrite down, on small squares of paper, the adjectives theythought best described the popular educator. After severalthoughtful minutes, they converged on a poster-board outlineof a female figure and attached their adjectives to her. As theapprentices stepped back, a visual representation of the populareducator emerged. At her eyes, a card stated that she should"teach according to the needs of the neighborhood." Her earswere marked with two notes urging her to be a "good listener.11Her mouth said she should be "patient," "humble," "respect-ful," and "dynamic." Her feet proclaimed that the teachershould "walk among the people." It was the heart, however,that bore the greatest number of notecards. These described thegood educator as someone who was "caring," "loving,""understanding," and "promoted self-esteem." The majority ofthe notes appended there simply stated that she should be a"friend." (13 March 1999)

    Thus, teachers engaged in emotional labor in the service oftheir work. In describing the emotional work demanded offlight attendants, sociologist Arlie Hochschild terms thispractice the "commercialization of human feeling" (Hochschild1983). It is not uncommon to see this kind of emotional laborexpected of or volunteered by teachers, because of the gen-dered socialization of the largely female educational labor force(see, e.g., Apple 1986). As philosopher Megan Boler notes,emotions are frequently a critical site of social control (1999).Indeed, Hochschild's work details a disturbing scenario inwhich bodily hexis is thoroughly disciplined by the demandsof capital and the peculiarly American rules for social interac-tion codified in the adage that "the customer is always right."

    However, Boler also suggests that emotions can furnish asite of social resistance. This, I suggest, was the case forBrazilian NGO teachers. Rather than commodifying theiremotions in the formal economy, these teachers were volun-teering their emotions for a political causetheir desire torevolutionize class relations. Teachers promoted volubility intheir students, hoping this would increase students' self-esteemand help students to speak out more politically and to demandmore respect. This interpretation aligns with feminist criticswho see interpersonal skills as potential resources in politicalstruggles.

    Implications and ConclusionsThe teachers interpreted the Freirean dialogical imperative

    within the framework of the popular cultural model of educa-tion, which emphasizes sociability in addition to book knowl-

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    edge. This prompted them to emphasize egalitarian friendshipin their classrooms. For the teachers, the image of themselvesas friends became an important cultural artifact in their work,which they used in the service of social change. How thisstrategy influenced students' literacy abilities and identities asliterate people is a question for another time. Instead, in thispaper I wish to emphasize how attention to cultural models ofwork can complement more traditional analytic models thatpredominate in the field. Further, cultural models distinguishseemingly equivalent forms of work. For example, in Brazil,formal literacy teaching is quite distinct from the informalvariety; adult literacy work in the state school system largelyignores the sociability strand of the educated person model andinstead emphasizes the book-smart, skills-oriented part of thedefinition. This makes a huge difference in the type of workrequired of teachers, despite the formally similar job descrip-tions. By highlighting the relationship of labor to social struc-tures, and by suggesting mechanisms of social change, culturalmodels of work provide a salutary complement to moretraditional analytical perspectives.

    AcknowledgmentsI would like to thank Lynn Sikkink, Alison Greene, and Carla Jones fortheir helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. TheFulbright Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation funded theresearch reported here.

    References CitedApple, Michael W. 1990. Teachers and Texts: A Political Economy ofClass and Gender Relations in Education. New York: Routledge &Kegan Paul.

    Bartlett, Lesley. 2001. 'Literacy Shame and Competing EducationalProjects in Contemporary Brazil." Ph.D. Dissertation. Chapel Hil l , NC:Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina atChapel Hill.Beisiegel, Celso de Rui. 1982. Politica e Educagao Popular: A Teor/ae a Politica de Paulo Freire no Brasil. Editora Atica.Boler, Megan. 1999. Feeling Power: Emotions and Education. NewYork: Routledge.Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Contin-uum.

    Gudeman, Stephen, and Alberto Rivera. 1990. Conversations inColombia: The Domestic Economy in Life and Text. New York:Cambridge University Press.Hochschild, Ariie Russell. 1983. The Managed Heart: Commercializa-tion of Human Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.Holland, Dorothy, and Bradley Levinson. 1996. "The CulturalProduction of the Educated Person: An Introduction." In The CulturalProduction of the Educated Person. B. Levinson, D. Foley, and D.Holland, eds., pp. 1-56. Albany: State University of New York Press.Holland, Dorothy, and Naomi Quinn, eds. 1987. Cultural Models inLanguage and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Holland, Dorothy, William Jr Lachicotte, Debra Skinner, and CaroleCain. 1998. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press.Lemos, Francisco de Assis. 1996. Nordeste: O Vietna que nao Houve.Ligas Camponesas e o Co/pe de 64. Londrina, PA: UniversidadeEstadual de Londrina.Lutz, Catherine, and Geoffrey White. 1986. The Anthropology ofEmotions. Annual Review of Anthropology 15:405-36.

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