Body Parts on Planet Slum

Body Parts on Planet Slum

Women and Telenovelas in Brazil

By Lisa Beljuli Brown

Key Issues in Modern Sociology

This book focuses on the cultural and gender dimensions of informal survivalism. It provides a fascinating insight into women’s use of soap operas to reconfigure suffering, pleasure, sexuality and embodiment.

PDF, 182 Pages


October 2011

£18.36, $30.36

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About This Book

There is growing interest in urbanization as currently a third of the world’s urban population live in slums, and by 2030 there may be two billion slum dwellers across the globe (Davies 2004, 17). During economic crises, slum dwellers are involved in increasing feats of self-exploitation. The literature on slums and informal settlements tends to focus on economic survival strategies, particularly those of men. But how do women, as the most marginalized and excluded slum-dwellers, survive in the face of poverty and gender oppression? What are the emotional rather than material costs of poverty? This book conveys the rich fabric of life in the slum.

‘Body Parts on Planet Slum’ discusses the importance of Christianity and telenovelas, and explores what it is about women’s lives in particular that makes these stories so central. Yet it is also increasingly clear that for the poorest women, church attendance has become a rare luxury – whereas telenovelas are piped into their homes on a daily basis. The unemployed women watch up to six hours of telenovelas a day in the midst of arduous physical labour in the home. The women suffer in relation to their bodies, but invest in a masochistic glorification of suffering. It is this glorification of suffering that links the women’s lives to the telenovelas in crucial ways. It reveals disturbing valuations of women’s bodies that traverse reality and fiction, and connect to a central feminist question, ‘What is a woman?’


‘This bold study, moving between feminism, media studies and a social theory of global poverty […] demonstrates that the diet of telenovelas destroys and yet sustains the women who constitute the poorest of the urban poor in the most “African” of Brazil’s provinces.’ —Liz Gunner, ‘Psychology in Society’

‘Drawing on class, race and gender analysis, Lisa Beljuli Brown provides a fascinating window into television novelas, a staple of Brazilian popular culture. More than just television, the dramas provide poor black women with an essential escape from the endless, backbreaking work as mothers, wives, and servants, transforming a fictional pleasure into a survival strategy.’ —Teresa Meade, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture, Union College

‘Pairings of sociology and psychoanalysis tend to go the way of reductionism: the empirical field is narrowed to fit the prescriptions of psychoanalytic theory, or else the theory is utilized with little fluency. Neither is the case in Lisa Beljuli Brown’s brilliant analysis, in which lived experience and conceptual sophistication sit alongside an informed and sensitive politics to illuminate the topics of telenovelas and poor women’s lives in the bairro.’ —Dr Derek Hook, Department of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London

‘‘Body Parts on Planet Slum’ offers provocative, unexpected insights that link Brazil’s glitzy novelas, or daily soap operas, to the harsh social realities of urban life in Bahia. Reflecting on their suffering, survival strategies and Christian values, it reveals how women at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum find their lives unpredictably mirrored, and happy endings realized, in glamorous television dramas. It is a must-read.’ —Marguerite Itamar Harrison, Associate Professor of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Smith College

Author Information

Lisa Beljuli Brown is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She gained her PhD in social and political sciences from the University of Cambridge.


Key Issues in Modern Sociology

Table of Contents

Foreword by Juliet Mitchell; Introduction; Chapter 1. Theodicy and Ideology: ‘Everybody Needs an Ideology to Live’; Chapter 2. The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth; But in the Meantime They Shall Watch Telenovelas; Chapter 3. Suffering Soaps; Fragmented Bodies; Chapter 4. The Politics of the Vagina; Chapter 5. The Redemptive Womb; Chapter 6. The Invisible Back; Final Feliz; Illustrations; Table: Women Respondents; Glossary; Bibliography; Index


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