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Abstract

This article uses the boundaries theoretical framework to analyse Brazilian race relations. The author argues that the apparent paradox of race relations in Brazil and in parts of Latin America, i.e. the persistency of racial inequality without blatant racial conflict, can be better understood as the coexistence of strong social boundaries and weak symbolic boundaries between racial categories. Not only does the boundaries literature allow us to understand race relations in Brazil through a different lens, but the Brazilian case can also contribute to further develop this theoretical framework. Differently from most cases discussed by the boundaries literature where strong symbolic boundaries lead to strong social boundaries, in Brazil weak symbolic boundaries have played a key role in the reproduction and transformation of strong social boundaries between blacks and whites. Taking into account the different ways these two types of boundaries interact – social and symbolic – is a key challenge for the comparative literature on race relations. In order to develop the argument the author draws on recent studies about Brazil to discuss two traditional issues in the race relations literature in Latin America and beyond: the measurement of racial discrimination and the consequences of racially mixed identification for debates on racial inequality.

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