Gilberto Freyre

Gilberto Freyre

Brazilian intellectual of the 20th century whose contributions to sociology and history produced a modern and scholarly anthropological understanding of the races.

Sociologist, historian and writer Gilberto de Mello Freyre was born on March 15, 1900 into a well-off family in Recife, in the northeast region of Brazil. His father was a university professor who encouraged cultural and academic admiration for the Anglo-Saxon traditions. In 1918, Freyre, a product of a Baptist education in his hometown of Recife, earned a scholarship at BaylorUniversity in Waco, Texas. He later continued his studies at Columbia University in New York. In the United States, he specialized in political, judicial and social sciences. He came into contact with great figures in English literature such as Amy Lowell, Vachel Lindsay and William Butler. He left behind his protestant faith, but a new passion was born: cultural anthropology.

His thesis on Brazilian society in the middle of the 19th century was immediately published in the United States. After graduating, he traveled to various European countries and studied at OxfordUniversity and other European universities. He returned to Recife in 1923, where he formally began his intellectual life. From that time on, he supported the regionalist and traditionalist movement. He organized the first Brazilian Regionalist Congress, which proclaimed the need to become independent of European and U.S. culture to preserve the Portuguese heritage, embracing the crucible of races and cultures that had been discriminated against for a long time. He was a member of many international cultural associations and received important awards, while his prolific work was translated into various languages. His commitment and interest in his research led him to resign from the political offices he held in his country.

His master work, the first part of a socio-historical trilogy, Casa grande e senzala (1933), describes the formation of a Brazilian family under a patriarchal economic regime. In addition to its literary and historical merit, the value of the book was based on a vast amount of documentation compiled from slave narratives, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, press announcements and psychological and sociological analysis. The following works, Sobrados e mocambos (1936) and Ordem e progresso (1959), study the decline of the patriarchy, the development of the urban family and an analysis of the process of disintegration of the Brazilian patriarchal and semi-patriarchal society. Freyre is considered one of the most emblematic intellectual figures of Brazil, as his ideas and discourses are discussed in the United States and Europe. He is able to discuss his brilliant research in French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. He dedicated much of his life to studying and understanding the lives of Spanish, Portuguese and tropical peoples and lucidly explaining the complex reality of various social groups.

Among his most outstanding works are: Nordeste (1937), O mundo que o português criou (1940) (first in a series dedicated to the expansion of the Portuguese civilization around the world), Problemas brasileiros de antropologia (1943) and Aventura e rotina e Um brasileiro em terras portuguesas (1953), which collected his impressions of his travels through Portuguese-speaking countries, among other numerous scholarly works.

Author: Pablo Samuel Torres
Published: May 09, 2012.

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