Sandra de Fátima Pereira Tosta Carla Valéria Vieira Linhares Maia Weslei Lopes da Silva Douglas Cabral Dantas About the authors


Este artigo busca problematizar os resultados de uma pesquisa que teve como objetivos identificar e analisar a produção de teses e dissertações concluídas em Programas de Pós-graduação em Antropologia a partir de 1990 no Brasil, entender como as questões educacionais foram incorporadas e tratadas teórica e metodologicamente nessas pesquisas e, contiguamente, compreender as condições de desenvolvimento do campo interdisciplinar na interface Antropologia e Educação. De natureza qualitativa e quantitativa, foram analisados cerca de 62 trabalhos. Os resultados depreendidos demonstraram que o olhar do antropólogo contribui para uma melhor compreensão das realidades em contextos de aprendizagens, sejam espaços de educação formal ou não, e contribuem densamente para o campo da educação.

Antropologia; aprendizagens; educação; escola


Este artículo busca problematizar los resultados de una investigación que tuvo como objetivos identificar y analizar la producción de tesis y disertaciones realizadas en Programas de Posgrado en Antropología desde 1990 en Brasil, para entender cómo se incorporaron y trataron los temas educativos, teórica y metodológicamente, en estas investigaciones y, además, comprender las condiciones de desarrollo del campo interdisciplinario en la interfaz Antropología y Educación. De carácter cualitativo y cuantitativo, analizamos alrededor de 62 trabajos. Los resultados mostraron que la mirada del antropólogo contribuye para una mejor comprensión de las realidades en los contextos de aprendizajes, sean espacios de educación formal o no, y contribuyen densamente para el campo de la educación.

Palabras clave:
Antropología; aprendizaje; educación; escuela


This paper presents the results of research that aimed to identify and analyze the production of theses and dissertations completed in graduate programs in anthropology in Brazil from 1990. The purpose of the selected programs was to understand in what ways educational issues were incorporated and treated theoretically and methodologically, and contiguously, to understand the conditions of the development of the interdisciplinary field in the interface of anthropology and education. In both a qualitative and quantitative nature, 62 papers were analyzed. The results obtained demonstrate that the anthropologist’s view contributes to a better understanding of the realities of learning contexts, whether formal or non-formal education spaces and contributes substantially to the field of education.

anthropology; learning; education; school


How has the field of Brazilian anthropology thought about and investigated education? To what extent have educational questions related to school or not, mobilized anthropologists, and stimulated their research? In what ways does anthropology view and create a dialogue with education? How and under what conditions is ethnography produced in school and non-school spaces? What theoretical references have been used? What results does this research offer when it specifically focuses on school education?

From these questions, this paper aims to understand how anthropologists in Brazil, researchers of postgraduate programs in social and cultural anthropology, investigate issues related to education, within a historical and cultural conjuncture permeated by difference and diversity, and the reality of social inequality. In short, at what point did Brazilian anthropology take as its theoretical and methodological objective in educational research the manner in which institutions, schools, or otherwise, are viewed?

It is relevant to say that this text reflects the unfolding issues that were found in a collection of research that sought to map and understand the ways in which education has entered into dialogue with anthropology, especially when the methodological approach is disconnected from the necessary theoretical support. In other words, the research, “Dialogues at the Borders—education as an object of research in Brazilian anthropology (2012-2016)” is a continued effort of an interdisciplinary team of researchers—integrating the Study and Research Group in education and Cultures (EDUC)—that has been developing research since 2005. Its central theme is the possible dialogue between anthropology and education, centered on educational problems that can be better understood from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Some terms should now be highlighted and unpacked because they do not have the same meaning, nor can they be taken as simple synonyms, even though they are related. These are words that will be repeatedly evoked in this paper: learning, education, and school. It should be noted that there is no single definition for these terms and that it is within anthropology itself that we will seek to discuss them.

Anthropology has always concerned itself with education, more specifically with the issue of childhood and learning (Rocha & Tosta, 2013ROCHA, G. TOSTA, Sandra P. Antropologia e Educação (Col. Temas e Pensadores em Educação). 2. Ed. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2013.), creating an interface between these two fields of knowledge.

Pereira (2017PEREIRA, A.B. Do controverso “chão da escola” às controvérsias da etnografia: aproximações entre antropologia e educação. Horizontes Antropológicos, Porto Alegre, ano 23, n. 49, p. 149-176, set./dez. 2017) rightly points out that “Even Marcel Mauss (2010MAUSS, M. Três observações sobre a sociologia da infância. Pro-Posições, Campinas, v. 21, n. 3, p. 237-244, set./dez. 2010.), when asked to talk about education, discussed life stages, from an outline of childhood sociology, in which he expanded on the approach taken in one of his most famous texts— ‘Techniques of the Body’ (Mauss, 2003). Here he considered ways of educating the youngest, which could contribute to a more specific approach to childhood and youth.” However, this researcher emphasizes:

The most famous work, identified as a classic on age categories and the anthropology of education, is that of Margaret Mead. The author studied the development of childhood and adolescence in Samoa and New Guinea. “Coming of Age in Samoa,” first published in 1928, became one of the biggest-selling books in the history of anthropology. In this work, Mead (1949) is interested in discovering the development process of Samoan adolescents and children. She takes her own culture, that of the United States, as a parameter to attempt to understand if the conception of adolescence as a stage of crisis and rebellion—justified as a thesis by the American psychology of the early twentieth century—could be seen as a universal feature of this stage of life or just as a cultural particularity of industrialized Western societies of the North. (2017, p. 152).

As culture, in its numerous and diverse historical constitutions, is integral to the disciplinary matrix of anthropology, researchers would not be able to draw their understanding of education from cultural experience and the differences between social groups. Thus, culture itself is taken as an educational practice. Oliveira emphasizes that: “Those who examine Mead’s ethnographic texts will surely be surprised to find no reference to formal school institutions except at times when the author attempts a comparison with American society”. (2015a: p. 12)

School is an institution dedicated to the process of teaching and learning between students and teachers, which in the mid-nineteenth century appeared in Western societies. However, it must be understood that this institution, like public education policies and everything else that configures the place taxed with teaching and learning, exists within networks and webs of symbols, meanings, social institutions, power disputes, and the ensuing tensions, in ways more or less evident.

Precisely in this premise, lies one of the most remarkable anthropological contributions to the debate on education, in school or not—the broadening of this concept to include the learning that occurs in the countless experiences that permeate and invent daily social life. If we consider education in this way, it is important to understand socializing and learning as the primary intentions of schooling, but also that these intentions go beyond the school walls. This is only possible when they are considered as cultural facts performed within cultures. Therefore, for anthropology, “specialized learning spaces can be found around the world, transmitting the most diverse knowledge in the most varied ways” (Cohn, 2005COHN, C. Antropologia da criança. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2005., p. 37). These distinctions will be more evident in this paper from the treatment that was given to the thematic axes and their definitions in the classification of the analyzed material.

Returning to the research coordinated by the EDUC, referred to earlier, the first was an exploratory and bibliographic study called, “The Uses of Ethnography in Educational Research (2005-2007).” It sought to identify the use, by researchers from the educational field, of a methodology called “ethnography.” For this, the researchers analyzed theses and dissertations on cultural studies from three Brazilian postgraduate programs in education. This criterion announced our understanding of ethnography as a theoretical knowledge that constitutes the epistemology of the anthropological field, which has as its objective the study of cultures. The most important finding of this first exploration of anthropology and education was that in educational research, dialogue was always conducted through the presumed understanding of the proposal of “an ethnography to study schooling in Latin America.” This proposal was established in the 1970s by a group of researchers from the Department of Educational Investigations—DIE/CINVESTAV, from the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico. This revealed a very peculiar characteristic of the dialogue pursued in anthropological research of education and affirmed that such a theoretical option was generally taken only as a procedure, a set of qualitative investigation techniques, unlike the original proposal of DIE. The results of this research are relevant in that they clearly outline the scope of the Mexican proposal for educational research in Brazil.

Stimulated by these results, in a second investigation, entitled: “Ethnography for Latin America—another look at school in Brazil (2007-2009),” we expanded the corpus of previous research by reading and analyzing dissertations and theses produced in all Brazilian postgraduate programs in education, starting from the 1990s, available on the Portal of CAPES (Coordination for Personnel Improvement in Higher education).

This investigation was directed at studies that stated that the research was developed under the guidance of the methodological proposition of DIE/CINVESTAV. Broadly confirming what the first investigation had found, a set of approximately 1200 dissertations and theses were inventoried through their abstracts, and then several were read. This made it clear that Mexican researchers were the main inspirational source of Brazilian studies that intended to grasp and explain the school educational phenomenon by theories other than those that dominated educational research in Brazil up to the 1980s. These included quantitative studies and those aligned with reproduction theories.

In a third investigation, “Ethnography for Latin America—another look at school in Brazil and Argentina (2009—2012),” we took a comparative perspective, seeking to understand the scope of the DIE proposal also in Argentina, through the analysis of research developed in postgraduate programs in the anthropology of education in universities of that country. In summary, the results of these studies demonstrated that there was a conversion from the macro to the micro in the view of education and school. That is, there has been a shift of interest from the state-regulated and controlled educational system to what happens in school, the classroom, and other learning spaces. A qualitative rather than a quantitative view was also adopted, which focuses on observing interactions in the school routine. Indeed, the investigations centered on the subjects, their actions, practices, and representations, rather than prioritizing analyses of normative instruments or broader situations that embrace the school institution (Tosta & Silva, 2017TOSTA, S.P; MAIA, C.V. L.; ALMEIDA, L.E.R. de. Diálogos nas fronteiras: a Educação como objeto de investigação na antropologia brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Digitaliza, 2017. E-Book.).

However, we were concerned that this approach and adoption by education scholars, when in dialogue with anthropology, did not always necessarily follow a deeper conversation with the theoretical and methodological contributions of anthropological science. From the example of similar studies (Garcia, 2001GARCIA, T.M.F.B. Origens e questões da etnografia educacional no Brasil: um balanço de teses e dissertações (1981-1998). Tese de Doutorado. USP, 2001; Rockwell, 1992ROCKWELL, E. La relevancia de la etnografía para la transformación de la escuela. Tercer Seminario Nacional de Investigación en Educación. Colombia, 1992. p. 14-29.), we observed confusion surrounding the intellectual endeavor of anthropology in an ethnographic study, with procedures such as coexistence and observation at schools and participant observation. These are the most common references that appear in the analyzed studies. While some studies addressed and advanced an analysis of the school, focusing on social changes—a fundamental point proposed by DIE—the majority of the works turned to specific questions of school education, contradicting the defining holistic vision that underlies the Mexican approach.

The knowledge produced in the three investigations, debated through articles, books, and national and international scientific events, provoked many questions, among them the challenge of turning things around, in order to understand how anthropological research, chooses, delimits, constructs and investigates issues related to education and school. It is from this perspective that this research: “Dialogues at the Borders ...,” is structured. Its objective is to broaden and deepen the understanding of the theoretical and methodological interface between the fields of anthropology and education; thus, attempting to understand how anthropology and its researchers in Brazil interact with the field of education. To this end, it is appropriate to dive into the literature that proposes to debate the challenges, limits, and possibilities of these fields and enables a dialogue between them.


The knowledge accumulated by anthropology along its historical course allows it to have a broader and more nuanced view. It can capture dimensions of the human condition that require a more cautious and careful perception of the complexity of the social fabric of contemporary society. In general terms, as Brandão says,

Fortunately, we are living in times where in all fields of knowledge creation, there is a growing recognition that an integration between the sciences, and even between them and other human spheres of reason and sensibility, appears to be the best method of discovery. From astrophysics to psychology we are increasingly immersed in the challenge of seeking more and more interdisciplinary thoughts, research, and theories (Brandão, 2002BRANDÃO, C.R. Educação como Cultura. São Paulo: Mercado de Letras. 2002., p. 137).

The nature of this knowledge can be explained, argues DaMatta (1993), precisely because anthropology, since its inception, has been the hallmark for interdisciplinary research, with its ambitious program that aims to know human beings in all their dimensions. If we recognize, on the one hand, that anthropology is complex because of its difficulty with identity demarcation, on the other hand, this makes it possibly the first social science to be aware of this interdisciplinary principle.

Thus, it is understood, in the scope of this article that, in order to establish conversations between fields of knowledge, it is necessary to adopt a more integrative interdisciplinary approach, with the awareness that education and school problems and themes, even when being addressed and presented in different formats, can be found within these two sciences. Adopting this stance requires an analytical back and forth between the two fields, not without tension, in order to problematize important questions that can be best addressed by both.

In this sense, as an example of the importance of dialogue between the two sciences and for the purpose of addressing the increasingly complex questions posed by contemporary life, Neusa Gusmão, in an interview with EDUC researchers, pointed out that the dialogue between anthropology and education enables new exchanges and gains in the multicultural context of our society, providing, in her words that:

Different dimensions of educational processes can be taken up, whether within or outside the school, from the educational field, in a critical and competent manner, since from this perspective, the education of subjects, of people, and even of nation are present. Considering these relations as inherent in the historical and political relations between humans is a necessary condition for thinking of culture as a process and a political field. Thus, if anthropology ever considers education as a legitimate object of its gaze, it will surely have much to say, overcoming its own limits. (EDUC Interview, June 2015)

From the perspective of Gusmão, anthropological research into schooling is still a recent development, given that in the disciplinary tradition of anthropology, education is generally associated with learning, sociability, and socialization. As also demonstrated by the anthropologist João Pacheco, one can understand this apparent distancing due to the level of investigation. Thus,

Thinking in the current context, I would say that it is minimal [the discussion of education by anthropology], the discipline is very much characterized as theoretical in relation to the studies of society and cultures. And it no longer reflects the thinking about the production of public policies and intervention mechanisms on certain specific areas of society, such as education, health, and security. There is a widespread idea among anthropologists from the past that the anthropologist should always study the small, that is, what goes beyond the action of national society, state, economy, and international relations. [...] In this sense, I think it is not education that receives discriminatory treatment, it is due to a combination of these factors. One of the epistemological obstacles to the study of anthropology is exactly inter-ethical contact, the state, colonial action, conflicts… none of these appear. (EDUC Interview, June 2015)

Understanding the ways in which this scenario has been managed in anthropological investigations reveals that researchers are little concerned with the school, as confirmed by Rocha:

It seems to me that anthropologists’ general understanding of education has never limited itself to the sphere of school. Perhaps, therefore, education has never clearly presented itself as an example as it did in sociology where, by virtue of the Durkheimian tradition, it eventually crystallized, even when the boundaries between sociology and anthropology were often not as clear as they came to be in the period after the 1980s, in Brazil. [...] On the other hand, although the issue of education is present in the early stages of the institutionalization of anthropology (see the theme of the First ABA Congress in 1953), the focus was on the field itself. [...] It was necessary that education began to be seen and thought of as a cultural system, inspired by Geertz so that it could gain visibility and became a subarea within anthropology. [...] (EDUC Interview, June 2015)

These anthropologists reaffirm Brandão’s arguments, for whom this detachment may lie in anthropology itself, in that the field is directed more to the adult world than to that of children and young learners. In line with these arguments, Brandão points out that “children and young people attract our attention more as participants in rites of passage than as subjects submitted to a ‘long work of knowledge’” (Brandão, 2002, p. 142). The author’s comparison is exemplary:

Maintaining proportions, it is as if an anthropology born of participatory observation research with tribal communities was much more interested in the graduation rites and the social destiny of the ‘graduate’ than the daily schoolwork of their education through learning, within school, or outside (Brandão, 2002BRANDÃO, C.R. Educação como Cultura. São Paulo: Mercado de Letras. 2002., p. 142).

Therefore, such arguments presented by anthropologists lead us to questions such as: What theoretical and methodological contributions have anthropologists mobilized to explain education as a total social phenomenon? How is ethnography on the school or education developed? In what ways does the anthropological discourse, which favors cultural difference and diversity, confront and denounce the discourse of cultural homogenization that has historically been at the root of the West’s school educational project?

To answer this set of questions consistently and in a manner committed to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of anthropology and education, we need to go back in time and seek the roots of their interaction and examine their incomplete dialogue. Reiterating what has been said in this article, since the creation of modern anthropology, a distance has persisted between “everything that has to do with the intentional and the negotiated structures and processes of pedagogical socialization of children, adolescents, and young people” (Brandão, 2002BRANDÃO, C.R. Educação como Cultura. São Paulo: Mercado de Letras. 2002., p. 141).

In line with this debate, Oliveira (2015bOLIVEIRA, A. Sobre o lugar da educação na antropologia brasileira. Revista Temas em Educação, João Pessoa, v.24, n.1, p. 40-50, jan.-jun. 2015b.), when researching the presence of the educational theme in post-graduate research in Brazilian anthropology, sought information about the genealogy of the dialogue between anthropology and education. He argues that two factors must be taken into account for this departure of anthropologists from educational questions: The first concerns the fact that Brazilian anthropology developed in the midst of a “relative otherness,” that is, it was interested in traditional societies, especially indigenous societies, as Brandão (2002BRANDÃO, C.R. Educação como Cultura. São Paulo: Mercado de Letras. 2002.) had already argued. These were societies that generally did not have a formal school system, and were the focus of anthropology in the country. The second is related to the university reform of 1968, which promoted the creation of Faculties of Education, which led to the institutional division between the social and human sciences. This widened the distance between fields of knowledge, especially anthropology, which turned itself even more toward investigations into traditional societies. This process can be seen, as the author points out, by the numerous studies of indigenous education compared to those of other populations.

However, it is possible to observe that anthropologists research social dynamics and observe other learning processes that occur in parallel, as supplementary or in competition with school education. In other words, anthropology has historically taken as its research problem the ways in which learning takes place in cultural contexts, whether initiation, passage, or religious rituals, among other social dynamics (Rocha & Tosta, 2017TOSTA, S.P; MAIA, C.V. L.; ALMEIDA, L.E.R. de. Diálogos nas fronteiras: a Educação como objeto de investigação na antropologia brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Digitaliza, 2017. E-Book.).

Resuming the dialogue between anthropology and education may involve the choice of several entry points: anthropological and educational theories; conceptual profiles that interest education, such as the concept of culture, indispensable for understanding the challenges facing education and school; and the issues and tensions surrounding difference and diversity.

If educational practices, in school or outside, are built on culture, they should be treated as facts of culture, like studies of identity and its counterparts: race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, body, religion, and generation, among others. These are considered as markers of belonging that present and make visible the human world in its different guises. Undoubtedly, all these categories cross the world of education and schooling.

It should also be understood that, beyond an apparent uniformity, the educational institution, as well as the subjects who inhabit it, carry experiences and knowledge that make them and the school itself unique. From this perspective, the objective of the research that guided this paper was to make an inventory of anthropological research in postgraduate programs in Brazil, focusing on theory and methodology, examining theses and dissertations with the theme of education. However, we did not examine theory and methodology separately, but in contrast and agreeing with Bourdieu (1989BOURDIEU, P. O poder simbólico. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand do Brasil, 1989.), we assert that sociological objects are constructed in this double and complex dimension, intertwined in the tensions that define scientific fields.


Our basic research procedure was qualitative and quantitative, using a literature review, with the aim of classifying the sources of information by direct/indirect observation or by direct/indirect verbal reporting. As the study was intended to promote dialogue between scientific fields, the reading and analysis of the material took as its premise the principles of the hermeneutic-dialectic method, as it is the “[...] most capable of accounting for an approximated interpretation of reality. Such a procedure places speech in its context to understand it from within and in the field of historical and totalizing specificity in which it is produced” (Minayo, 2000MINAYO, M.C.Sº desafio do conhecimento. 6. Ed.São Paulo: Hucitec, 2000., p. 231).

This study also has a bibliographic nature. It consists of the analysis of the scientific literature that has already been produced in the area. We examined the literature on anthropology and education, taking theses and dissertations produced in postgraduate programs in anthropology in Brazil since the 1990s. In this type of research, what is sought is the mastery of specialized literature in certain areas and an exhaustive knowledge of what has already been published on the subject, as well as identifying how a research question is constructed.

As in other sources of information, the bibliographic search also assumes the character of a direct or indirect source according to the proximity to the original source. In the case of the research, the source was the direct analysis of the works; that is, the gathering, reading, and interpretation of dissertations and theses that had as their theme the relationship between anthropology and education in Brazil, specifically the approach to education and school.

Therefore, two major analyses were performed: the first, of preparatory character, consisted of studying the general aspects of the chosen problem, the delimitation of the period, and identification of keywords, summaries, and themes. The second stage consisted of a quantitative survey, mapping the postgraduate archive in Brazil, available through the CAPES Portal. During these research stages, we also used information from the Lattes Platform, from the CNPq-National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, because as the data were consolidated, some aspects of the results drew our attention, such as the greater incidence of theses and dissertations guided by a particular anthropologist. Thus, to qualify and refine the analysis of data, we resorted to the Lattes Curriculum of researchers, in order to understand, in the authors’ academic career, the justification for their greater involvement in the discussion between anthropology and education. Similarly, in the same Platform, we sought data on the training of the authors of the theses and dissertations, undergraduate and postgraduate students, to recognize those researchers who are anthropologists at the undergraduate level and those who have completed their master’s degree and doctorate or just doctorate in the area. This was important when performing the analysis of the thesis or dissertation to understand if there was continuity with the researched theme. At this stage of the investigation, the team’s effort was to triangulate the data collected on the CAPES Portal with this additional information. In this way the possible responses to the research questions could be more comprehensive and consistent.

Data considered relevant for the investigation were those related to the programs accessed for the collection of dissertations and theses. In addition to the Postgraduate Programs in Anthropology (PGPAs), in Brazil, there are also many hybrid programs that promote the interface between Sociology and Culture, History and Culture, and Sociology and anthropology, and so on. In these cases, the decision was to search in these other programs for dissertations and theses that addressed education/schooling in the timeline defined by the research and whose supervisors had been anthropologists. Thus, we believe that we would not miss the central question that guided the research and its scope.

Some notes should be made in relation to the limitations of a literature search such as the one that guided this paper. Regarding access to the CAPES portal, it was periodically under construction, and this is not the first investigation that has faced this and other problems when using it as a source. Like our team, other researchers also reported difficulties, such as typographic and structuring errors; duplication of sentences in works inserted more than once in the platform; summaries added to titles; and lack of information such as year of defense, supervisor’s name, institution, and keywords, and so on. (Gregório, 2009GREGÓRIO, M.G. Os estudos de educação comparada internacional no Banco de dissertações e teses da CAPES no período de 1987 a 2006. Dissertação. São Paulo: UFSCar, 2009.).

It is important to clarify that the problem is not only technical but also relates to the information that is stored in the Portal: for example, using keywords to access literature also presented several difficulties, from a lack of correlation with the search to a failure of the keyword to register in the text and poorly structured abstracts. As these are recurrent limitations also found in previous investigations, the researchers’ attention was redoubled, which required more time to read the theses and dissertation abstracts. More than once, not only did the search forms need to be repeated, but also the registration form itself, in order to improve it to meet the research objectives. However, these procedures can serve as a model or inspiration for similar projects.

The search of the CAPES Thesis and Dissertation database initially defined a set of four keywords: education, school, cultures, and ethnography to cover as many completed papers as possible. Later, when we realized that these keywords alone could not cover a large and representative enough corpus as we required, we expanded the number of descriptors with the words: education, school, teachers, students, training, and learning. Therefore, there were ten descriptors that guided the search in the database. Subsequently, we gathered the theses and dissertations that presented some of these descriptors, and their abstracts were read more than once. A recurring problem in this reading was the fact that several abstracts did not clearly outline the research process and indicated the results.

Notwithstanding these setbacks, the investigation was completed as planned, and it responded to its set objectives. Thus, this paper seeks to demonstrate a long, complex, and innovative research path, from various aspects.


Using the chosen descriptors, the researchers found 70 works, of which 35 were selected; these included 26 dissertations and nine theses in the area of education.

The selected works were read in full by pairs of researchers and research fellows, recorded and analyzed, and later re-examined and recorded in an analytical form. From this survey, the selected studies were divided according to thematic axes attained from a reading of the theses and dissertations and then classified based on the educational legislation in force in Brazil (LDBEN, 1996). This result was the first approximation from the mapping of the themes and theoretical-methodological approaches undertaken. Thus, it was possible to identify the axes which clarify the suitability of educational themes by anthropologists, which are: 1. School education (SE), 2. Indigenous School education (ISE), 3. Professional Qualification Courses (PQC), and 4. Education, School, Social Movements, and Public Policy (EMP). The table below illustrates the relationship between the four thematic axes, accompanied by the number of papers analyzed.

Table 1
Thematic axes


  1. . School education (SE): This axis includes theses and dissertations whose authors not only focused on school education but also carried out their ethnography in schools: regular schools, that is, regulated under the 1996 National educational Bases and Guidelines Law (LDBEN) and Youth and Adult Education (YAE) is also understood in this regulatory method.

  2. . Indigenous school education (ISE): This axis includes research on school education in the regular intercultural method, with its own pedagogical model, according to Decree No. 6,861 of May 27, 2009. Educational policies aimed at indigenous education are expressed in the Federative Constitution of Brazil of 1988, specifically in Chapter III, Article 210, which guarantees indigenous people the common basic education and respect for their cultural and artistic values. The 1996 National educational Bases and Guidelines Law (LDBEN) provided indigenous communities with the right to school education, with the objective of strengthening their cultural practices and languages. The same decree “Afforded to Indigenous School education, defines its organization in ethno-educational territories, and makes other provisions.”

  3. . Professional qualification courses (PQC): This axis included theses and dissertations that dealt with basic qualification courses or high school vocational education. In this case, concomitance, sequentially or integration with high school and diploma is required, according to the LDBEN, in its articles 36-A and 39, in its updated version.

  4. . Education, school, social movements and public policies (EMP): This axis contemplated theses and dissertations that discussed public educational policies and social movements within the field of popular education studies, and may include YAE with strong popular participation, such as schools of the Landless Workers’ Movement.

The first results of this research demonstrate that, although academic production in the area of anthropology in dialogue with education/school has intensified in recent years in Brazil, greater mobilization of researchers and research institutes is required in terms of greater investment in this research method, given its academic and social relevance. Undoubtedly, they are studies capable of contributing to the confrontation of numerous challenges that education in general, and school in particular, currently encounter.

As the theses and dissertations were identified, a task that ended in mid-2015, so began the work of finding the full text of each study. A significant number were located on websites, through university libraries and some through the authors themselves by virtual contact, but some papers could not be found. It is worth noting that, when contacting one of the authors, we were informed that they no longer possessed the file.

The total number of works found is represented in Figure 1 below, which illustrates that most of the research papers selected for analytical reading were dissertations rather than theses. The most likely reason for this is the shorter time taken to defend a dissertation, two and a half years on average according to CAPES, provides a greater number of completed papers, while doctorate research takes four and a half years on average. The intellectual undertaking of both courses places epistemological demands that differentiate them in qualitative terms.

Figure 1
Total Number of Research Papers.

Table 2 illustrates the distribution of this research by Postgraduate Program in anthropology:

Table 2
Illustrates the distribution of this research by Postgraduate Program in anthropology:

It is possible to observe that the higher incidence of theses and dissertations belongs to UFRJ. A very plausible reason for this is that this institution has two postgraduate programs in anthropology: the National Museum, and the Postgraduate Program in Sociology and the Anthropology of the Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences (IFICS). In the programs of the other institutions there is a balance in the number of studies, ranging from one to three papers.

Regarding the number of post-graduate programs in anthropology, the data illustrate that the courses and number of supervisors are most concentrated in the Southeast region. It should also be noted that the oldest anthropology programs, created in the 1960s, are located in the Southeast region (Rubim, 1997). Except the Universidade Nacional de Brasília. The UNB which was created in 1962 by a group of intellectuals led by Professor Anísio Teixeira, its first rector was the anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, who was exiled after the 1964 Military Coup. Unicamp was created in 1966 under the tutelage of Antonio Augusto Arantes Neto, who in 1971 started the PPGAS/Unicamp. The PPGAS/National Museum began in 1968, and PPGAS/UNB was created in 1972 by a group of anthropologists who moved from the National Museum to Brasilia, including Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, Roque de Barros Laraia, and Julio César Melatti. Aside from these, the other regions of the country have one or two programs.

Considering the nine theses analyzed, six of them are in post-graduate programs from the Southeast region. From the 26 dissertations, more than half, 16 of them are from the same region. Thus, as there are a greater number of anthropology PGPs in the southeast region, the region also provides a greater number of studies. In total there are 16 dissertations and six theses. Followed by the southern region with five studies—four dissertations and one thesis. In the North and Northeast regions the data point to a certain balance: here we read and analyzed two and three dissertations, respectively. In the Central-West region we identified one dissertation and two theses. These data can be seen in the following figures:

Figure 2
Papers per region


Other data found in the investigation make it possible to understand the frequency of theses and dissertations completed per year in the PGPs, whose themes were concerned with education/school. This reveals a certain continuity or discontinuity in the interest of researchers, supervisors, and students. Despite the fact that 1987 was not considered in the research time interval during the data collection, we found a dissertation supervised by Professor Carlos Rodrigues Brandão, at Unicamp, which may have been the first with the education theme, more precisely kindergarten, and so-called “little school” education, in a PGP in anthropology. Only 15 years later, in 2002, did we identify other research dealing with the anthropology and education interface, and thereafter with a certain regularity of time. Observing this distribution by thematic axis, school education (SE) was more present in the period with 12 papers; followed by the education, school, social movements and public policies (EMP) axis with ten studies; the indigenous school education (ISE) with nine papers; and the professional qualification courses (PQC) axis with three research studies. This is illustrated in Figure 3:

Figure 3
Papers per Thematic Axis and Year

The numbers presented reiterate previous analyses, highlighting the production of UFRJ. In total, there were four dissertations and theses on school education (SE), and school, social movements, and public policy (EMP) axes. In the other programs and regions there is no variation, except that almost half of the programs (five) had no thesis defense in this period.

Figure 4
Papers per Thematic Axis and Program

Again the Southeast region stands out when we observe the number of theses and dissertations defended by thematic axis, with an emphasis on school education (SE). This was followed by the Southern region, highlighting the interest in indigenous school education (ISE); that is, the intercultural project that, among other aspects, requires the training of native teachers.

Figure 5
Papers per Thematic Axis and Region

To broaden the understanding of the collected and systematized data, we verified, by conferring with the Lattes Curriculum, the frequency of studies in the anthropology and education interface. The predominance of the Southeast region is evident, whose data presented above are corroborated in Figure 5. The most prolific anthropologists are from the Southeast region, especially researchers from UFRJ. Outside this region, we found in the North Region, a professor who accumulated three studies orientated towards school education and indigenous school education. In the other regions, only one study per professor was found.

It should also be noted that the largest number of relevant theses and dissertations by supervisor were made by three professors from UFRJ and the National Museum. In all, these professors were responsible for nine dissertations and theses that researched anthropology and education. Three of these explicitly expressed in their research that they were discussing this interface. Two other professors from the Southeast region, from UFSCAR and UFF, stood out with two studies each.

Analyzing the Lattes Curriculum of these researchers, we found, for example, that a professor from UFRJ coordinated and developed a large research project in partnership with the city of Rio de Janeiro, in order to understand the problems that affected the school network of that municipality. This researcher has been developing, for some years, several research projects on education, mainly in schools, having trained a generation of researchers in the fields of anthropology/education.


A question that arose as we progressed in reading theses and dissertations was, who were the authors most cited by anthropologists when discussing education and school in their ethnography? In other words, which references guided their research, and which categories did they use to “think about education”?

A first observation when we look at the list of the cited authors (Tosta, Maia, & Almeida, 2017TOSTA, S.P; MAIA, C.V. L.; ALMEIDA, L.E.R. de. Diálogos nas fronteiras: a Educação como objeto de investigação na antropologia brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Digitaliza, 2017. E-Book.) by the frequency with which they are cited in theses and dissertations, is that, in general, anthropologists did not think “with” education questions in this field of knowledge. The theoretical view is in line with anthropological and sociological literature, from classics such as Durkheim, V. Gennep, and Mauss, to more contemporary authors such as Geertz, Cardoso de Oliveira, and Roy Wagner. Therefore, it should be noted that consultation and use of references to educational literature are scarce.

However, the dialogue around education issues, such as school failure, teacher education, or learning in culture and crafts, takes place with classical and respected authors in educational studies, such as Pierre Bourdieu. According to a study by Catani et al. (2018), Bourdieu is the sociologist (and also anthropologist) most visited by researchers in education, especially for his theory of reproduction and the concepts of habitus, and economic, social and cultural capital. Besides Bourdieu, authors within the same French School of Sociology, such as Bernardo Lahire, were referenced in the analyzed works. Paulo Freire, considered one of the greatest theorists of education, is cited in some studies, such as those that address the methods of Youth and Adult Education. However, two studies stood out for their use of various authors in the field of education. We decided, then, to seek out these authors’ mindset in an attempt to understand this exception in the set of papers read, as well as to find out if the interest in the theme of education/school comes from undergraduate studies in the area and if they continued into masters and doctorate levels.

The two authors studied pedagogy while the others did not have academic experience in education. This finding suggests an incipient interlocution with the literature of the area, indicating that a doctorate in anthropology did not always surpass the undergraduate or master’s level in education. As the following table reveals, most researchers come from the social sciences:

Table 3

Table 4

The results, at least from the quantitative point of view, still demonstrate that the theme related to education/school interested the master’s students (26 studies) more than the doctoral students (nine studies). Another fact that the research has demonstrated is that only after the year 2000 has interest and acceptance in the theme increased in social or cultural anthropology PGPs, but this is in small numbers that have grown little over time. One must always point out that research choices are interwoven with subjectivity and that they sometimes involve circumstances external to the researcher. Therefore, their interest and commitment to the theme of education require further readings of other data to be better understood.

In any case, the research allows some conclusions and very consistently suggests a deepened understanding of the theoretical and methodological interface between anthropology and education. It shows that the crossover always involves tension, but it is fruitful in achieving a better understanding of subjects who learn in cultures, including education and school, where they acquire visibility and identity.


The first observation to be made concerns the limits (of the research) versus the limitations (what the data offer). We are aware that effective research realizes its own limits and points to an unfolding situation that can broaden a scenario; and that the limitations of the collected data need to be permanently reconsidered and reflected on.

A second observation, of no less importance, is that at the end of the research, one cannot speak only of school education, but of education in a comprehensive perspective that is very close to the notion of learning. The analyzed theses and dissertations reiterate the interest of anthropology in the way that education occurs in cultures and is part of the construction of people and identity.

In any case, the result of the research makes explicit issues of various orders, including epistemological issues, which is very interesting to reiterate here. Considering that the studies of educational researchers would be restricted to educational action rather than to the educational field, as stated by Dauster (2007DAUSTER, T. (Org.) Antropologia e educação-um saber de fronteira. Rio de Janeiro: Edit. Forma & Ação, 2007.) and Gusmão (2015GUSMÃO. N.M. M. de. Antropologia e educação: um campo e muitos caminhos. Linhas Críticas, Brasília, DF, v.21, n.44, p. 19-37, jan./abr. 2015.), anthropology can contribute to broadening the understanding of educational phenomena in the school and beyond. That is, it could enable the construction of other perspectives that encompass the educational phenomenon with a view to the ability of education and school to respond to the challenges of contemporary society in its complexity and dimensions.

Returning to our initial question: When did Brazilian anthropology take as its theoretical and methodological object, the research of education and school, and in what ways is this institution seen and investigated? It can be stated beforehand that the results of the investigation indicate that some distance remains from the anthropologists investigating education and the school institution; and that there is greater interest in the dynamics that occur outside school, involving diversity, sociability regimes, and the tensions between authority and otherness in learning relationships.

The first explanation for this distancing may lie in anthropology itself, as Brandão affirms, anthropology has historically been directed more at the world of adults than children and young learners. Furthermore, it is necessary to emphasize the studies of Boas on the curriculum programs of the United States in the 1930s and Margaret Mead on sex and youth. However, before discussing these authors, it is necessary to highlight the influence of the thought of Marcel Mauss on an anthropology of infancy. For a long time the world of culture, in which education and schools are immersed and acquire life and plasticity, was left more in the care of psychology and related sciences, including pedagogy.

For Brandão, “one of the essential dimensions of everything that involves education was made opaque, meaningless, free of questions, empty of answers. From the tripod on which it should be based: the human being, society, and culture, lacked one of the supporting feet” (2002, p. 144). On the other hand, we cannot fail to affirm that the school institution is considered in hundreds of studies as refractory or impermeable to the events of the “outside world,” as if this world did not compose its social configuration, in the terms elaborated by Norbert Elias (Elias, 1970ELIAS, N. Introdução à sociologia. Lisboa: Edições 70: 1970.).

An important aspect stands out from the reading of the theses and dissertations: it is not possible to plan and develop educational processes with practices based on monodisciplinary and detached views of cultural reality. Educating demands a multifaceted and polysemic view of the dynamics of learning, school, knowledge, pedagogical practices, curricula, training and profession, teacher, student, among other actions, and subjects involved in educational and school practices.

In these terms, it was possible to understand that such questions were not prominent in the examined ethnography. Anthropologists were more interested in understanding the cultural dynamics of where learning takes place. For example, identity constructions based on elements such as religion, rituals, generations, leisure, professional choices, and training. Noting that themes such as rites and religion form the basis of anthropological thought, implies we consider that education is historically organized and realized in these dynamics.

What we can say at this point is that anthropologists appreciate studies of school, but without neglecting education studies as a phenomenon that goes beyond schooling trajectories, treating it instead, solely as a social phenomenon.

It should also be noted that the world of learning has always been a seminal theme for Western anthropology, from the formative processes and constitution of “people” in cultural dynamics, such as rites of passage, mimeses or imitation, creation and invention in culture standards.

According to Brandão (2002BRANDÃO, C.R. Educação como Cultura. São Paulo: Mercado de Letras. 2002.), in any and every human society, learning is inherent to social practice and life. Education does not occur regardless of whether or not there is a rigorous division of labor between unequal subjects, or even whether school may or may not exist. School, says the author, is not the only place where education occurs.

Thus, education also exists in societies hierarchically divided into classes, and, in these, it is thought of as knowledge that emerges as a specialty that separates social subjects. A knowledge that separates everything and everyone and establishes someone who teaches as different from someone who learns. It separates teaching and learning. In this way pedagogy was created, which isolates the education practiced at school, from the broader educational processes inherent in social life. This is where the school becomes the locus of obligations and duties and distances itself from the subjects and what guides them in the social fabric of their culture.

So much so that the studies identified in the research that had formal educational processes as their theme did not portray them in isolation. Through ethnography, they showed categories of analysis that are characteristic of anthropological thought, such as culture. They captured relationships between the school world and its legal determinations in various instances, as well as the relations of institutionalized educational spaces with the experiences and learning of subjects beyond formalization. They also sought to describe and interpret structuring elements of understanding the school as an institution that combines different values, cultures, and meanings, relating, for example, to gender, ethnic-racial, and religious issues.

In general terms, the researchers always studied public schools, in their various forms of education, from kindergarten to higher education, including youth and adult education. The subjects of the investigations were mostly children, adolescents, and young people, whether or not they were students. Adults were much more likely to be thought of as teachers and managers.

It is noteworthy that in two studies, the radical idea of “living with the natives” or “diving into native life” was assumed by anthropologists who became regular students in a baker training school and an actor training school. The ethnography of documents was conducted in two studies, signaling the importance of this practice, previously seen as related to history and the historian.

Another important fact is that education, as well as other educational processes, is recognized as highly relevant in the construction of the “person,” in the best Maussian sense (Mauss, 2003MAUSS, M. Sociologia e Antropologia. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2003.). That is, countless research studies discuss in detail how identities are forged and have as organizational elements education, including the school. This is the case, for example, in the education of a Bahá’i, or of bakers and artists.11 11 Religion based on Babism, founded in Persia by Mīrzā Husayn (1817-1892), pronounced Bahā’Allā or Bahā-u’llhah (“Glory of God”), and propagated by his son Abdul Bahā (1844-1921). The doctrine and practice of this religion proclaims the necessity and inevitability of the spiritual unification of humanity. EPPRECHT, Catharina. Identidade e educação para a fé Bahá’í: um estudo antropológico. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ/IFCS, 2008. Dissertação de Mestrado.

Even in research involving indigenous school education, notwithstanding the less praiseworthy and critical dialogue on indigenous education, there is tacit recognition that the school institution is present and active in shaping indigenous peoples, especially children and young people, and of the changes that may or may not occur for the benefit of these peoples, including the use of digital technologies.

By way of a possible conclusion, we affirm that the research brings new elements that are added to other studies already carried out in the field of epistemology, and it points out new possibilities for the production of knowledge on the educational and school reality in Brazil from the anthropological perspective. The extensive data collection expands the repository of educational information on anthropology and education in the EDUC research group, with a view to the possibility of networked and comparative studies in Brazil and other countries.

Finally, remembering Levi Strauss’s seminal notion that “things are good to think about,” we consider that education and school are still a cultural phenomenon that requires further thought and reflection within Brazilian anthropology. It is an open task to be continued, preferably in a joint intellectual effort, networked, through comparative studies. It should have the intention of investigating education as a universal issue, at the same time as a singular one, and in this way we can understand it as a broader and multifaceted concept.


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  • 5
    It is considered here both the undergraduate degree in Social Sciences, as well as a degree in Anthropology or Sociology or Political Science, but the latter did not appear.
  • 6
    Undergraduate courses that appeared: Social Communication, Production, and Cultural Marketing.
  • 7
    Doctorate in: Sustainable Development, and Political Sociology.
  • 8
    It is considered here both the undergraduate degree in Social Sciences, as well as an undergraduate degree in Anthropology, Sociology, or Political Science.
  • 9
    Undergraduate courses: Production and Cultural Marketing.
  • 10
    Master in: Political Science, Psychology, and Sociocultural Practices.
  • 11
    Religion based on Babism, founded in Persia by Mīrzā Husayn (1817-1892), pronounced Bahā’Allā or Bahā-u’llhah (“Glory of God”), and propagated by his son Abdul Bahā (1844-1921). The doctrine and practice of this religion proclaims the necessity and inevitability of the spiritual unification of humanity. EPPRECHT, Catharina. Identidade e educação para a fé Bahá’í: um estudo antropológico. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ/IFCS, 2008. Dissertação de Mestrado.

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    16 Dec 2020
  • Date of issue


  • Received
    03 Apr 2019
  • Accepted
    23 Mar 2020
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