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Of Clouds and Streams, Prophets and Profits: The Political Semiotics of Climate and Water in the Brazilian Northeast

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Title: Of Clouds and Streams, Prophets and Profits: The Political Semiotics of Climate and Water in the Brazilian Northeast
Authors: Taddei, Renzo Romano
Keywords: Ceará
Jaguaribe Valley
water rights
water allocation
show 2 moreclimate
environmental anthropology

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LC Subject Headings: Ethnology
Issue Date: Mar 2005
Citation: Taddei, Renzo Romano. 2005. "Of Clouds and Streams, Prophets and Profits": The Political Semiotics of Climate and Water in the Brazilian Northeast. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University.
Abstract: The reorganization of the local material order, brought about by economic development efforts in the so-called developing world, is, to a large extent, dependent on how efficient these efforts are in reorganizing the symbolic order. In this transformational process, the creation of new institutions and with them new institutionalized rituals, is a widely employed resource. This research uses sociosemiotic theories to study the transformations of meanings that characterize these moments of social change. I describe, through three case analyses, the major elements of the microphysics of the meaning transformations that take place during institutionalized rituals. On the theoretical side, this research had the purpose of showing how a body of theory, that became known as metapragmatics, can be fruitfully applied to domains broader than verbal communication - in this case the analysis of the key role of institutionalized rituals as arenas in which semiotic transformations enable political change to take place. This research focuses on how economic development efforts bring with them new ways of conceptualizing and making use of the environment. This is particularly relevant in areas in which the climate is seen as a main constraint for development, as in semi-arid regions. The case study addresses the forms in which different social actors in Northeast Brazil make use of distinct narratives on climate, science, politics and religion in their participation in local political processes. The analyses focus on three institutionalized rituals of relatively recent creation – one involving local rain prophets, one being the annual meeting of meteorologists and finally a local participatory water allocation meeting - all seeking to influence how sectors of the local population understand and relate to environmental phenomena. An important element of the analysis here presented lies on how historical narratives on climate, coupled with political and economic genres, structures and processes that developed through time, are strategically used as framing devices in discussions and decision-making processes related to the environment. We conclude by arguing that being able to produce some degree of semiotic regimentation seems to be a requirement for efficient action in any political field.
Description: Thesis (Ph.D.)--Columbia University, 2005.
Sponsor: Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology (National Research Council – CNPq)
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
Ruth Landes Memorial Fund
International Research Institute for Climate Prediction
Columbia University Teachers College International and Transcultural Studies Department Scholarship
Appears in Collections:Mana'o - Papers on Anthropology

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