Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism

Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism approaches fitness culture in relation to the discourses and structures of Empire, paying particular attention to the roles of these in the development of Brazilian nationhood. Though focusing significantly on Brazil, the project theorizes fitness culture as part of global mass culture and the globally circulating imperial signifiers pertaining to bodies and personhood. I thus aim to trace the imperial meanings and orders of power conveyed through “fit” bodies and their different configurations regarding muscularity, beauty, strength, and health within mainstream visual media and national and global public spheres. By interrogating a wide range of national and global visual media products pertaining to fit bodies and subjects including eugenics pamphlets, fitness magazines, television programs, film, and social media profiles of celebrities, Embodying Modernity locates the imperial discourses of race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and labor that underpin the construction and staging of fit/normative bodies and exercise practice. In doing so, I develop a theory of modern corporality across periods and global discourses of domination that have undergirded colonialism, eugenics, industrialism, urban renewal, the myth of racial democracy, and late capitalism that continue to inform Brazilian nationalism and global participation in fitness culture. Although moving across periods and spaces, the project pays significant attention to the visual representations of corporality and their imperial signifiers in contemporary media.

Daniel F. Silva is Assistant Professor of Portuguese at Middlebury College where he is also a fellow at the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity and a contributing member of the International and Global Studies Program. His work encompasses the global legacies of empire, critical race and ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies in the context of the “Lusophone world” and beyond. He is the author of Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism (under review); Anti-Empire: Decolonial Interventions in Lusophone Literatures (Liverpool University Press, 2018); and Subjectivity and the Reproduction of Imperial Power: Empire’s Individuals (Routledge, 2015). He is also the co-editor of Imperial Crossings: Writings on Race, Identity, and Power in the Lusophone World (Liverpool University Press, under contract); Decolonial Destinies: The Post-Independence Literatures of Lusophone Africa (Anthem Press, under contract); Emerging Dialogues on Machado de Assis (Palgrave, 2016); and Lima Barreto: New Critical Perspectives (Lexington Books, 2013). He is co-editor of the book series, Anthem Studies in Race, Power, and Society with Anthem Press; and has published scholarship in Hispania, Chasqui, and Transmodernity.

3 thoughts on “Embodying Modernity: Fitness Culture, Global Power, and Brazilian Nationalism

  • October 8, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Daniel —
    This is fascinating. I’m so curious to learn more about how the “fit” or unfit body relates to Brazilian nationalism as compared to or in dialogue with transatlantic and circum-Atlantic circulations. Is there something like a Brazilian fitness as compared to a Caribbean one as compared to a North American one as compared to an African or European one? One thing that seems intriguing to me here is that it extends our thinking about race, nationhood, and transnationalism beyond just skin tone to other corporeal aspects upon which—and through which—racialized power structures do their work, both within and between national borders. Which leads me to ask: is there such a thing as an imagined “fit” transatlantic or Atlantic World body? — Michael

  • October 9, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    Daniel your project reminded me of these images by Brazilian artist Vicente do Rego Monteiro made in Paris around the time of the 1924 Olympics. I look forward to hearing more. There’s also a really interesting Mexican artist who was painting soccer players at the same time.


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