From Racial to Social Typologies: Area Studies and Race Relations in the Work of Charles Wagley after WWII

Friday, 20 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Sebastián GIL-RIAÑO, University of Pennsylvania, USA
In his 1947 report on the “study of world areas”, the Columbia-based anthropologist and Brazilian specialist Charles Wagley marvelled at the fact that the “area approach” was being touted as a wartime innovation. While the study of other regions such as “Southeast Asia” and the “Near East” by US scholars was just in its infancy, Wagley argued that because of the “relatively long history of area studies” in South America, scholars of the region could feel confident that they had solved many of the basic problems facing specialists in other areas and could instead limit their discussions to “field research problems.” Recent histories of “area studies” have confirmed Wagley’s account. Instead of treating area studies as a response to World War II and the Cold War, Timothy Mitchell and Ricardo Salvatore have recently located its beginnings in the context of Oriental studies and Latin American studies in the US during the interwar period. In doing so they have sought to highlight “area studies” entanglements with US imperialism. In this paper, I build on these recent histories and track the early stages of Charles Wagley’s career in Brazil. My paper argues that the formation of area studies was also important for post-WWII attempts to reorient the study of racial difference away from the study of rigid Mendelian typologies and towards the sociological study of race relations. In addition to his work in advocating for the area studies approach, Wagley was an important figure in UNESCO’s post-WWII campaign against scientific racism and participated in UNESCO’s landmark studies of Brazilian race relations. In his UNESCO research, Wagley combined the sociological study of race with an anthropological approach to area studies that sought to understand the inter-relationship between social groups, their culture, and their environment.