"From social gaze to bureaucratic standards - Doing race in affirmative action practices in Brazil"
As part of Brazil’s affirmative action policies, 20 per cent of the job openings in the federal public service have to be reserved for Afro-Brazilians (negros) since 2014. Since 2016, so-called verification commissions (bancas de verificação) check whether those who applied for these vacancies 'correctly' declared themselves negros. In parallel, a growing number of Brazilian universities is considering to (re-)introduce such commissions after having been faced with alleged cases of fraud, in which candidates were accused of entering quota vacancies without having the 'appropriate' phenotype.
Examining these verification commissions ethnographically, the research project asks how race as a category of difference is established and made relevant in the course of the bureaucratic, administrative and legal action surrounding these classification practices. Instead of asking whether candidates are classified 'correctly' in these procedures, I am interested in the workings of the 'social gaze' with which the assessment commissions are supposed to look at the candidates. The study therefore is guided by the following research questions: How is the 'social gaze' enacted and operationalized in the assessment procedures? How do governmental and quasi-state institutions translate this 'social gaze' into bureaucratic standards and indicators? How is evidence for the commissions' decisions produced? What counts as evidence?
Drawing on postcolonial approaches within Science and Technology Studies as well as on the anthropology of the state and on citizenship studies, the project aims to contribute to the anthropological study of race. Furthermore, it offers a new take on the question of affirmative action in Brazil (and comparatively in other settings as well) by focusing on the very practices of categorization and by ethnographically analyzing bureaucratic action and assessment practices in this field.