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Magia Branca - the colonial myths and the emotional infrastructure of the Portuguese state seen from a manual of psychological operations

João Figueiredo (NOVA School of Law)

29 de june 2022, 19h00-20h30
Salão Brazil (Coimbra)

Moderator:  Cristiano Gianolla (CES)


In the summer of 1962, Perry Anderson argued in the pages of New Left Review that the "Portuguese colonial ideology is, more than any other, an exercise in pure magic. It is an immense effort to abolish concrete ethnic, linguistic, geographical, economic and social differences in the bulge of a single mystical unity. The means used to achieve this end is the classic instrument of magic: enchantment". Anderson's sharp style, political acuity, and extraordinary capacity for synthesis compensate for the ease with which he gets carried away with his own metaphor. In this session, I will draw on the psychological action training sheets of the instructor for officers in the Lunda District Government (c.1960-69), Angola, to question whether the Estado Novo's ability to mobilize the white Portuguese population for the sacrifices necessary for the maintenance of empire really depended on the enchanting repetition of colonial myths, or, on the contrary, on a strategic harnessing of the emotional infrastructure of the Portuguese state. I conclude by considering the implications of the second hypothesis being true. Is deconstructing myths enough to decolonize Portugal?

This event belongs to project UNpacking POPulism: Comparing the formation of emotion narratives and their effects on political behaviour, which has as its main objective to explore how narratives of emotion allow a deeper analysis of the way populist phenomena constitute and influence political behaviour. Thus, the cycle of events developed throughout the project will address several issues involving the recent rise of populism, with a focus on the role of emotions - both those taken as negative such as anger and fear, and those taken as positive such as hope and love - in political behaviour.

Coordinated by Cristiano Gianolla e Lisete Mónico and institutionally hosted by the Centre for Social Studies and CINEICC - Research Centre in Neuropsychology and Cognitive-Behavioural Intervention - of the University of Coimbra, the UNPOP project is funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P. (PTDC/CPO-CPO/3850/2020).

Bio note

João Figueiredo holds a degree in Anthropology from the Faculty of Sciences and a PhD in Advanced Studies in History, branch Empire, Politics and Post-Colonialism from the Faculty of Letters of the University of Coimbra (2016). He was an Assistant Researcher at the NOVA School of Law at the New University of Lisbon between 2019 and 2022, under the project "Legal Pluralism in the Portuguese Empire (18th to 20th centuries)", and will be a fellow of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg "Legal Unity and Pluralism" at the University of Münster in 2022-23. He investigates the transition between the slave system of the Portuguese ancien régime and the systemic racism of the 20th century (c.1820-1930), approaching it from various disciplinary angles, from social history to the history of law and historical anthropology. As a citizen and militant anti-racist he has been involved in several initiatives and collaborated with NGOs such as DJASS and SOS Racismo.

Support: Salão Brasil