Eurocentrism (also Eurocentricity or Western-centrism) is a worldview that is centered on Western civilization or a biased view that favors it over non-western civilizations. The exact scope of centrism varies from the entire Western world to just the continent of Europe or even more narrowly, to Western Europe (especially during the Cold War). When the term is applied to history, it may be used in reference to an apologetic stance towards European colonialism and other forms of imperialism.
The term Eurocentrism dates back to the late 1970s but it did not become prevalent until the 1990s, when it was frequently applied in the context of decolonization and development and humanitarian aid that industrialised (First World) countries offered to developing (Third World) countries.
The adjective Eurocentric, or Europe-centric, has been in use in various contexts since at least the 1920s. The term was popularised (in French as européocentrique) in the context of decolonization and internationalism in the mid-20th century. English usage of Eurocentric as an ideological term in identity politics was current by the mid-1980s.
The abstract noun Eurocentrism (French eurocentrisme, earlier europocentrisme) as the term for an ideology was coined in the 1970s by the Egyptian Marxian economist Samir Amin, then director of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Amin used the term in the context of a global, core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development. English usage of Eurocentrism is recorded by 1979.
The coinage of Western-centrism is younger, attested in the late 1990s, and specific to English.
During the European colonial era, encyclopedias often sought to give a rationale for the predominance of European rule during the colonial period by referring to a special position taken by Europe compared to the other continents.
Thus, Johann Heinrich Zedler, in 1741, wrote that "even though Europe is the smallest of the world's four continents, it has for various reasons a position that places it before all others.... Its inhabitants have excellent customs, they are courteous and erudite in both sciences and crafts".
The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (Conversations-Lexicon) of 1847 still has an ostensibly Eurocentric approach and claims about Europe that "its geographical situation and its cultural and political significance is clearly the most important of the five continents, over which it has gained a most influential government both in material and even more so in cultural aspects".
European exceptionalism thus grew out of the Great Divergence of the Early Modern period, due to the combined effects of the Scientific Revolution, the Commercial Revolution, and the rise of colonial empires, the Industrial Revolution and a Second European colonization wave.
European exceptionalism is widely reflected in popular genres of literature, especially literature for young adults (for example, Rudyard Kipling's Kim) and adventure literature in general. Portrayal of European colonialism in such literature has been analysed in terms of Eurocentrism in retrospect, such as presenting idealised and often exaggeratedly masculine Western heroes, who conquered 'savage' peoples in the remaining 'dark spaces' of the globe.
The European miracle, a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981, refers to this surprising rise of Europe during the Early Modern period. During the 15th to 18th centuries, a great divergence took place, comprising the European Renaissance, age of discovery, the formation of the colonial empires, the Age of Reason, and the associated leap forward in technology and the development of capitalism and early industrialisation. The result was that by the 19th century, European powers dominated world trade and world politics.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in Lectures on the Philosophy of History, claimed that world history started in Asia but shifted to Greece and Italy, and then north of the Alps to France, Germany and England. According to Hegel, India and China are stationary countries which lack inner momentum. China replaced the real historically development with a fixed, stable scenario, which makes it the outsider of world history. Both India and China were waiting and anticipating a combination of certain factors from outside until they can acquire real progress in human civilization. Hegel's ideas had a profound impact on western history. Some scholars disagree with his ideas that the Oriental countries were outside of world history.
Max Weber suggested that capitalism is the specialty of Europe, and Oriental countries such as India and China do not contain sufficient factors to develop capitalism. Weber wrote many treatises to publicize the distinctiveness of Europe. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he wrote that the "rational" capitalism manifested by its enterprises and mechanisms only appear in the Protestant western countries, and a series of generalized and universal cultural phenomena only appear in the west. Even the state, with a written constitution and a government organized by trained administrators and constrained by rational law, only appear in the west, even though other regimes can also comprise states. Rationality is a multi-layered term whose connotations are developed and escalated as with the social progress. Weber regarded rationality as a proprietary article for western capitalist society.
Even in the 19th century, anticolonial movements had developed claims about national traditions and values that were set against those of Europe in Africa and India. In some cases, as China, where local ideology was even more exclusionist than the Eurocentric one, Westernisation did not overwhelm longstanding Chinese attitudes to its own cultural centrality, but some would state that idea itself is a rather desperate attempt to cast Europe in a good light by comparison.
Orientalism developed in the late 18th century as a disproportionate Western interest in and idealization of Eastern (i.e. Asian) cultures.
By the early 20th century, some historians, such as Arnold J. Toynbee, were attempting to construct multifocal models of world civilizations. Toynbee also drew attention in Europe to non-European historians, such as the medieval Tunisian scholar Ibn Khaldun. He also established links with Asian thinkers, such as through his dialogues with Daisaku Ikeda of Soka Gakkai International.
The explicit concept of Eurocentrism is a product of the period of decolonisation in the 1960s to 1970s. Its original context is the core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development of Marxian economics (Amin 1974, 1988).
Debate since 1990sEdit
Eurocentrism has been a particularly important concept in development studies. Brohman (1995) argued that Eurocentrism "perpetuated intellectual dependence on a restricted group of prestigious Western academic institutions that determine the subject matter and methods of research".
In treatises on historical or contemporary Eurocentrism that appeared since the 1990s, Eurocentrism is mostly cast in terms of dualisms such as civilized/barbaric or advanced/backward, developed/undeveloped, core/periphery, implying "evolutionary schemas through which societies inevitably progress", with a remnant of an "underlying presumption of a superior white Western self as referent of analysis" (640[clarification needed]). Eurocentrism and the dualistic properties that it labels on non-European countries, cultures and persons have often been criticized in the political discourse of the 1990s and 2000s, particularly in the greater context of political correctness, race in the United States and affirmative action.
In the 1990s, there was a trend of criticizing various geographic terms current in the English language as Eurocentric, such as the traditional division of Eurasia into Europe and Asia or the term Middle East.
Eric Sheppard, in 2005, argued that contemporary Marxism itself has Eurocentric traits (in spite of "Eurocentrism" originating in the vocabulary of Marxian economics), because it supposes that the third world must go through a stage of capitalism before "progressive social formations can be envisioned".
Andre Gunder Frank harshly criticized Eurocentrism. He believed that most scholars were the disciples of the social sciences and history guided by Eurocentrism. He criticized some Western scholars for their ideas that non-Western areas lack outstanding contributions in history, economy, ideology, politics and culture compared with the West. These scholars believed that the same contribution made by the West gives Westerners an advantage of endo-genetic momentum which is pushed towards the rest of the world, but Frank believed that the Oriental countries also contributed to the human civilization in their own perspectives.
Arnold Toynbee in his A Study of History, gave a critical remark on Eurocentrism. He believed that although western capitalism shrouded the world and achieved a political unity based on its economy, the Western countries cannot "westernize" other countries. Toynbee concluded that Eurocentrism is characteristic of three misconceptions manifested by self-centerment, the fixed development of Oriental countries and linear progress.
There has been some debate on whether historical Eurocentrism qualifies as "just another ethnocentrism", as it is found in most of the world's cultures, especially in cultures with imperial aspirations, as in the Sinocentrism in China; in the Empire of Japan (c. 1868-1945), or during the American Century. James M. Blaut (2000) argued that Eurocentrism indeed went beyond other ethnocentrisms, as the scale of European colonial expansion was historically unprecedented and resulted in the formation of a "colonizer's model of the world".
Race and politics in the United StatesEdit
The terms Afrocentrism vs. Eurocentrism have come to play a role in the 2000s to 2010s in the context of the political discourse on race in the United States and critical whiteness studies, aiming to expose white supremacism and white privilege.
Afrocentrist scholars, such as Molefi Asante, have argued that there is a prevalence of Eurocentric thought in the processing of much of academia on African affairs. On the other hand, in an article, 'Eurocentrism and Academic Imperialism' by Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, from the University of Tehran, states that Eurocentric thought exists in almost all aspects of academia in many parts of the world, especially in the humanities. Edgar Alfred Bowring states that in the West, self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the 'Other' run more deeply and those tendencies have infected more aspects of their thinking, laws and policy than anywhere else. Luke Clossey and Nicholas Guyatt have measured the degree of Eurocentrism in the research programs of top history departments. In Southern Europe and Latin America, a number of academic proposals to offer alternatives to the Eurocentric perspective have emerged, such as the project of the Epistemologies of the South by Portuguese scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos and those of the Subaltern Studies groups in India and Latin America (the Modernity/Coloniality Group of Anibal Quijano, Edgardo Lander, Enrique Dussel, Santiago Castro-Gómez, Ramón Grosfoguel, and others.
Eurocentrism affected Latin America through colonial domination and expansion. This occurred through the application of new criteria meant to "impose a new social classification of the world population on a global scale". Based on this occurrence, a new social-historic identities were newly produced, although already produced in America. Some of these names include; 'Whites', 'Negroes', 'Blacks', 'Yellows', 'Olives', 'Indians', and 'Mestizos'. With the advantage of being located in the Atlantic basin, 'Whites' were in a privileged to control gold and silver production. The work which created the product was by 'Indians' and 'Negroes'. With the control of commercial capital from 'White' workers. And therefore, Europe or Western Europe emerged as the central place of new patterns and capitalist power.
Effect on beauty standards in BrazilEdit
According to Alexander Edmond's book Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil, whiteness plays a role in Latin American, specifically Brazilian, beauty standards, but it is not necessarily distinguished based on skin color. Edmonds said the main ways to define whiteness in people in Brazil is by looking at their hair, nose, then mouth before considering skin color. Edmonds focuses on the popularity of plastic surgery in Brazilian culture. Plastic surgeons usually applaud and flatter mixtures when emulating aesthetics for performing surgery, and the more popular mixture is African and European. This shapes beauty standards by racializing biological and popular beauty ideals to suggest that mixture with whiteness is better. Donna Goldstein's book Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown also addresses how whiteness influences beauty in Brazil. Goldstein notes that in Brazil, there is a hierarchy for beauty that places being white at the top and black characteristics at the bottom, calling them ugly.
Challenging these standards of beauty in Brazil would require society to "question the romantic and sexual appeal of whiteness." Goldstein said as a result, black bodies would have to be decommodified, and black women in particular have had to commodify their bodies to survive.
In Erica Lorraine William's Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements, Williams addresses how European and white beauty standards have more privileges than darker skinned and black women in Brazil. Black women in Brazil have to strategize ways to receive more respect in spaces popular for sex tourism. Williams cites Alma Gulliermoprieto when she explains that there is a superiority given to light-skinned black women over darker-skinned black women as light-skinned women were considered more beautiful because they were "improved with white blood."
Eurocentric identifier shape beauty standards through skin color and physical features, creating beauty hierarchy that gives privileges of power and respect to women who are mixed with whiteness.
Eurocentrism's effect on the Islamic world has predominantly come from a fundamental statement of preventing the account of lower-level explanation and account of Islamic cultures and their social evolution, mainly through eurocentrism's idealist construct. This construct has gained power from the historians revolving their conclusions around the idea of a central point that favors the notion that the evolution of societies and their progress are dictated by general tendencies, leading to the Islamic world's evolution becoming more of a philosophical topic of history instead of historical fact. Along with this, eurocentrism extends to trivialize and marginalize the philosophies, scientific contributions, cultures, and other additional facets of the Islamic world.
Stemming from Eurocentrism's innate bias towards Western civilization came the creation of the concept of the "European Society," which favored the components (mainly Christianity) of European civilization and allowed eurocentrists to brand diverging societies and cultures as "uncivilized." Prevalent during the nineteenth century, the labeling of uncivilized in the eyes of eurocentrists enabled Western countries to classify non-European and non-white countries as inferior, and limit their inclusion and contribution in actions like international law. This exclusion was seen as acceptable by individuals like John Westlake, a professor of international law at the University of Cambridge at the time, who commented that countries with European civilizations should be who comprises the international society, and that countries like Turkey and Persia should only be allowed a part of international law. The figurative superiority resulting from the rise of "European Civilization" and the labels of "civilized" and "uncivilized" are partly responsible for eurocentrism's denial of Islamic social evolution, giving westerner's the advantage of an early dismissal of such ideas regarding Oriental civilizations through comparisons to the West. Along with that, the rooted belief of the inferiority of non-white and non-Europeans has given justification for racial discrimination and discredit to the Islamic world, with much of these feelings still present today.
Eurocentrism's reach has not only affected the perception of the cultures and civilizations of the Islamic world, but also the aspects and ideas of Orientalism, which was originally created for the true social and cultural milestones of the Islamic and Oriental world to be represented. This effect began to take place during the nineteenth century when the Orientalist ideals where distilled and shifted from topics of sensuality and deviating mentalities to what is described by Edward Said as "unchallenged coherence." Along with this shift came the creation of two types of orientalism: latent, which covered the Orient's constant durability through history, and manifest, a more dynamic orientalism that changes with the new discovery of information. The eurocentric influence is shown in the latter, as the nature of manifest Orientalism is to be altered with new findings, which leaves it vulnerable to the warping of its refiner's ideals and principles. In this state, eurocentrism has used orientalism to portray the Orient as "backwards" and bolster the superiority of the Western world and continue the undermining of their cultures to further the agenda of racial inequality.
With those wanting to represent the eurocentric ideals better by way of orientalism, there came a barrier of languages, being Arabic, Persian, and other similar languages. With more researchers wanting to study more of Orientalism, there was an assumption made about the languages of the Islamic world: that having the ability to transcribe the texts of the past Islamic world would give great knowledge and insight on oriental studies. In order to do this, many researchers underwent training in philology, believing that an understanding of the languages would be the only necessary training. This reasoning came as the belief at the time was that other studies like anthropology and sociology were deemed irrelevant as they did not believe it misleading to this portion of mankind. Through this action, eurocentric researchers' understanding of Oriental and Islamic culture was intentionally left undermined, foregoing the reasoning behind the actions and reasoning for the changes in culture documented by Islamic and Oriental texts and allowing for further possible Western influence on orientalism, and increasing the difficulty of identifying what is truly Oriental and what is considered Oriental by the West.
In the beauty industryEdit
Eurocentrism has affected the beauty realm globally. The beauty standard has become westernized and has influenced people throughout the globe. Many have altered their natural self to reflect this image. Many beauty and advertising companies have redirected their products to support this idea of Eurocentrism.
Kathy Deliovsky, an assistant professor at Brock University, publishes work that focuses on "critical race feminism with an emphasis on whiteness studies.
Deliovsky addresses Eurocentrism and whiteness in relation to beauty in her article "Normative White Femininity: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Beauty." She writes that "normative femininity is never signified outside a process of racial domination and negation" when looking at a society built on "European imperialism and colonialism." White femininity, like whiteness in general is perceived, is viewed as normative because it isn't viewed as white, but just as femininity.
Deliovsky later addresses how those who are represented through a Westernized lens as blonde-haired and blue-eyed in society are typically white women. She points out an importance of also looking at who isn't being represented and what the implications of that are as they could reveal two issues: the past exclusion of "Africans, Asians and Aboriginals" from editorial and advertisement content and then distorted "representation and coverage" of "racially marginalized" people.
Deliovsky explains in her article that when a standard of beauty is determined, anything that strays from that standard is considered a "deviation." Women of color could be viewed as "contextually beautiful (i.e. beautiful in spite of...)," but don't exist as the standard. They can represent the "exotic/erotic" but not the beautiful.
Clark doll experimentEdit
In the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark held experiments called "the doll tests" to examine the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. They tested children by presenting them four dolls, identical but different skin tone. They had to choose which doll they preferred and were asked the race of the doll. Most of the children chose the white doll. The Clark's stated in their results that the perception of the African-American children were altered by the discrimination they faced. The tested children also labeled positive descriptions to the white dolls. One of the criticisms of this test is presented by Robin Bernstein, a professor of African and African American studies and women, gender, and sexuality. Her argument is that "the Clarks' tests were scientifically flawed. But she said that the tests did reflect a negative portrayal of black dolls in American theater and media that dates back to the Civil War era....Thus, Bernstein said, the choices made by the subjects of the Clark doll tests was not necessarily an indication of black self-hatred. Instead, it was a cultural choice between two different toys—one that was to be loved and one that was to be physically harassed, as exemplified in performance and popular media. According to Bernstein, this argument 'redeems the Clarks' child subjects by offering a new understanding of them not as psychologically damaged dupes, but instead as agential experts in children's culture.'"
Mexican doll experimentEdit
In 2012, Mexicans recreated the doll test. Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination presented a video where children had to pick the "good doll," and the doll that looks like them. By doing this experiment, the researchers wanted to analyze the degree to which Mexican children are influenced by modern-day media accessible to them. Most of the children chose the white doll because it was better. They also stated that it looked like them. The people who carried out the study noted that Eurocentrism is deeply rooted in different cultures, including Latin cultures.
Advertisements shown throughout the world are Eurocentric and emphasize western characteristics. Caucasian models are the number one models to be hired by popular, global brands like Estee Lauder and L’Oreal. Local models in the region in Korea, Hong Kong and Japan barely made it to global brands' ads, compared to Caucasian models who appear in forty-four percent of Korean and fifty-four percent of Japanese ads. By demonstrating these ads, they are emphasizing that the ideal skin is bright, transparent, white, full, and fine. On the other hand, dark African skin is looked down upon.
Skin lightening has become a common practice throughout different areas of the globe in order to fit the Eurocentric beauty standard. Many women risk their health in order to use these products and obtain the tone they desire. A study conducted by Dr Lamine Cissé observed the female population in some African countries. They found that 26% of women were using skin lightening creams at the time and 36% had used them at some time. The common products used were hydroquinone and corticosteroids. 75% of women who used these creams showed cutaneous adverse effects. Whitening products have also become popular in many areas in Asia like South Korea. With the rise of these products, research has been done to study the long term damage. Some complications experienced are exogenous ochronosis, impaired wound healing and wound dehiscence, the fish odor syndrome, nephropathy, steroid addiction syndrome, predisposition to infections, a broad spectrum of cutaneous and endocrinologic complications of corticosteroids, and suppression of hypothalamic‐pituitary‐adrenal axis.
South Korea has been influenced by the Western beauty standard. In order to achieve a more western look, some South Koreans turn to plastic surgery to obtain those features. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, South Korea has the highest rates of plastic surgery procedures per capita. The most asked for procedures are the blepharoplasty and rhinoplasty. Another procedure done in Korea is having the muscle under the tongue that connects to the bottom of the mouth surgically snipped. Parents have their children to undergo this surgery in order to pronounce English better. In Korea, cosmetic eyelid surgery is considered to be normal. Korea has close and modern ties with the U.S. which allows constant interaction with the Western culture. In order to fit in they undergo these lengths to become more westernized.
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- Eurocentrism and its discontents, American Historical Association
- The German adjective europa-zentrisch ("Europe-centric") is attested in the 1920s, unrelated to the Marxist context of Amin's usage. Karl Haushofer, Geopolitik des pazifischen Ozeans (pp. 11–23, 110-113, passim). The context is Haushofer's comparison of the "Pacific space" in terms of global politics vs. "Europe-centric" politics.
- A Rey (ed.) Dictionnaire Historique de la langue française (2010): À partir du radical de européen ont été composés (mil. XXe s.) européocentrique adj. (de centrique) « qui fait référence à l'Europe » et européocentrisme n.m. (variante europocentrisme n.m. 1974) « fait de considérer (un problème général, mondial) d'un point de vue européen » ."
- Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression (1985), 63ff: "Fanon and Eurocentric Psychology", where "Eurocentric psychology" refers to "a psychology derived from a white, middle-class male minority, which is generalized to humanity everywhere".
- "Anciens directeurs" (uneca.org) ("Samir AMIN (Egypte) 1970-1980").
- Alexandre A. Bennigsen, S. Enders Wimbush , Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World (1979), p. 19.
- "pluralistic cultural coexistence as opposed to Western centrism and Asian centrism" (unhyphenated) in: Mabel Lee, Meng Hua, Cultural dialogue & misreading (1997), p. 53. "our incomplete perception of Chinese behavior, which tends to be 'Western-centric.'" (using scare-quotes) in: Houman A. Sadri, Revolutionary States, Leaders, and Foreign Relations: A Comparative Study of China, Cuba, and Iran (1997), p. 35. "Euro- or western-centrism" in the context of the "traditional discourse on minority languages" in: Jonathan Owens (ed.), Arabic as a Minority Language (2000), p. 1. Use of Latinate occido-centrism remains rare (e.g. Alexander Lukin, Political Culture of the Russian 'Democrats' (2000), p. 47).
- "[German: Obwohl Europa das kleinste unter allen 4. Teilen der Welt ist, so ist es doch um verschiedener Ursachen willen allen übrigen vorzuziehen.... Die Einwohner sind von sehr guten Sitten, höflich und sinnreich in Wissenschaften und Handwerken.] "Europa". In: Zedlers Universal-Lexicon Archived 11 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Volume 8, Leipzig 1734, columns 2192–2196 (citation: column 2195).
- "[German: [Europa ist seiner] terrestrischen Gliederung wie seiner kulturhistorischen und politischen Bedeutung nach unbedingt der wichtigste unter den fünf Erdtheilen, über die er in materieller, noch mehr aber in geistiger Beziehung eine höchst einflussreiche Oberherrschaft erlangt hat.] Das große Conversations-Lexicon für die gebildeten Stände, 1847. Vol. 1, p. 373.
- Daniel Iwerks, "Ideology and Eurocentrism in Tarzan of the Apes," in: Investigating the Unliterary: Six Readings of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, ed. Richard Utz (Regensburg: Martzinek, 1995), pp. 69-90.
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From Toynbee's point of view, Soka Gakkai was exactly what his vision of the historical moment expected, for it was a new church, arising on the fringes of the 'post-Christian' world.... Convergence of East and West was, indeed, what Toynbee and Ikeda sought and thought they had found in their dialogue. In a preface, written in the third person, Toynbee emphasized and tried to explain this circumstance. 'They agree that a human being ought to be perpetually striving to overcome his innate propensity to try to exploit the rest of the universe and that he ought to be trying, instead, to put himself at the service of the universe so unreservedly that his ego will become identical with an ultimate reality, which for a Buddhist is the Buddha state. They agree in believing that this ultimate reality is not a humanlike divine personality.' He explained these and other agreements as reflecting the 'birth of a common worldwide civilization that has originated in a technological framework of Western origin but is now being enriched spiritually by contributions from all the historic regional civilizations.' ... [Ikeda's] dialogue with Toynbee is the longest and most serious text in which East and West—that is, Ikeda and a famous representative of the mission field that Ikeda sees before him—have agreed with each other. In the unlikely event that Soka Gakkai lives up to its leader's hopes and realizes Toynbee's expectations by flourishing in the Western world, this dialogue might, like the letters of St. Paul, achieve the status of sacred scripture and thus become by far the most important of all of Toynbee's works.
- Brohman, John (1995). "Universalism, Eurocentrism, and Ideological Bias in Development Studies: From Modernisation to Neoliberalism". Third World Quarterly. 16 (1): 121–140. JSTOR 3992977.
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- Alison Bailey, "Philosophy and Whiteness" in Tim Engles (ed.) Towards a Bibliography of Critical Whiteness Studies Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society (2006), p. 9.: "Philosophical methods are well suited for unpacking the political, ontological, and epistemological conditions that foster racism and hold white supremacy in place. However, on the whole, philosophy as a discipline has remained relatively untouched by interdisciplinary work on race and whiteness. In its quest for certainty, Western philosophy continues to generate what it imagines to be colorless and genderless accounts of knowledge, reality, morality, and human nature".
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- Edmonds, Alexander (2010). Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. Duke University Press. p. 141.
- Goldstein, Donna (2013). Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown. Univ of California Press. p. 133.
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