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The Biopolitics of Beauty

Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil

Alvaro Jarrín


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Hardcover (8/29/2017)


The Biopolitics of Beauty examines how beauty became an aim of national health in Brazil. Using ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Brazilian hospitals, the author shows how plastic surgeons and patients navigate the public health system to transform beauty into a basic health right. The book historically traces the national concern with beauty to Brazilian eugenics, which established beauty as an index of the nation’s racial improvement. From here, Jarrín explains how plastic surgeons became the main proponents of a raciology of beauty, using it to gain the backing of the Brazilian state. Beauty can be understood as an immaterial form of value that Jarrín calls “affective capital,” which maps onto and intensifies the social hierarchies of Brazilian society. Patients experience beauty as central to national belonging and to gendered aspirations of upward mobility, and they become entangled in biopolitical rationalities that complicate their ability to consent to the risks of surgery. The Biopolitics of Beauty explores not only the biopolitical regime that made beauty a desirable national project, but also the subtle ways in which beauty is laden with affective value within everyday social practices—thus becoming the terrain upon which race, class, and gender hierarchies are reproduced and contested in Brazil.

Praise For The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil

"The Biopolitics of Beauty is gripping in its empirical narrative and in its theoretical framework, which demonstrates that empirical attention to beauty can bring together theories about medicalization and theories about affect. . . . Jarrín demonstrates that affect and biopolitical discourse shape how patients and plastic surgeons engage each other around questions of beauty, health, and social mobility."

— PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review

University of California Press, 9780520293885, 272pp.

Publication Date: August 29, 2017

About the Author

Alvaro Jarrín is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at College of the Holy Cross.