The balance of souls : self-making and mental wellness in the lives of ageing black women in Brazil



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The dissertation explores new understandings about the uses of emotional work in the social struggles of racialized people. This project is a case study that analyzes how a singing group of ageing black women organized to improve the mental wellness of women in a low-income, peripheral neighborhood of the city of Belo Horizonte. This grassroots effort was a response to the women’s use of anti-anxiety medication, specifically Valium, and an attempt to attend to the women’s ongoing issues not addressed through the use of pharmaceuticals. The dissertation examines these women’s self-making as a critical window into how the embodied experiences of the interlocking forces of race, class, gender, age and place of residence are lived in the demanding material and psychological conditions of these women’s lives and the nature of the group’s healing work in their life narratives. Through considering these women’s self-making in discourses of madness, geographic landscapes of memory, musicality and performance, the dissertation investigates how the psycho-emotional transformations of these women illuminate the types of therapeutic work beneficial to anti-racist, sexist and age diversified modes of being and collective mobilization in the current social context of Brazil’s re-democratization. It also considers the group’s re-conceptualization of blackness and mental wellness as exemplary of and contributing to the personal and social work of black women’s struggle and praxis. The research methodology includes participant observation, interviews (structured and un-structured), oral histories, documentary photography and archival research conducted during an extended period (sixteen months) of fieldwork in Brazil.