Turquinho da Prestação: Criminal Knowledge and the Construction of the Syrian-Lebanese Criminal in Late Nineteenth-Century São Paulo

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Josť D. Najar, Indiana University, Bloomington
The positivist discourse of crime–criminal anthropology–was profoundly and obviously implicated in creating a dominant narrative of biological difference between white Brazilians, former slaves, and the increasing immigrant population during the Old Republic. On the surface of things, there is plenty of reason to anticipate a criminological construction of the Syrian-Lebanese as criminal biological-racial other.  The emergence of the capitalist economic system under the new Republican government concurrently with the immigration of thousands of immigrants threatened the privileged economic and social status of the Brazilian elite.  Was it not the intention of positivist criminology at the end of the century to identify clear racial and physiological characteristics of the many different immigrant groups in order to constitute them as racialized bodies that could be easily identified as deviant or inclined to criminal behaviors? 

In general terms, crimes associated with the Syrian-Lebanese community in the late 1800s resembled all too well those stereotypically associated with Jewish communities elsewhere: commercial crimes.  The socio-economic networks developed in the late 1800s, by and generally for the Syrian-Lebanese community, inevitably gave way to inter-community conflict.  In many cases, members sought the intervention of the law to resolve community conflicts.  In this light, then, this paper seeks to explore the “anthropometric” construction and its discursive production of the Syrian-Lebanese in its fragmented dimensions—Turco and Mascate—as the emerging field of Criminal Anthropology insinuated by in late nineteenth-century São Paulo.  It will become clear that much of the general knowledge aggregated to a Syrian-Lebanese “type” relied heavily in the “anthropometric” data and crimes of the working class Syrian-Lebanese peddler or store employees recorded on official police documents and state records.

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