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Science in Brazilian popular literature

Luisa Massarani  

Science does not usually figure prominently in Brazilian literature, either in other artistic and cultural manifestations of the country. Historical factors as the late development of modern science and the restriction of scientific knowledge to an intellectual elite in Brazil help explain this situation. Despite the unfavorable context, one can find within the most popular forms of communication generic references to science. Reports of scientific discoveries, alerts on health and environment, episodes from the life of scientists, descriptions of astronomical events or references to negative impacts of progress find space in literature, in music and in popular proverbs. In these situations, it is revealed a certain level of interest, concern and involvement of society on issues related to science. This is the case of so-called literature de cordel (string literature), a tradition of northeastern Brazil that is also present in other parts of the country nowadays. This type of cultural expression existed in the Iberian Peninsula since the Middle Age and was brought by Portuguese settlers to the Northeast of Brazil in the 19th century. Folhetos (leaflets) or cordéis (strings), as they are popularly known, were consolidated in the 20th century as sources of entertainment, propagators of old stories and legends and news broadcasters in a context where other media were poor or non-existent. In our study, based on a corpus of 80 cordéis about science, health and environment, we seek to understand, through a qualitative analysis, how the scientific universe is inserted and is portrayed in this literary genre. We noted that the cordéis as a whole present an ambivalent image of science, as they glorify the scientific achievements and their authors at the same time that they offer a critical look at technology development. The authors who write about health and environment tend to adopt an engaged speech, calling for awareness and joint action. Our study suggests that the convergence of science and popular literature has great potential to bring closer scientific culture and popular culture, and foster critical thinking on the relationship between science and society, and is therefore a rich tool of science communication.

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