Ecology: another way to maintain status quo

The colonial era in the Americas was defined by the socioeconomic dynamic brought over from the motherland. All aspects of life were governed by behavioral traditions and standards according to one’s socioeconomic background. These standards were created by and enforced by the church and state, which were not mutually exclusive. The standard’s one was held to were based on one’s social status, and the end goal was to maintain one’s honor.  The fate of any individual rested on that person’s honor, and as soon as that honor was compromised, that individual was essentially ostracized from society. Arguably,  one such way to compromise one’s honor was to become ill or have a disability. Illness was correlated with being dirty, and with those of lower social classes. In the case of care for the sick -especially those afflicted with leprosy- in the colonial city of Rio de Janeiro, illness was very much another area of life in which the status quo was reinforced. The patterns of socioeconomic privilege and disadvantage are apparent in the way the illness was managed and by whom the ill were managed. In essence, the ecological aspect of life, in this case of illness, in colonial Rio de Janeiro was a different vessel through which social inequality could be maintained as a way to provide order in society.

The primary and secondary literature shows that management of the ill and allocation of resources for the ill was done by those in government positions or those affiliated with the church[1].  Therefore, it was the people in power (who were by extension also of high social classes) who made the decisions about how to care for the sick: people who were interested in maintaining the status quo in order to maintain control over society. Judgment calls on how to care for the ill (who were viewed as a threat to society) were made with that mentality. The ill were isolated from the rest of society, literally shunned due to the fear of spreading the disease to the rest of the city. Isolation weeded out those who were no longer functional from the societal dynamic in place, removing the “unwanted”. Although the primary literature is limited in the scope of information it can provide, since what is officially written differs greatly from what occurs in reality, it shows who was in charge of the ill and therefore how and at what level the ill were prioritized.[2] In these ways, the ecological aspect of life in colonial Rio de Janeiro functioned as another way to establish and maintain socioeconomic inequality and discrimination.

[1] Regazzi Avelleira, João Carlos, Fred Bernardes Filho, Maria Victória Quaresma, and Francisco Reis Vianna Reis Vianna. “History of Leprosy in Rio De Janeiro.” Anais Brasileiros De Dermatologia, no. 89 (2014): 515-18. Accessed November 19, 2014.


[2] Brasil. Overseas Historical File. Conselho Ultramarino. 158th ed. Vol. 017. Rio De Janeiro: n.p., 1796. Print. Ser. 11930.

colonial rio de janeiro


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