Brazil Studies Program: Conspiração e Orgias: Sexuality, Anticommunism, and the Right in Cold War Brazil


Thursday, November 10, 2016, 12:00pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South, S-050, 1730 Cambridge Street

Speaker: Benjamin A. Cowan, Assistant Professor, History and Art History, George Mason University

This research draws on previously untapped archives to argue that Cold War struggles against “subversion” must be understood in cultural terms, as a reaction to the consequences—real and perceived—of modernization. Inscribing Brazil’s Cold War military dictatorship (1964-1985) into a century-long, transnational trajectory of right-wing activism, I demonstrate that anti-modern moral panic animated powerful, hard-line members and supporters of the military regime. As these hard-liners institutionalized state-sponsored, anti-Marxist violence, their moral panic conflated communist subversion with cultural changes based in modernization itself. Combining Cold War and culture war, rightists focused their anticommunism on specific gendered and sexualized areas of concern: “modern” youth, women, and mass media. 

ben-cowanBen Cowan received his B.A. from Harvard University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA. His interest in right-wing radicalism, morality, sexuality, and 20th-century imperialism has led him to research focused on Cold War Brazil, with a specialization in the cultural and gender history of the post-1964 era. Ben's book Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil, has been published by the University of North Carolina Press (2016). In 2015, his research on counterinsurgency earned the Sturgis-Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Conference on Latin American Studies. He has also published articles in American Quarterly, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, The Hispanic American Historical Review, Radical History Review, the Latin American Research Review, and other venues. His work has benefited from much-appreciated support, including grants from the John W. Kluge Center, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the American Philosophical Society, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, the Pauley Family Foundation, and the UCLA Institute for Social Research. His current book project, Mundane Magic: Brazil, Christian Fundamentalism, and Transnational Anti-Modernism, 1930-1985, traces the emergence of a hemispheric religious Right, and the importance of Brazil in this story.