Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Tatiana Bacal, IES Abroad Rio de Janeiro

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Ashley Houston
March 14, 2016

Study in Rio


Dr. Tatiana Bacal has been teaching at IES Abroad Rio de Janeiro since 2014. She earned her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, and a Masters in Social Anthropology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil. Dr. Bacal was a professor within the Department of Social Sciences at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) from 2004 to 2013, and is now a post-doctoral research fellow at UFRJ. She is also the author of Música, máquinas e humanos: os DJs no cenário da música eletrônica and co-author of A MPB em Discussão – Entrevistas.


IES Abroad: What courses can IES Abroad students take with you in Rio?

study abroad in Brazil

Tatiana Bacal: I am proud to have helped design one of our most popular Anthropology courses, AN 395: Service Learning Seminar.

Every semester, 50% of our students take this seminar, and—thanks to the hands-on approach at the work placement and the genuinely open communication that takes place in the classroom—their experience abroad is changed forever. One student has even gone so far as to state that attending my class once a week was like going to the temple. This expression helps to describe the degree of introspection and dialogue skills that’s developed with the students, so that they feel comfortable and safe to share their thoughts and feelings with the group.

IES Abroad: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is known for being a diverse and vibrant city. What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had with IES Abroad students in Rio?

Rio de Janeiro, brazil

TB: The most memorable moments with IES Abroad students are when they find things they love in Rio! What is amazing about this opportunity to be in Rio for a longer period of time, is that students have an extraordinary chance to explore the city in ways not possible for the majority of short-time period tourists. It is very fortunate when students who love hiking get involved with this activity, or those who love architecture and art have a chance to explore the downtown area and neighborhoods like Santa Teresa. It’s also very gratifying when students have a chance to go to non-tourist destinations.

The most memorable moments in the city are created by very specific and diverse individualities of the students we receive. Something I have noticed is that students who engage as volunteers tend to develop intimacy with the city and its inhabitants much faster. Working regularly in a volunteer placement forces students to integrate into the working force of the city and mingle with its inhabitants much easier.

IES Abroad: You’ve lived many places and have studied many cultures. How is this beneficial when teaching American students?

TB: I am very sensitive to being a foreigner. I lived much of my childhood and teenage years in different countries—Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Germany. I am very much Brazilian and very much a foreigner myself. I have also been teaching contemporary Brazilian culture for many years to exchange students. In this sense, the students feel very free to be sincere and open about their experiences. And that is the feedback I get in the different assignments throughout the seminar.

study abroad brazil

IES Abroad: What has been the most interesting question you’ve received from a student in AN 395: Service Learning Seminar?

TB: One of the most challenging aspects for us as humans is understanding that the idea of person, identity, and humanity is culturally specific. We think of humanity as being superficially different (culture) and universally the same in the most important and basic aspects. The problem is that we are not the same in the sense that our ideas of self and personhood are very variable. In a global society, everyone looks the same, but it doesn’t mean that everyone thinks and conceives the world in the same way.

All of the most interesting questions I have received from IES Abroad students have to do with the moment of awakening to the possibility that, with time in Brazil, they perceive that they are really learning about two cultures at the same time. The birth of another culture is actually the birth of your own culture, because you realize that your way of conceiving the world is only one among many others, and not natural or universal. The possibility to go and live within another society, culture, and environment gives you the tools of exercising empathy and critical thought—two very important qualities for any good professional today.

study in brazil

IES Abroad: You have a particular interest in the relationship between art, digital technology, and contemporary identities. How do you see these intersecting, and what trends are emerging as a result?

TB: I have been working for a long time with different art forms that use digital tools, such as electronic dance music–especially techno, carioca funk, hip-hop–video, sound art, and digital art. My focus has been in the creation of new forms of authorship that are emerging as a result of these creative uses, and also new professions that arise in this landscape.

My work is an example of a changing world that is adapting to new ways of relationship, work, identities, and, in a global sense, new ways of conceiving society. We are at a moment when people are inventing new ways of being professionals, new jobs, there are no more recipes. It is the moment of invention. As a future tendency I believe the model of one profession through life is at its very end: multiple activities is the future, and I believe that is the same for artists. They have to be multiple in the same way that technology is multiple.

IES Abroad: Your post-doctoral research at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) focuses on the political uses of video for identity and cultural creativity in the area of Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic film. Tell us more about this.


TB: A movement that began in the late 1980s was the political use of VHS. The flourishing of indigenous film, community film, and minority film is a worldwide phenomenon. The cheaper format of filming began to be used as a means of self- and community discovery. It is used in a moment when indigenous groups around the world also begin to grow in numbers. It is a moment of cultural renaissance for many different minorities. So, suddenly video is not used only for aesthetic reasons, but also as a means for understanding who and where people stand politically.

Now, I am very interested in how different groups are using cellphone cameras to film scenes of police aggression and brutality. You see the plastic use of technology at play: as a means for creating art, as a means of creating political identities, as a defense mechanism. I am interested in those creative uses and the plasticity of these uses.

IES Abroad: You’ve authored/co-authored two books. Do you have any plans for future publications?

TB: A version of my Ph.D. dissertation will be released this year and also a collection of books about 19 films of Brazilian documentary filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho. Eliska Altmann (professor at UFRJ) and I asked one social scientist and one filmmaker to write about one of Coutinho’s 19 films and each book will have those two perspectives. I am very excited about this project because Eduardo Coutinho was one of our most important contemporary documentary filmmakers. We have amazing authors, and it will be wonderful to share with the public.

studying abroad in Brazil

IES Abroad: What has been your proudest achievement as a teacher?

TB: I am specifically proud of the Ethnographic Film courses and workshops I have taught and that resulted in ethnographic film festivals with the students’ films. Those were amazing experiences when I realized that, as a teacher, I was able to create a good atmosphere for creative and hard work.

That is all I want as a teacher, to see students involved and engaged in projects that are challenging and at the same time very pleasurable. To film another life is to engage in a relationship—with all its convergences and divergences—a very strong life lesson.

Study abroad in Brazil and take Dr. Bacal’s course! Check out our Sports & Society Summer Program for a chance to live and learn in a city hosting the Rio Olympics.


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Ashley Houston

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