Transforming enlisted army service in Brazil, 1864-1940: Penal servitude versus conscription and changing conceptions of honor, race and nation

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Robert M. Levine - Committee Chair


The incorporation of largely Prussian-inspired recruitment and service models accelerated the cycle of clashes and compromises between modern and traditional practices, institutions, values, and conceptions of race and nation in Brazil. In nineteenth-century Brazil, the army recruited enlisted men almost exclusively from desprotegidos (unprotected ones): vagrants, ex-slaves, orphans, criminals, migrants, unskilled workers, and the unemployed. In most instances, poor black, white, and mestizos were pressed or they volunteered to escape hunger, unemployment, and homelessness. As Brazil slowly completed a transition from slave to wage labor from 1850 to 1888, enlisted service was identified with marginality and captivity. From the Paraguayan War (1864-70), when Brazil resorted to manumitting slaves to fill depleted ranks, to the 1930 Revolution that placed Getulio Vargas in power, a remarkable transformation took place in the soldier's career and station.Nineteenth-century enlisted service constituted a semi-coercive public labor system and a proto-penal institution, but the government repeatedly attempted to alter this role by implementing a national draft lottery legislated in 1874. The "protected" poor resisted conscription because it threatened to subject them to the humiliation of army service and violate the sanctity of home and family. Implicit to conscription were major transformations in conceptions of penology, public power, citizenship, honor, masculinity, and nation. Conscription and the development of an army reserve finally began in 1916 buttressed by the uncertainties of World War I and arguments that the draft would promote public hygiene, national unity, and eugenics, accelerating the "whitening" of Brazil's race.With conscription, the army began to draw more men from the formerly "protected" urban poor. This enhanced the army's legitimacy as a political actor, fortified the central government, and helped clear the way for the urban populism's emergence and a more inclusive sense of national identity. The army's withdrawal from its once prominent position in policing, prison administration, and recruitment of "criminals" greatly reduced the state's capacity to discipline the "unprotected." The state refocused its disciplining efforts on the "protected" urban poor, turning its back on the "unprotected" poor. Enlisted service became a preventative rather than a punitive institution for social reform.


History, Latin American; Sociology, Criminology and Penology

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