The Predicament of Prediction: Rain Prophets and Meteorologists in Northeast Brazil
Keywordslanguage and identity
AdvisorHill, Jane H.
Committee ChairHill, Jane H.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractMeteorologists working for the state government in Ceara, Northeast Brazil claim that the kinds of forecasts they can currently produce are not useful for subsistence farmers, who lack resources to act on forecast-based decisions. I argue that scientific predictions do have meaning and consequences in rural communities. Official forecasts inform policies that affect farmers; therefore, farmers hold government accountable for predictions, even if they do not directly influence the farmers' own decision-making.My investigation takes the discussion beyond notions of "usefulness" as I demonstrate that prediction is more than a projection of the future based on the past and the present. In prediction discourse, people create understandings of their place in the social world, including their relationship to government. While government discourse constructs farmers as "non-users" and removes its responsibility to them, traditional "rain prophets" motivate farmers with optimistically-framed predictions and encourage autonomy from government.Prediction is a meaning-making endeavor―not just of ecological and atmospheric processes, but of who people are and how they live. Drawing on linguistic theories of performance and performativity, I analyze strategic language use within a cultural models framework, taking into account the emotions and motivations associated with experiences of living in a particular environment (both natural and material), and how these are crucial to understanding the meanings of prediction. Through prediction, people test the limits of their knowledge, judgement and faith. My examination of the connections between cultural models of 'prediction' and 'lie' explains how traditional predictions motivate farmers and build solidarity in opposition to exclusionary systems of government and science.This research furthers our understanding of how locally marginalized groups engage with government and the knowledge systems it privileges. After tracing constructions of "rain prophet" and "scientist" in the media, I show how rain prophets both oppose themselves to and align themselves with media representations of science, as they establish their authority and challenge meteorologists' expertise. Meanwhile, meteorologists work to authenticate science as the only legitimate authority. Thus, in prediction performances, meteorologists and rain prophets position themselves within local and global discourses about science and traditional knowledge.